Sunday, January 23, 2011

From the Cradle to the Grave

Over fifteen years ago, we decided to start having our babies at home.  The thought had never occurred to us before.  "Normal" people went to the hospital, and we had never given it a second thought.

When we found out that we were expecting Master Hand Grenade, we began to explore the possibilities of having him at home.  We had recently experienced a total transformation in the way that we thought and lived and we now approached life from a completely different perspective.  My full time job as a legislative liaison had been replaced with a full time job as a wife and mother.  Our weekly (or three times a week) eating out adventures had been replaced with "stored foods night" and "whole grains night".  Our 6 gallon of milk a week habit had been replaced by a milk cow.  Our private school tuition had been replaced by a school in our dining room.  Our horizons had been expanded and we were ready to connect with life in a whole new way.

Master Hand Grenade was born quietly and peacefully in our upstairs bedroom on a wintry, late afternoon.  Praise and worship music was softly wafting through the air and candlelight cast a mellow glow about the room.  Sir Knight cradled his newborn son in his arms as he helped tuck me into bed.  Maid Elizabeth brought a heated blanket to wrap me and her brand new baby brother in and then ran to the kitchen to whip up an protein rich orange drink.  Our midwife bustled around taking care of all the less than savory aspects of birth while Sir Knight, Maid Elizabeth and I snuggled, prayed over and fell in love with our new little wee one.  Our family was intimately involved in welcoming our newest member into this world.  It was an honor and a blessing.

A few years later, much to our great joy, we were again expecting a precious babe.  This sweet baby was not for this world, however, and she was born still.  Because of the complications surrounding this wee one's birth, she was born in the hospital.  Although the hospital staff was wonderful, I missed being at home, and mourning in the privacy of my own room.  I missed the connection of holding my sweet baby in my own home, surrounded by my husband, children and parents.  My memories of holding my still baby are in a hospital, surrounded by hushed tones and solemn faces, and far off sounds of healthy newborns crying.

Nurses in the hospital prepared my daughter for burial.  I didn't have the great honor of bathing and dressing my baby.  I didn't have the chance to gaze at her face one last time.  Although I'm sure the people who took care of our baby were kind, they weren't me.  I didn't have the chance to say a long goodbye.

Sir Knight and I buried our baby daughter on a beautiful hill overlooking the fields and creeks were I grew up.  My dad, brother and husband dug the hole.  Maid Elizabeth sang "Jesus loves me".  Sir Knight placed the marker.  My mom, sister-in-law and I cried.  We buried our daughter at home, just were she ought to be.  Now, when I want to reflect, I go and sit with our dear daughter.  It is not a sad, solemn place, like a cemetery.  It is a place of life and laughter and memories more sweet than bitter.  Someday, my mother and father, husband and children and myself will join our daughter on that hill, overlooking the fields and creek.

Years later, our dear friends had their son at home.  He, too, was born still.  Sir Knight and I arrived as the midwives were furiously trying to revive this little tyke.  We held tight our dear friends and prayed for God's mercy.  God was merciful.  He took his little man home.  My friends Lady Day, Julianne of Providence Lodge and I held this precious baby in our arms, and rocked his still body.  As Julianne sang hymns of praise and held our dear friend in her arms, Lady Day and I washed and dressed her sweet baby.  Lovingly, we washed each little finger and toe, commented on how much he looked like his brothers, and sang songs glorifying God.  We connected in ways most people never experience.  We connected in life and we connected in death.

As we ladies took care of mama and baby, the men took care of dad.  They prayed together.  They comforted the women.  They took care of the physical necessities.  The children, also, were present.  They watched the adults to see how they should react.  They too prayed, sang and took care of one another.  The boys went to the woods, ate MRE's, talked about their dead brother and came back renewed.   Then they headed outside as a group and began an impossible task.  They dug the grave of one of their own.  Father and brothers together, built the coffin that would be the earthly home of their youngest member.  This family, this group of friends shared the most intimate moments in life - birth and death.

