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: Chapter Eight

...Holly had been placed in a white coffin that we had ordered. The decor of the room was very soothing. There was a nice wicker basket crib, a heater, matches for cigarettes or for the white candle, and finally, tissues for tears. We were her to get Holly ready for her last journey...

The day arrives for the funeral of Louis and Liz Hemmings' stillborn daughter Holly.

Louis's account of the one of the worst tragedies that can befall young parents has brought comfort to many people - and understanding to many more who had not considered the terrible reality of stillbirth.

Holly's funeral was on the following day, Monday. Liz and I woke up shortly before
Lawrence. It was just long enough to pray that God would be glorified and to commit the day
to Him. Guy agreed to come in to the hospital with Liz and me, to take the very last photos of
Holly. We were told to come at a specific time. There was another family coming to collect their
stillborn child from the special room used for the purpose and it was therefore important not to
have an overlap.

We were led into a loading bay area by two nurses, and up a few steps. A
nurse unlocked the door of this special chapel-like room. One of these nurses had been
assigned to Liz for the duration of labour.

Holly had been placed in a white coffin that we had ordered. The decor of the room
was very soothing. There was a nice wicker basket crib, a heater, matches for cigarettes or for
the white candle, and finally, tissues for tears. We were here to get Holly ready for her last
journey. She herself had long since left her body, this tent of flesh. Her spirit had soared,
meteor-like, through all time zones into eternity.

The nurses left us to spend some time alone with Holly. She was cold to touch. Her
better-looking hand was exposed. The pink rose that had been placed beside her on
Saturday was still there. We looked at her lovely little eyelashes, her high cheekbones, her
perfect and pretty finger-nails. Then Liz placed her letter to Holly in the coffin, along with a
poem that I had written, one each side of her head, and at the top she put a photo of
Lawrence. Seeing the happy, boyish photo of Lawrence in the coffin, overlooking his dead
sister, made me cry. Such a painful juxtaposition. Lawrence had so much wanted to talk to,
play with, and love his sibling.

Guy took some photos, and after a short while we called in the two nurses. They
helped us to seal this almost shoebox-sized coffin. Liz turned the big buttony screw at Holly's
head, and I turned the matching stubborn screw at her feet. I bit back the tears as I performed
this second-last task for her, as a parent and father. The last task left was to carry Holly's coffin,
both in and out, at the funeral.

I fetched the car and parked it by the anonymous sliding door of the loading bay. The
coffin seemed surprisingly light to me. As I placed it in the bare boot of our liftback car, I
winced at the lack of flowers. I recriminated myself for my lack of thought about this oversight.
We turned to thank the nurses for all they had done, and drove off. I wondered what other
drivers and cyclists thought, as they saw the small coffin through the car boot window.

No one had suggested that we bring Holly home to the house. We now realise that
we would have liked to collect her from the hospital the evening before the funeral. Not having
to drive into town and deal with the hospital that morning would have taken some of the stress
out of the day. It would also have provided a relaxed setting in which family members could
be with Holly if they wanted to. Liz and I, together with Lawrence, could then have set off for
the funeral directly from home in a more relaxed manner. We could have arranged the flowers
nicely around Holly's coffin in the hatchback boot of the car.


* *


A good number of people were gathering at the church. We laid Holly's coffin on a
covered table at the front. Beside it, we put lots of flowers and on top, a homemade old fashioned
teddy, knitted by an elderly relation of Liz's in bright primary colours. We had
acquired it several weeks previously.

Robbie Burns preached the sermon. Sue Barry gave a short talk and finished by
reading out Liz's letter to Holly. My mother and Roger read two scripture portions, I read out a
poem that I had written for Holly, and there were three hymns. Lawrence played with his cars
on the carpet and around my neck. Liz tried to absorb everything, not wanting to forget any
little detail. Two pieces were played from 'Beautiful .... Or What?!' composed by Adrian Snell.

We were glad that we had put the funeral together ourselves. (We have since given away
many cassettes of the recording and some who have heard it have been helped.)
I soon found myself, rather too hurriedly, carrying Holly's coffin out to the car. A long
queue of people formed, waiting to speak to, or hug, Liz and me.

I was particularly touched by three, older, work-worn women, who came up to me with
tears in their eyes and hugged me. I had never met them before that day. I have never seen
them since. Perhaps one of them, or all three, had gone through a similar experience,
themselves. Who knows? Perhaps they were angels come to encourage me. They made
the day extra special. ("Breath of heaven, hold me together, be ever near me, lighten my
darkness, pour over me Your holiness, for You are holy.")

It was interesting to see who turned up for Holly's funeral, and who did not, who would
speak about this tragedy, and who would not say a word. It was very hard though, that some
whom I am involved with did not come, or send flowers or cards. Perhaps it was too difficult for
them to handle, but anything, rather than nothing, would have been appreciated. Even on such
a difficult day I had to forgive those who did nothing at such an important time. Every so often
this lack of action sticks in my gut. I have to go to God and ask for His forgiveness for my
bitterness and anger.

The car boot was now rejoicing, overflowing with flowers, in stark contrast to Holly's
journey from the hospital. I was thankful that the weather was dry, even if windy. A friend
drove us in our car to the cemetery. Lawrence, Liz and I sat together in the back of the car.
At Shanganagh, a small crowd gathered around the open grave. The hole looked very
deep for such a small coffin. There was some straw lining the bottom. I gave Holly's coffin to
one of the cemetery men, who placed it in this unfriendly, deep chasm. Fenny, our Nigerian
friend, read a passage from scripture, Liz's father led us in reciting the Lord's Prayer, and a few
others prayed aloud. Then a board was placed over the grave, and the flowers were placed
on top of it.

When most people had left, we encouraged Lawrence to dig again the freshly turned
earth, with his plastic spade. He dropped earth down onto Holly's coffin. We wanted him to
have good memories of that day. We spent a while doing this and Guy took some
photographs. Then we went back to Robbie's and Ruth's house. They had kindly offered to
host a light lunch for any who wanted to come. This was another act of mercy from this family
which has stood by me and mine, over the past twenty years.

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