Quinn and I faced the unimaginable for any parent, planning a funeral for a beloved child. We were in such shock that every meeting or discussion felt out of nightmare. Horrible and yet thankfully not real. I guess that moment of devastating realization was when I saw Lila for the first time since her death. At the mortuary after we had picked out a sweet silver coffin with pink lining and a simple bouquet of tulips we went to see our baby. She was laying on a stretcher, her pajamas from that morning neatly folded at her feet. Dressed in a white robe she still looked peacefully asleep. It wasn't until I touched her that I knew that the Lila that I had spent every moment with for almost four years was gone. She was cold and slightly stiff. Gone was the light that seemed to constantly be glowing in her face. A bandage was on her chest where they had cut her to prepare her body for the embalming process and a part of me was furious that even in death she still was being poked and prodded. She seemed heavier for some reason, like a statue of angel. I had to control the overwhelming urge to shake her, to plead with her to return. I think that was the moment that the guilt started to creep into my heart. I worried that maybe I should have been a better mother. Not worried so much about the future that will now never be. Maybe I should have tried CPR or called an ambulance. Tried my best to keep her from heaven. Feeling the guilt was somehow easier than facing the fact that I was standing next to the body of Lila and not Lila herself.
The next day we had to go pick out the final resting spot for our girl. We had long ago thrown around the idea that she would be buried at Wasatch memorial lawn. It's the closest to us and the most central to our families. Quinn told me he didn't want me to go for the business aspect. Talking about the price of a plot and vault was sure to throw me over the edge. And so I met up with him after as he showed me two places Lila could be. The first was nice, a newer part of the cemetery with new little saplings that would eventually become large trees. The next plot was in the south east corner, a little more secluded and quiet. As we talked and walked around I tried to imagine all the time that I would be spending there talking to a girl I could no longer see or touch. When I asked Quinn for his opinion his voice faltered. With tears in his eyes he pointed to the mountains and said, here she has the same view of mount olympus that we have from our front porch. Done. That was the spot that my little lady would wait for me. In view of the same mountain that I could see from my window.
That Thursday before the funeral we had scheduled a time to go and dress Lila. I don't think I have ever been so nervous. I was so focused on the fact that she had to look perfect. It became an obsession and I realize now that it was because this was my last duty as Lila's mother. This was the last thing I could do for her and I was channeling all my grief into making sure that it was done as perfectly as possible. I walked into the mortuary and it took every ounce of my energy not to run away. If she didn't look like the angel that she was I didn't know how to fix that for her. We walked into the room where she was and the moment I saw her I was overcome with relief. She was stunning. Absolutely gorgeous. The mortician had somehow managed to close her little mouth, something that I wasn't even sure was possible, and the subtle make up just made her look like her. A gorgeous little doll. She looked like she was sleeping, that at any moment she would open her eyes and smile. Ruby was able to say hello to her sister and then we handed her off to my mom and sister so that Quinn and I could dress her by ourselves. Our photographer friend Heather stayed in the background quietly capturing the final duties of our parenthood journey with Lila. We put on her undergarments that had a cute little ruffle bum. Then we slipped on the white dress that her Aunt Kelli had bought her for her fourth birthday. A satin dress with a peter pan collar and a tool skirt. We painted her toe and fingernails, OPI pompeii purple. We slipped on her ever present bracelets. The ones that I had made her as an infant still somehow fit her tiny wrists. When her toes dried we slipped on her sparkle gold tom shoes, a gift from her grandmother two Christmas's ago that just now fit her slender feet.
Then I got to do something just between Lila and I. I had found a mother and daughter necklace. A silver disc with a small butterfly cut from the middle. I would wear the disc and Lila's necklace was the tiny butterfly cut from the disc. I placed that around my neck and then fastened the delicate butterfly around Lila's neck. Butterfly's are significant for me since I think they represent Lila so well. There was a song that we played for Lila when she was young one of the lyrics was, "You're a butterfly held captive small and safe in your cocoon." Lila was trapped in her small and broken body. Finally she is free. Beautiful and free.
The last thing to do was her hair in her trademark braids. We decided to do the "heidi" braids that twisted across the top of her head. When we were done I stood back and admired my girl. She looked like Lila. So beautiful and perfect. I realized that in that moment I felt peaceful, I felt very comforted and I felt like I was standing on holy ground.
We had Ruby come back in one last time to see her sister before we placed her in her tiny coffin. Ruby touched her and babbled quietly somehow sensing that this was a tender and dear moment. My sister commented that she didn't see baby Lila anymore but that she had somehow grown up, she was now a little girl. Lila's disabilities were no more. She was no longer our "baby" but a girl now perfect and awaiting her parents. Quinn carefully and tenderly picked up our daughter for the final time. With all the love that a father could have he gently placed her in her petite coffin. I situated her and in my mind I was thinking how best to make her comfortable. I tucked my baby blanket around her and gave her a kiss. She looked so amazing. I felt comfort by that for some reason.
In the weeks since this moment I have imagined her frequently, how she looks now in heaven, she always looks stunning, just like the last moment I saw her. She is a little angel, bent over a flower bed of tulips. Her blonde hair glowing from the sun. I imagine watching her before she sees me. Smelling the flowers and watching a ladybug walk on a leaf, her perfect eyes now able to take in all the colors and beauty. I want to yell her name but at the same time I don't want to break this beautiful moment. I can now see a working body, legs carrying her and arms reaching. Suddenly she notices me and she breaks into a huge grin, she jumps from where she is and starts to run, her gold toms finally being put to use. She jumps into my arms and is so warm, soft and smells just like Lila, sweet french toast Quinn always says. We just hold each other because its been too long and because now I will never have to let her go.