A few weeks ago I was an “expert” on a panel of other experts about an historical topic. (My expertise came about when an official expert dropped out last minute.)
At a certain point, someone mentioned that President Abraham Lincoln had sat with the body of his dead son, Willie, for quite a long time after he passed away in the White House. Then someone else mentioned other “creepy” habits among bereaved parents and family members from the past. Without a second thought, I looked dead on into the faces of those who’d called it “creepy,” and said, “I don’t think it’s strange behavior at all. I think it’s a natural part of grieving to struggle with leaving your child’s body behind in a cold grave. In fact, it wasn’t unheard of in the 19th century for people who were having a hard time accepting a loved one’s passing to have them dug up for one last look. ‘Creepy’ isn’t really a helpful word for understanding what was going on.” And so….from there I kept my historian’s monologue and dialogue going, but in my mind I went elsewhere.
I have spent considerable time wondering and worrying about the natural processes of decay. It’s hellishly hard to come to terms with the reality that a little body you had hoped to nurture and see grow is now in the ground. I wouldn’t act on it, for religious and socially ordained reasons, but it’s not inconceivable to me that if given the chance somehow, I would have wanted to see what happened to Natan’s body after he was buried. I’m glad he was just put in a traditional pine box but now that I’ve been hearing about green burial options, I worry that we could have chosen a better environmental option.
As soon as we decided to get pregnant, I began thinking and worrying about the best choices for the environment and nurturing his little body. But I only checked into diaper services and make-your-own baby food kits. Environmentally friendly infant-size caskets weren’t one of my registry options.