Monday,12th September, 2016
After returning from the hospital that afternoon, I gathered all the things I had collected to decorate the village hall and walked down, ready to meet my girlfriends, Connor and my sister.
It was so lovely seeing my girls, knowing that they were behind me every step of the way.
We started by making the pink and white pompoms, putting the fans together and assembling the floral, pink and white lanterns a close friend had kindly lent us. We then split into groups to decorate the hall. We were all on a mission.
We divided into two teams, one put up all the pompoms, fans and lanterns and the other (including me) stuck sparkly star stickers onto the little vases, tied pink or white ribbon around the top, filled them up with water and added a sprig of Baby’s Breath. The florist suggested that people could take these home. I loved the idea. One of my friend’s husband is an electrician who arrived with his ladders to put up the fairy lights in a zigzag fashion. My sister proudly placed the black and white photographs of Esme, which she had enlarged to A3 and framed, on each of the window sills. They looked incredible. Each one had a beautiful yet heartbreaking story behind it.
Even though I was fully aware of the nature of the occasion, I found I was enjoying myself, being in the company of my close friends. I felt on edge and nervous that tomorrow was the funeral, where I would say my final goodbyes. The love and support I received from family and friends enabled me to believe I would be just fine.
When we had nearly finished decorating, a friend who lives in the village called round with a freshly baked Victoria sponge cake. She couldn’t have timed it better. We put the kettle on and all sat down to enjoy a slice, have a cup of tea and admire our hard work. It was probably the best Victoria sponge I have ever tasted.
After saying goodbye to my friends and before returning home, I took a moment to collect my thoughts and admire how beautiful the village hall was. It looked prettier than I had ever imagined. I hoped that Esme loved it just as much as I did. I told myself, that tomorrow would be fine, it would be a good day.
That evening the lady who was making the cake delivered it. It certainly was a showstopper and looked so pretty. At this moment, I felt proud of myself for everything I had accomplished in the planning of Esme’s funeral. It was going to be the day that she deserved.
As playgroup was in first thing in the morning, we couldn’t put all the tables out. I phoned the funeral director to explain where we had left everything in the hall and where it was all to go; the flowers on the window sills were to go on the tables; the framed photograph of Esme and the Campbellinas logo were to go next to the collection pot and the black and white photographs were to remain where they were. I also asked if he could kindly help the florist bring the flower arrangements from the church down to the hall after the service.
I got ready for bed and listened to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer”. As it was being played as the exit music, I was trying to work out when the best time in the song would be to walk down the aisle carrying Esme. I decided it would be the part where the song built up again, just before the chorus. I am writing this now and experiencing the same nervousness as when listening to the song then. The same feeling of my heart thudding out of my chest and a lump in my throat. We decided Connor was going to carry her and my Dad and Connor’s Dad were going to lower her into the ground.
I had no idea how I was going to feel on the day. I was scared of seeing the coffin knowing my baby girl’s body would be lying inside. I was terrified of what might happen if I started crying and wouldn’t be able to regain control of myself. I tried to not put any pressure on myself. After the other days which I had been afraid of during our journey, such as the christening and when we took Esme off the ventilator, I realised I had gained some of my most treasured memories. I had Connor by my side and my family and friends behind me. I was just going to go with the flow of the day and, like always, put one foot in front of the other.
I felt weak and vulnerable at having to live through my worst possible nightmare and scared because I knew I had to live through it. I fell asleep that night, emotionally exhausted, knowing that whatever happened tomorrow was going to happen because I loved Esme with all my heart.
Tuesday 13th September 2016
I woke up that morning almost feeling excitement. Maybe it was just the adrenaline, knowing that day was Esme’s funeral. The day that I thought I would never have to live through, yet it was here.
I showered, straightened my hair and applied a heavy face of makeup.
I was going to see Charlotte that morning and planned to arrive back by late morning. Connor’s family were flying into Leeds Bradford airport and were due to arrive mid-morning. Connor dropped the dogs off at a friend‘s and started preparing the bacon and sausage sandwiches.