We learned that by being involved in the process of life, fear loses it's grip.  We, and our children, understand life and death a little bit more.  We have learned that by being an active participant in both birth and death, we connect with our friends and our families on a level not to be achieved any other way.  Taking care of our own in death helps through the grieving process.  It gives us a chance to slowly, lovingly, say goodbye.  It brings us to a deeper relationship with each other and with our Creator.

We may all be confronted with the necessity of having our babies at home and taking care of our own dead.  It is not something to shy away from.  It is a part of life to embrace and count as a blessing.  As with anything else in life, being prepared to deal with both birth and death is of paramount importance.  Having midwifery books and a birth kit that include cord clamps, bulb syringes, receiving blankets and baby hats and a hot water bottle are essential.  Knowing how to handle a home birth could be the difference between life and death, for both mother and child.

Being prepared to take care of your loved ones in death will also connect you with your family and your community.  Washing and dressing, wrapping in sheets or curtains and building a casket are all required tasks.  Most states allow home burial in rural or semi-rural locations.   Contact your county for specific regulations regarding home burial.  A Certificate of Death must be obtained by going through your county coroner.  You most likely will need a license to transport the body of your loved one if they died somewhere other than home.  Of course, in a TEOTWAWKI situation, all of these rules and regulations would have no bearing.

There are a few things to remember when caring for the body of your loved one.  You must care for them as quickly as possible after they die.  A body may succumb quickly to the effects of death making it difficult, if not impossible, to properly dress the deceased.  You must work quickly to dress and arrange the body  in the appropriate position.  Once rigor mortise  sets in, positioning the body will be next to impossible, with less than desirable results.  In days gone by, fifty cent pieces were place over the eyes to keep them from opening (a natural process of death).  Often, the body was washed and dressed in their Sunday best and placed on a table or in a bed for family and friends to say their goodbyes.  Generally speaking, the dead were laid to rest within two days, because without embalming, the decomposition process proceeds quite rapidly.  Many people were wrapped in sheets and laid in their homemade coffins and laid in the ground.  In most areas of the country, this process is still legal today (of course, check with your local regulations).

Sir Knight and I have birthed babies and buried babies.  We have connected with life and death.  And we are the better for it.

4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; they rod and they staff they comfort me. 5 Though preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
                                Psalms 23:4-6


  1. This is a difficult but necessary topic to address, so thank you for having the courage to enter into it. This aspect of preparedness is especially meaningful because you wrote about your own very personal experiences. Such openness and honesty are truly unmatched elsewhere in the blogosphere.

    I have never had children, so I won't pretend to know anything about the beginning of life. However, I have witnessed the end of life with my parents and it was not what I expected. Death isn't often easy and quiet. Instead, it is frequently long and drawn out. It can be full of pain, and even some unnerving vocalizations, as life slowly drains away.

    Bedsores (pressure sores) come easily when thin skin is left in one position for hours at a time. Turning the person every few hours is important in order to relieve some of their suffering. It is hard to watch a parent as s/he lay dying. As an adult, I wanted to rescue my parents from their deaths. I felt helpless and awful because I knew I could not.
    But I could do a few things to relieve some of their apparent suffering. Turning them, and bracing them with pillows prevented bedsores. A damp cloth touched to dry lips seemed to provide comfort. And rubbing legs and feet, arms and hands meant they knew they weren't alone and also stimulated circulation. Keeping head and shoulders elevated brought some ease of breathing, although pneumonia is an old person's "friend" at such times.

    Moving a large adult lifeless body is not an easy task, so that is also something to consider when dealing with the dead. A strong 9'x12' tarp may be useful. And as callous as this may sound, a refrigerator dolly may also aid in moving a body and coffin towards a final resting place.

