Part 10: Surreal Moments

A few weeks ago, we made funeral arrangements and chose a burial plot for Joel.  The whole experience was “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream,” as the dictionary defines surreal.  Since when is “plan funeral” or “decide where to bury baby” on any pregnancy checklist?  Where is that section in What to Expect When You’re Expecting?

But there I was, flipping through the yellow pages, deciding which funeral home to call first.  Biggest ad on the page?  Best known funeral home in Hanover?  Kenworthy it would be, I decided.  The receptionist was kind and empathetic.  Mr. Kenworthy himself would need to answer my questions, she said, and he called back that very evening.

Jeff and I had already decided that if and when Joel passes, we will honor his life at a simple private graveside service.  Mr. Kenworthy explained what the funeral home’s role would be in picking Joel up from the hospital and coordinating with the cemetery trustees to make arrangements for his burial.  Our main tasks were to decide where he would be buried and to chose a casket.  He urged us to decide where we ourselves would one day be buried so that Joel would be beside us at that time and encouraged us to talk to family members about available plots near great-grandparents, etc.  He also gave many tips about various local cemeteries so we could choose wisely.

Expecting that Joel’s burial could cost up to a thousand dollars or more, and planning to make several calls to get price estimates from the main funeral homes in the area, I asked what costs to anticipate.  I was shocked to learn that Kenworthy arranges for the transportation and burial of infants and stillborn babies free of charge.  This has always been their policy.  Maybe other funeral homes have a similar policy, but who wants to go through a conversation like that more than once?  It was a relief to not have to make more phone calls.  Such moments of unexpected provision are the kind that bring tears to my eyes, but I managed to finish the conversation without belying the emotion I felt.

A few days later, we asked my parents for their advice about where to bury Joel.  My maternal grandparents and a few other relatives were laid to rest at the York Road Cemetery, which is along 116 across from the Bair’s Mennonite Meetinghouse, where my mom attended as a child.  It’s a beautiful location for a cemetery, high on a hill overlooking a nearby farm; it will be a wonderful place to meet our Lord Jesus in the air on the great day of His return!  And it ‘just so happens’ that earlier this year my parents were gifted four plots in our family’s area of the cemetery by some of my mother’s Herr cousins who don’t plan to use them.  My cousin, Stanley, is a trustee for this cemetery, so my mom made arrangements to meet with Stanley and Leroy Ness, the man who has faithfully cared for these grounds most of his working life.  Stanley confirmed what Mr. Kenworthy had suggested, that Joel’s tiny casket will be able to share a plot with one of ours some day, if the Lord tarries.  So, thanks to my parents’ generosity, and the generosity of those who gifted the plots to them, the only charge for burial will be casket and the actual digging of the grave.  Leroy wasn’t excited to hear that this might be in February, as the ground will be frozen and digging will be harder and more expensive then.  Stanley and we assured him that we could arrange for help with that task, and any of you who know Leroy will appreciate how much this made him (and us) smile.  🙂

Thus we chose Joel’s final resting place.  And he kicked, and kicked, and kicked most of the way home, in an uncharacteristic display of movement, as if to say, “I’M NOT DEAD YET!  I’M IN HERE, MOM!  CAN’T YOU SEE I’M TRYING SO HARD TO MAKE IT?!”

A labor and delivery nurse on the “Loving With Grace” team at York Hospital who coordinates palliative care for babies like ours told me recently that we are ‘so far ahead’ of many in our shoes because we have already made these arrangements.  Maybe we’re too far ahead?  Joel’s not gone yet, and I certainly don’t mean to betray him by planning for his demise when we truly don’t know the end of the story.  Yet I’m Type A enough to want to be prepared in advance for every possibility.  The last thing I want is to be in those post-birth moments, trying to weigh our options and make arrangements from the hospital.  So, now my mind can rest, knowing that we have a plan… while wishing we will never need to use it.

Leroy (seated) and Stanley