Every morning that I saw Charlotte and held her hand safely in mine, I felt I grew that bit stronger. She was and still is my everything. I washed her face, changed her nappy and dressed her in my favourite clothes, ready for her little sister’s big day. The ward was so hot. I was worried my hair was going to go totally frizzy and my makeup would start melting off my face.
With the assistance of the nurses, I lifted her out of her incubator, sat down in the armchair and gave her a big cuddle. I held her so tightly. I read her Esme’s story, ‘My Bright Shining Star’. This was the last time I would read this story to Charlotte or to myself for a very long time. As I sat there cuddling Charlotte, I felt tempted just to stay there for the day, hiding in the comfort and strength of my little warrior. But I knew I had a job to do, this was it, the time had come for me to embrace and accept the moment; it was time for my daughter’s funeral. I kissed Charlotte goodbye, thanked the nurses for their kind good luck wishes and left the ward keeping my head held up high.
The day was getting hotter and hotter. As I drove home I couldn’t see a cloud in the sky. I had a few moments driving home where I nearly had to pull over for bleary eyes but I blinked the tears back and phoned Connor to let him know I was on my way. My heart continued to beat out of my chest. I was nervous of seeing the coffin in church. I feared knowing that Esme’s body was lying inside. I also felt nervous about what my family and friends would think, seeing a baby’s coffin. I was filled with gratitude that so many of them were coming.
It felt so good to be greeted by Connor’s family. The fact that they were all there or had sent the most heartwarming of messages to apologise for their absence meant so much. Their support was everything. It was the first time many of Connor’s family had visited our house and despite the occasion, it was lovely to have them there. The house was filled with smiles, the sound of laughter and a warm atmosphere.
As twelve o’clock drew nearer, I changed into my outfit, unsure how I was going to wear my new coat in the stifling heat. We walked with Connor’s family to the pub and then Connor and I continued to walk up to the church to see Esme and to meet Lois, the licensed day reader, and the funeral directors.
I felt sick and clasped Connor’s hand tightly. I held onto the Campbell tartan ribbon with the other hand, ready to tie it onto her coffin.
The funeral director came to greet us outside the church and informed us that Esme was inside. We handed the order of service booklets to him. I had put them in a white basket with the Campbell tartan ribbon around it.
Once inside, the church felt welcoming and cool. The sun was shining through the stained glass windows filling it with a warm glow. At the entrance was a beautiful ivory heart, sitting in a metal plant pot and around the window sills were delicate flower arrangements and candles. The church looked so pretty.
I glanced up the aisle where my eyes fell upon Esme’s coffin. It was a very surreal feeling knowing that I was looking at something that for many months I had been terrified of seeing. I felt a sense of relief wash over me. It looked beautiful. The tanned wicker basket was sitting on the wooden trestle at the front of the church, basking in the sunlight that dazzled through the windows. I was no longer scared. It was my daughter, I was her Mummy, there was no reason to be afraid.
Lois left us to have our time with Esme and Connor and I walked up the aisle. I didn’t know what to say. I just stood there feeling the tears roll down my cheeks. How had my life, Esme’s life, come to this? Eventually I said, “I’m so sorry Esme but I’m sweating so much. This wasn’t how I planned to look, nor what I thought I’d say but I’m absolutely dripping. My hair is stuck to the back of my neck and I can feel a river forming down my back. I had no idea you liked the sun so much.” I’d never experienced a British September day like it before and later found out it was in fact the hottest September day in over a century.
Once I started talking to Esme, I couldn’t stop talking and apologised for my nervous wittering. Connor rolled his eyes and apologised to Esme for her mother talking her ears off. It was just like old times. Just the three of us. My little family.
I tied some Campbell tartan ribbon onto the handle of her coffin. I tied it twice as I wasn’t satisfied with the bow the first time. I felt happy and knew the day was going to be fine. I told Esme, I’ll see her soon and we left to go and meet family and friends in the pub.
