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 Our 6 gallon of milk a week habit had been replaced by a milk cow. Our private school tuition had been replaced by a school in our dining room.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.