Give In Kind is honored to feature Melissa Monroe.
On August 6, 2013, I put my darling daughter Alice down for a nap.
And she never woke up.
And just like that, my life shattered into a million pieces.
Sudden Unexpected Death in Children, or SUDC, is like SIDS, but occurs in children over the age of one, and is far rarer. Because it is so rare, there is very little to be found in the medical literature, and finding a cause, or means of prevention, seems a very long way off. I had to come to the acceptance that I would likely never know what took my darling daughter away from us.
In the hours, days, and even weeks after Alice died, I was in complete shock. My brain was not functioning like it normally could, and I was very aware of that.
Yet, I still had to make arrangements for Alice’s remains, and for some sort of service. These are things that no parent ever thinks that they will have to do for their child.
I received so much amazing support in those early days, but the help I received in dealing with the coroner’s office, deciding what to do with Alice’s remains, and planning memorial services, were priceless gifts.
My dear friend Michael sat with me, in my home, with the wonderful Shari Wolf from Natural Grace, a funeral home specializing in green funerals, home funerals, and highly personalized, environmentally sensitive, death care options. I was in shock, and therefore my decision-making skills were greatly challenged, so it was extremely helpful to have Michael there to “translate" for me. And, although I knew I did not want to have Alice embalmed, I just could not bring myself to make the cremation versus burial decision. No one wants to make this decision for their child. No one.
I wanted Alice as near to me as possible until I die, however, so in the end, I decided on cremation.
Shari explained that Natural Grace was committed to the special care of families that experienced the loss of a young child, through their Bigtree Child Fund. Shari accepted not one penny for her services. In the end, all we had to pay for was a small fee to the crematorium. This was an enormous help, and I am ever grateful to Shari, Natural Grace, and Michael for steering me through the worst decisions I ever had to make in my life, with unparalleled love and compassion.
Because Alice was not embalmed, we were able to have her wake at our home, which was also a blessing. Shari stayed with us the entire day, with reverence. Alice looked perfect. There was no box. No casket. No grey, embalmed skin. No formaldehyde smell. She looked exactly as she had in life.
We had so much to help that day. One friend sent a very tasteful Moses basket full of flowers, suitable for an in-home wake, which was great, because I honestly never thought of flowers, nor did any of my shocked and grieving relatives. My friends Rob and Rhonda personally brought food for all of the mourners from their wonderful restaurant, Masa of Echo Park. Other friends kept an eye on my eldest daughter, and others supplied tables and chairs, liquor, hugs, and love. I did not have to do a single thing other than say goodbye to my sweet daughter that day. I am ever grateful to my friends for making it possible for me to do that.
I am a spiritual person, but I do not associate with a particular denomination, so coming up with the place to hold the memorial service was challenging. With the help of several friends–I don’t even recall who suggested it– we secured a large room at The Ebell of Los Angeles. It is a beautiful, tranquil place, non-denominational, and near our home, so it was perfect. We had photos of Alice blown up poster-size at Fed-Ex, and friends placed them on easels at The Ebell. My friend Ramsay Midwood, provided music that was meaningful to our family, and friends Jessica Gaskins King, Leah Katz and Jason Torreano formed a string trio that played Alice’s favorite, “Twinkle, Twinkle."
My father read a bible passage, Michael read from Alice’s favorite book, and my friend Jen read a poem. The officiant was a volunteer recommended by Natural Grace. She came over to speak to me a couple of days prior, and delivered a eulogy no one in our family was capable of delivering.
Someone brought a guestbook. Someone took over some of Alice’s belongings so I could display them. Someone gassed up our car and put bottled water and Kleenex in there. Friends Janet and Mark hosted the luncheon, and my friend Linda donated all of the wine. Someone coordinated with The Ebell. Someone printed directions to the luncheon as well as programs. And many, many people were there. There to support me, and hug me, and cry with me.
People did so many things to help, I could write a book on the topic.
My friends knew my family and I would be too shocked and bereaved to do much planning, or attend to details, so they leaned in, saw what needed to be done, and did it. All of it allowed me to do nothing but receive support, and honor the far too-short life of my daughter. And for this, I am forever deeply grateful.
Photographs Courtesy of Melissa Monroe. Used with permission.
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