Most of our family and friends were in the beer garden at the back. Everyone looked beautiful. It was a very welcoming feeling, knowing everyone had come to support us. I felt loved and lucky. I hoped that people wouldn’t be nervous around me and would greet me like they would any other day. It made me relax seeing everyone there, wearing their glad rags, drinking and smiling. It was how I wanted people to be, not nervous that they were here for their friend’s baby’s funeral.
As one o’clock drew nearer, everyone started finishing their drinks and making their way up to the church.
The funeral director was waiting for us outside the church. I looked past him and saw the church was full and quite a lot of people were standing at the back. I felt a nervous lump at the back of my throat.
The funeral director whispered to us, “You wouldn’t believe what happened to us, when you left the church earlier. Due to the heat, all the fly eggs have hatched and there is a huge fly infestation.” They had spent the last hour frantically spraying and sweeping the entire church. It certainly broke the ice and we couldn’t help but smile. Esme was busy playing tricks.
Take That’s “Rule the World” started playing and I gripped Connor’s hand. It was a surreal feeling walking down the aisle. I had flashbacks to my wedding day except this time I was greeted by sad eyes and empathetic smiles. I met my midwife’s eyes, my friends‘ and family’s eyes and the nurses‘ eyes. I smiled bravely. I also kept hearing a distracting sound of flies buzzing and dropping from the ceiling. It amused me and briefly took my mind off what was actually happening.
Before reaching the front, I had to brush one falling dead fly off my coat and hoped that none had landed in my hair.
I reached my seat and listened to the rest of the song. I was suddenly overcome with embarrassment. Why had I chosen it? All of a sudden it didn’t sound right and I no longer felt it suited the occasion. As it played, I felt as if eyes were nervously watching me. I’m not sure whether they were or not. By the end of the song, when I heard the words “the stars are coming out tonight”, I relaxed and the song seemed fitting once again.
Throughout the service I kept smiling and stifling a giggle as I heard the flies dropping from the ceiling or buzzing behind me. I had to remind myself this was a serious occasion and not the time or place to laugh. This almost made it worse.
My friend later told me a funny story about how mid service, she saw a fly drop down the shirt of the man in front of her. As he started uncomfortably wriggling around, his wife started hissing at him under her breath, to “Stop it and sit still!” I think everyone, including myself, were grateful for the distracting infestation of flies that day.
Before “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” was sung, the organist explained it wasn’t going to be sang like it was in the order of service. So that the music flowed everyone was to sing an extra couple of lines at the end of each verse. It made me smile, she had confused everyone.
I couldn’t sing the song. The words would not leave my mouth. I couldn’t do anything other than hum for the lump in my throat. I stood there swaying gently and enjoyed listening to Connor sing and hearing the music fill the church. With the church full and the organ playing, I have never heard a nursery rhyme sound so beautiful. I often find it difficult hearing or singing this favourite nursery rhyme. When it was sung during Charlotte’s first swimming lesson all I could do was swish Charlotte in the water, hoping that the tears wouldn’t leave the back of my eyes. At the same time, I was also comforted that Esme was enjoying seeing her sister finally able to splash around in the swimming pool water.
Connor’s Auntie Anne read Esme’s tribute. Although each word stung, knowing that her life had now ended, I felt blessed that her spirit was going to live on in our hearts. I was like a little girl listening to a bedtime story. She read it with such passion that made every word come to life. It reminded me of how special Esme was. I felt proud that everyone could hear what an amazing little girl she was.
When my friend and cousin stood up in the pulpit to read the poems, we briefly exchanged a knowing looks. Their words sounded so soft, kind, true and meaningful. I felt the luckiest girl to know that they were reading them for me and for Esme.
Just before the service ended, Connor and I were invited up to light two candles. One for Charlotte and one for Esme.
I could feel my anxiety building as I knew we were nearly at the end of the order of service and I was soon about to hear “Tiny Dancer”. I could feel panic rising and I wasn’t ready to let go. I had enjoyed being with Esme, I didn’t want to say goodbye.
