• Liz Pappas

Heart Two Sizes Too Small

Updated: Dec 30, 2019

There are two places you should avoid as a newly bereaved parent: Target and the grocery store during the Holiday Season. Unless you want to torture yourself, that is.

The day after Charly died we had a very small, very private viewing. She was to be cremated, so there was a small window of time where we could see her before she was sent away. At first I just wanted to see her for myself. Hold her again. But before the day was out, we were hosting a small viewing. Which was helpful. It was a slow stream of close friends and family members with some time in-between so I could sit with Charly and not need to share her with anyone else. While I know the people that came were there to support Andy and I, I wanted everyone to see how absolutely beautiful our baby girl was. She was my pride and joy. Was this how artist's felt at an art show? Like their heart and soul was on display, hoping that everyone loved and appreciated their work as much as they do?

All moms dream about the “first look” they get to have when their child is born. No one imagines they’d have a last look. It took me hours to say goodbye. Every time I told myself “one more kiss” I ended up giving her more than I could count. By the time we reluctantly left, her hands and cheeks were so warm from our kisses that I almost thought she came back to us.

Didn’t she know the dress and headband in my hands were for my dead baby? Didn’t she know I was on my way to the funeral home where my baby was in a cooler waiting for me to dress her? Couldn’t she see that everything I was holding would be incinerated along with my precious child in less than 24 hours?

A few hours before, Andy and I had gone to Target to find a black dress for myself, and a pretty outfit for Charly. That morning I had scoured her dresser looking for something to put on her; nothing was even remotely beautiful enough. After she passed, I had put her in a fleecy unicorn sleeper because her body was so so cold. I wrapped her up in the fluffiest blanket we had because I wanted her to be cozy. When the man from the funeral home indicated that I should place her on the stretcher he had, I asked if I could carry her downstairs. He complied, and I held her tightly as we went down the elevator of the Hospice building. Andy put her beloved DocAtot on the stretcher and no sooner than I lay her down, I scooped her back up. I didn't want to let her go, and I certainly wasn't going to watch her be wheeled out by a stranger when I could be squeezing her in my arms. I let my tears stream onto her face, wishing they would magically bring her back to life like in the fairy tales. I kissed her over and over and told her how much I loved her, even though I knew she was no longer there. 

So there we were just one day later, numbly navigating through a paradoxical Target. As we sifted through the racks of puffy, shiny Christmas dresses that weren't remotely Charly's style, I finally found something that seemed like her. A simple, golden croqueted dress with just a hint of sparkly thread woven in. It was perfect.

I stood in the Target line I had foolishly chosen. An old, gentle, excrusiatingly slow cashier and a young mom with two toddlers were ahead of me. There was nothing on the conveyer belt, so I thought I was home-free. Just hand her the receipt, and she and her giddy children can get out of here so me and my miserable self can buy my funeral clothes. But, of course, she needed to buy gift cards, which added on what felt like hours of torture to me. I let out an audible gasp of air, as if I had the wind sucked out of me when the cashier gave her stickers and she handed them to her children with a voice that was sickly sweet. She made a point to say each of their names and to be sure that they individually thanked the kind man. I unintentionally rolled my eyes and she gave me a dirty look.

I didn't mean to. I know she was just trying to be a good mom. But didn’t she know the dress and headband in my hands were for my dead baby? Didn’t she know I was on my way to the funeral home where my baby was in a cooler waiting for me to dress her? Couldn’t she see that everything I was holding would be incinerated along with my precious child in less than 24 hours? Didn’t I have a big red stamp on my forehead declaring me a grieving mother? That’s how I felt. Like everyone could and should see my grief. Like my heart was bleeding out onto the floor, but no one cared. Like an invisible ghost of a person with a grumpy face. But how could she know? She was just a stranger trying to teach her kids manners.

The misconception with grieving is that your haves will remind me of my have nots. While they're certainly accentuated, I am constantly thinking about the child I lost. She doesn't leave my mind for a second, so your existing child can't remind me of something that never left my mind in the first place. When I see other families, moms, babies, and children, I don't get sad because they have something I've lost. I don't want your kids. I don't want your family. I want MY family, MY baby. I want my Charly. When you see a grieving family, please don’t feel guilty that you have something they don't; we don't want what you have. We want what we lost. We want the one thing that can't be wrapped and placed under a tree. 

So here's some advice to all the Holly Jolly merrymakers during the Holidays: be gracious with the Scrooges and Grinches you meet in your travels and shopping excursions. There is a good chance their heart is two sizes too small because they can't be with the person they love for whatever reason. But also know that your holiday cheer will not make their heart grow three sizes either. Just simply accept those seasonal Scrooges for who they are and what they are feeling.

I don't have much holiday cheer this year, because the one that brought me joy is no longer here. Andy said the other day, “I wish we could just skip ahead to next Christmas. Maybe we’ll be happy then.“ I responded that I didn’t know which Christmas was worse, this year or last. We don’t want to be sad on Christmas, but everywhere we look we see Charly, and even when we close our eyes, we feel the hole she left. Merry Christmas, Charly.❤️

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