    The local Hospice office had a booklet which helped me deal with the dying process. I recommend getting a copy before the balloon goes up. It may help your readers to recognize the stages of end-of-life and what to expect with each phase of the process. The booklet title is "Gone From My Sight - The Dying Experience" by Barbara Karnes. It helped me because it forewarned me. Being forewarned enabled me to come to grips with the eventual outcome. Watching a loved one die is not easy, but knowing what to expect can certainly help the living.

    NoCal Gal

  2. Oh, Enola, I had no idea! Thank you so much for sharing.

    We recently lost a little one during the early weeks of pregnancy, and I chose to stay home. I am a homebirther, and was confident in my body's God-given ability to handle loss as well as birth. I expected to be able to eat as I pleased, rest as I pleased, and tend to my body's needs. What I didn't expect was to recognize my child, small as it was. I'm certain that had I been in hospital, I would've been "cleaned out," and would have missed the awesome opportunity to hold this tiny, fragile, precious child-in-the-making, to greet it, and to say a tearful goodbye. I am so very thankful for those moments.

    I have done just a bit of research on home funerals and would be happy to share a few links if your readers would care to have them. In addition, youtube has a home funeral channel with few videos, and PBS did a segment on a wonderful home funeral of an older country gentleman for whom a simple burial in a simple casket just seemed the next logical step--of course! Please do let me know, and I'll post the links here.


  3. Your article brought me to tears. I am blessed to have two beautiful, healthy children, but I do think about the chance that I could lose them. And it wrenches my heart to think of their death. Thank you for sharing your experiences.
    Andrea S

  4. I too cried as I read this article. It was written with so much love. The way your family and friends deal with life and death is the way we all should. Life and death go together. We should comfort each other, tenderly care for both the living and the dead and help each other go through the emotions associated with the process.
    Tears are still falling as I write this comment because the article was so beautiful. Thank you.

  5. Enola Gay,
    you are a pillar of strength and a soulfully beautiful person. thank you for sharing these most precious of life's experiences so that others can chose to be prepared too for when this worldly life ends at God's calling.


  6. My brother-in-law, John, had ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). He perservered for nearly 2 years, finally reaching the point of being bed-ridden and on oxygen. Last June, my sister called to say that he had taken a turn for the worse. I went to their house with my husband and grandson, and stayed to help when my family went home. I stayed at my sister's house 24/7, taking turns with my sister, nephew and niece to sit with John. He had such difficulty speaking that someone had to be in the room with him at all times. We laughed, we talked, we cried. I was there for all of them as they made that final journey, and count it as one of the greatest blessings of my life. I have a stronger connection at the deepest of levels with my sister and nephew and niece. There are no words to describe it. We couldn't handle the final details for burial such as you describe, but what we experienced has given each of us a different perspective on the process of dying. It was at one and the same time the hardest and best week of my life.

    Thank you for writing and sharing this part of your life. It reminds me again that living and dying are just different sides of the same coin. We have so separated ourselves from the dying process that it is now feared and avoided at all costs by most people.

  7. Well, friend, I think this is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read. My heart breaks for you, and rejoices with you. I think it is so wonderful that you have shared this time of your life. Thank you.

  8. This was a beautiful post. We never had kids but I felt some emotion stirring around while reading it.
    I believe we are going to be seeing more death than we're accustomed to, in the near future. My mother is very emotional and cries at the drop of a hat. I told her it would be good if we could toughen up some emotionally, because if she gets all upset when someone she barely knows dies, how is she going to make it when we see more deaths directly or indirectly related to the economy and stress, or perhaps war, or a plague or natural disaster.

  9. Enola,
    We, too, have buried one of our dearest treasures. Even as believers, it has been hard on the living, hard on our marriage, and hard on our souls. But we have perservered, and are thankful that our little one was found worthy to not endure the pain and suffering of this life and be "promoted" immediately to Glory. Thank you for this post.

  10. We wanted a homebirth with our son, but complications made that impossible right at the last minute.

    re: death, well, I want to comment and I just can't. You've given me a lot to think about.

    Thank you for posting about this.