As time cannot be stopped, “Tiny Dancer” began playing quietly.
I stood up in the pew listening to the words and waiting in anticipation. The song sounded familiar as I had listened to it and mentally rehearsed the following actions so many times. My heart began beating hard and fast and I felt lightheaded and dizzy. I could feel my self-control leaving me so I dug my nails firmly into my hand. I stood waiting for the music to build which would indicate when Connor would leave the pew, pick up Esme’s coffin and walk down the aisle, with me following.
As Connor left the pew, I panicked. I wasn’t ready to let her go. I didn’t want her to go. I didn’t want to say goodbye. I needed to hold her one more time. To have one last dance with my little girl.
I struggled to get my bag off my shoulder and could feel a rising panic that I wasn’t going to be able to hold her before Connor started walking down the aisle. I managed a stifled “Connor, I want to hold her.” The funeral director helped me with my bag and Connor handed me the coffin.
I started crying. My heart started breaking. I could hear my tears getting louder as they poured heavily from deep in my heart. I could feel Connor’s arms wrap safely around me and the tears slowed.
It was probably the most peaceful, loved and cherished moment of my life, just my little girl dancing in her Mummy’s arms, protected by her Daddy. Everything stopped and time stood still.
Even though the church was full, it felt so still. I could feel nothing but everyone’s silent love encompassing me. I held the coffin in my arms, with Connor’s arms around me and could feel my body swaying to the music, just like I would have done if I could have held her and cradled her. I wanted the moment to last forever. Even though I couldn’t see Esme, I knew her little body was in there. I could see her angelic face, her little button nose and her tiny plump cheeks. I never wanted the feeling of her safely in my arms to go away. There came a point in the music when I knew this moment couldn’t last forever, that it was time to pass her back to Connor and bury her. I’ve never felt my heart break like it did then. The painful realisation that I was about to bury my daughter was excruciating. When grief hits me hard, I can still feel that pain today.
I didn’t know what was going on behind me during the song, but I also didn’t care. For the first time, I didn’t feel self-conscious in front of a crowd of people. They were there to support us and I feel so grateful for the love and support they showed us that day.
I carefully handed Esme’s coffin to Connor and we began our walk up the aisle. I exchanged sad smiles and looks with those who met my eyes.
We were greeted by bright sunshine as we left the church. We crunched across the gravel and followed the path which led to the graveyard. As we got there, I felt the warm rays of the sun wrap around me. It was sparkling and shining brighter than ever. I felt shaky and quite sick when I saw the hole which had been dug and the mound of soil. I tried to ignore the thoughts of my little girl being buried under all that earth and reminded myself she was now in heaven.
I watched as everyone made their way to the burial. There were a lot of people who had come to say goodbye to Esme.
I stood listening to the prayers being read. I felt relaxed and at peace yet empty and numb inside. I felt proud of my Dad and father-in-law as I watched them carefully lower Esme into the ground.
I was overcome by an overwhelming sense of love for my little girl as I watched everyone scatter some earth over her coffin. People threw it in so carefully, so delicately. I felt touched by how loved Esme was by everyone. I was so proud that I was her Mummy.
As I walked out of the graveyard and towards the pub, I could feel a weight being lifted off my shoulders. I had done it. I had done it with the support of Esme, my husband and all of our family and friends.
The graveyard is now one of my safest, happiest places to be. A peaceful place where time slows down and it’s just me and my little girl, just like old days.
Before going to join everyone in the village hall, I went home and expressed. I needed five minutes to myself, where I could breathe. My close friend came and knocked on my door. I’m pleased she did. My friends can read my mind. I was grateful for her hug, her smile, her reassurance. We walked down to the village hall together.
The hall was filled with the sound of chatter and laughter and the delicious smells of the buffet. I was grateful to see many friends and family who I hadn’t seen in a long while.
That evening, I sat in my back garden with my family. We enjoyed the warm September breeze, the cake and the relief of the day coming to a peaceful close.
It had been such a celebration of Esme’s life. The day had been perfect.