The funeral was something that I thought I would handle alright, but the difficulty in handling it didn’t become apparent until maybe a day before. Ava was buried on July 15.
Leah and I mentioned a few times that from the point that this all began on July 8 through the day of the funeral; we were consumed with doing things for Ava. There were many things to consider. We had to find a place to bury her, we had to talk with a funeral home, we had to figure out a lot of things. Just finding the right cemetery for her took an entire day.
We traveled all over the county (maybe two) looking for the right cemetery. This was with the help of our parents and siblings. We knew it had to be somewhere that was quiet and had lots of trees. We started the search in the morning hours one day and through many searches we finally found one. It was a large cemetery operated by the city. We found a spot just beneath a tree where she could be buried. There was shade pretty much all day except for the morning. We also wanted space to be buried with her so we also reserved two spaces beside Ava for Leah and I. We would not have it any other way. It was costly but once again worth every penny. In this particular case, my parents bought Ava’s place of rest for us. This was such a kind gesture but this was not out of the ordinary for them. They have always been the type of parents to drop anything they were doing for their children. Leah and I were not (and still aren’t) in a position to spend the money necessary for all this to happen. Without our family and the gracious gifts of people we don’t even know a lot would not be possible for us.
The day before the funeral I remember this dark cloud setting over me. My mood was much bluer that day and I knew why. I had mixed feelings about the entire day to follow. I wanted our daughter to be at rest no matter what, but saying goodbye and the emotions that were to come with it was not something I was necessarily looking forward to. But as quickly as Thursday morning came, the night went and it was Friday morning. We both were not in the best of places on Friday, but understandably we were about to do something neither of us ever pictured doing at the ages of 30 and 28. We were going to bury our daughter.
Much of our family had met Ava when she was in the NICU and we also spent quite a bit of time with her after she passed. This was a very difficult time for everyone involved but I won’t talk about that right now. We wanted everyone to have the chance to see her one last time if they decided to so time was given on Friday morning for family to see her before we arrived at the funeral home. We wanted to be alone with her before she went to the cemetery. The service was private with only close family attending.
When we arrived at the funeral home I was extremely anxious because I had not seen Ava since a few days prior. I didn’t want to open up all those wounds again, but I would not have been able to live with myself if I had not taken every moment I could with Ava. We went into the room where Ava’s tiny little casket was displayed and we walked up and saw our daughter resting peacefully. Leah was very upset as was I. Ava was dressed in this pretty white dress the hospital gave us. If I remember correctly this was constructed from wedding dresses donated to someone, somewhere who turned them into these tiny little dresses. She looked so gorgeous. She admittedly looked different from the day that she passed away, but the processes that had to happen made her that way. She was still my perfect daughter.
I remember that Leah and I arrived at the funeral home at 11:00 AM that morning and we stayed with Ava up until the point we had to go to the funeral home. One of the funeral attendants that was there to help us said that we could hold her if we wanted. This was such a generous gift we didn’t think we would get. Being able to hold her one last time was so important to both of us. We took turns holding her, but just as before when the time came I made sure Leah was the last to hold her.
In Ava’s casket to be buried with her were a few things we wanted her to have. I wrote a little note inside a small version of the book “Goodnight Moon” which was one of my childhood favorites. I wanted her to have it for comfort and hopefully help her feel like we were always with her. Along with this book was a note Leah wrote to her, a picture of us on our wedding day. Around Ava’s head was a tiny little headband her mom made for her to wear. She looked so pretty with it on.
Shortly before it was time for Ava to leave our arms once again, I read her my book I left for her. When Leah was pregnant with Ava I read this book to Ava. It was the one and only book I ever read to her. On Leah’s finger was a ruby ring that I bought her for our first anniversary. After laying Ava back down to rest, she removed the ring from her finger and laid it on Ava’s chest. It was a complete coincidence that I did not think of at the time, but I bought a ring in 2013 for our first anniversary that ended up being our daughter’s birth stone. It was one of those moments where I realized Ava had to have that ring so I am glad Leah left it for her.
Ava’s casket was placed in a vault and sealed. It was now 12:30 or so in the afternoon and it was time for us to leave. We waited outside for the same person that was helping us inside to bring Ava out and we would follow her to the cemetery. There was no funeral procession, just the van Ava was in and Leah and I write behind them. We didn’t want anything big.
We pulled into the cemetery and made the slow drive back to section 25 where Ava was to be laid to rest. I believe it was overcast and it had sprinkled a little bit on the way there but when we stopped graveside there was no rain. Our family was there waiting for us. When I stepped out of the car, Leah was very upset. Her dad was there as was I trying to comfort her, there could have been someone else talking to her but this moment has its blurs that are hard for me to remember. I asked a few of the boys to grab flowers family had bought for Ava so that they could be at her grave.
I approached the person assisting us from the funeral home and asked if I could carry Ava to her grave site. She said that was a good idea and she showed me how to carry her. She pointed out which end of the vault was to be faced which way. I picked Ava up, and started carrying her. It took every bit of strength I had not to fall apart, but I told myself I was carrying my daughter and I didn’t want to drop her. Our family was watching, all upset. I carefully set Ava down on her grave site. Leah came beside me and we both knelt down next to Ava. Our family surrounded us and the pastor began the service. It was quick, only minutes in length but neither one of us wanted anything extravagant. Just being there was hard enough. The service wrapped up and it was time for Ava to be buried. I asked if this was something that I could do and I was told that I could. I removed my jacket and handed it to my my mom who was standing right behind me. One of the workers at the cemetery held one side of her vault as I held the other and we placed her in her grave. I left my hand on top of her vault leaning forward, just simply saying goodbye and that I loved her. Someone helped me out of her grave and we all stood. Leah was being consoled as I was too. We were both a mess. I watched one shovel of dirt get placed on her vault and then I turned around.
We all walked several feet from her grave and as the moment passed where dirt was being placed on Ava’s vault, Leah became more and more distraught. She asked if she could leave and her dad let me know that she wanted to leave as she could not take any more of what she was witnessing. I don’t remember if it was right after she sat in the car or not, but I saw the pastor standing behind the family quietly. I walked up to him and shook his hand, thanking him for being there for us. He did not know our family and I am sure that services for children are never easy no matter who you are. He was kind and offered his prayers and said a few kind words. I walked back toward the car and turned around. Our who family was also upset and I had no idea what to say to them. I just looked at them and thanked them for being there. They said the loved us. I guess that’s all that could be said.
I got in the car and we started driving away. One of the hardest days of our life was almost over. I just wish that it meant after she was buried all the pain would go away. But there was so much more ahead of us. I am grateful for that day, only for the fact that I was able to do everything in my power to put my daughter to rest. For once, I was able to do something for her, able to take part in making something better for her. Being so helpless in the hospital I needed to do everything that I could even if it hurt worse than anything on this earth.