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My second child and our first daughter, Camille, died and was born on June, 30 2011 when I was full term at 38 weeks pregnant. I gave birth to my rainbow baby, a second daughter, on August 31, 2012. This is me trying to figure out how to be a mother to my living son and daughter and function in society after our tragic loss.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Ashes Are Light Grey

It has been a busy week. I worked 11 hour days the past 4 days straight. The word exhausted pretty much covers it. The days have been good. I like what I do. Focusing on helping other people recover is something I am good at. I am distracted and can smile and laugh, hug and be helpful. At the end of each of these days I got in my car and started to cry. I have no time at work to think about myself, my grief, Camille. I get home and hug and kiss the small boy and the big man and go up and take a shower...where I cry.

Last night was my last day of work this week. My husband has been home with Kai. The other day they went and took flowers to Daryl's mother's grave. Kai was talking about how papa and uncle Brian put grandma in a box and buried her because she died. We were talking about burying people. My almost 3 year old asks "why" a lot. Dealing with dead bodies in our society consist of two options bury or cremate. Last night talking about grandma being buried led to Camille being in a box on our shelf but not buried. "Why?" I told him we didn't want to bury Camille in the ground so she was put in a special fire where her body was burned but it didn't hurt because she was dead. Her body turned into ashes and they put them in a little box. Kai said he was worried about that. He didn't want the box in our house. So I asked him if he wanted to see the box so he wouldn't be worried. We went into the library, the little white box is on the shelf. I hadn't noticed that my husband put these little tiny plastic Christmas flowers around the base of the box. I hadn't noticed. It makes me sad. He must think of her. I know that sounds like an obvious statement, but he doesn't talk to me about Camille. He is so stoic about it. It hurts me, but it is what it is. I took down the little white box and I let Kai carry it. He wanted me to open the box. It has been almost 6 months since Camille died. I haven't done this yet. I have never opened the box. I did. I was crying.

There is a little bag inside the box
 A brass circle with a number imprinted on it is around the closure of the bag.
The ashes are light gray.
There are pieces of white bone in them.
These ashes...they are of my daughter.
These light grey ashes with bone fragments...they are the body of Camille.

I wish I didn't know a full term baby's ashes only take up about 1 measuring cups worth of space. 
The sadness I feel could fill a universe.
Kai asked:"is her heart in there?"
Me:"Yes, but it was only her body, she wasn't alive anymore, she couldn't walk or talk, she wasn't alive."
Kai: "Why?"
Me: "I don't know why she died. Her heart just stopped beating."
Kai: "Where did she go?"
Me: "Where do you think she went?"
Kai: "Maybe she is in the sun or the trees or at the beach."
Me: "That seems like a good place for her energy to be. She will always live in our hearts near our peaceful place."
Looking at my child's ashes wasn't part of my life plan. This Wasn't Part Of My Agenda For Life. How is it that I find myself sitting on the floor with my precious first born son talking about his dead sister? We went back up stairs, it is 9:45pm, way past any idea of bed time. My husband was in the living room. He sat and watched the interaction and answered any questions directed at him in one word statements...not wanting to participate in this. We are sitting on the bed, I am crying, no books tonight baby... I just can't read a book.
Kai: "Mama, don't be sad, lets talk about something happier, she was just dead, she couldn't feel it."
Me: "I will always be sad about Camille because I love her and I miss her and she is my baby."
Kai: "I want to see a picture of her"
I told him to go down and ask his father to show him pictures, trying to get him to become more involved. Kai leaves, then returns with a pouty look on his face and he explains that papa said no. So I take him and get Camille's memory box down and sit on the living room floor and open the box. I look at my husband and say sternly: "If Kai requests to talk about his sister or see pictures of his sister, no matter what time it is, we do it."
I have shown him pictures before but it has been a while. We take out the crocheted little blanket, the baby hat and gown, the little pink card with her name and birth stats. The cards with her hand and foot prints and 4 pictures.
Kai comments as he looks at the photos: "tiny little feet", "what a cute little baby", "she's like me when I was a baby"
We put everything back in the box. Back upstairs, I ask if he feels better and he says he does.

As he closes his eyes, I place my ear on his chest to hear his heart beating.
He falls asleep... I will too, but my heart is broken. 


  1. We picked up our son yesterday. I haven't looked. My heart is with you.

  2. :(
    Crying right along with you on this one. Wow. Hard stuff for such little ones to have to deal with. And us big ones too. So unreal, huh? Sloane hasn't started with the technical questions... I am waiting bc I know they are coming. Sorry you aren't getting to back-up you need from your husband. You are right--it is so important to talk about the babies and answer questions anytime they come up.

  3. Human ash is so different. The bones. Oof. But i approach it like you, their questions get answered right away. I have come to think that our children tell us the secrets of the earth. Where are children go, how to approach death. Kai is just amazing. And so are you. Xo

  4. I've peeked at the ashes, too. I don't like the bone fragments, nor do I like that he's in a plastic baggie in there. :( It's shitty, but I'm so glad you were able to talk about her and explain where she is.

    xox momma.

  5. Kai is a brilliant little tike, isn't he? Such insight and curiosity. "Is her heart in there?" What a question.

    I hope our Kai and Stella are somehow better off because of their dead sisters. Maybe more in tune with the whole spectrum of human emotion? Maybe more in tune with others sadness? Perhaps they will be stronger in character and resiliency?

    I hope so. I hope there are gifts that come to our living kids through our dead kids.

    Stella is developing a slight love/hate with Margot. Last week she said she didn't like Margot and when I asked her why she talked about how it made us so sad. "New baby make you happy?" she said. And then yesterday she spoke of her beautifully again, without the wishing we would move on. Sometimes I think she is speaking what the others around us are privately thinking.

    Those ashes. It is still the most surreal part of this experience. They sit in our living room, the center of our home, and no matter how much I'm getting used to the grief, or used to her being gone, I can't fucking believe that my daughter was burned and her gray and white ashes are in living room. That cup might as well be the whole god damn world, if her ashes represented how much I miss her.

    Peace to you today Renel.


  6. I'm so sorry Renel. I wish nobody had just the ashes of their child left to them. It's so sad and it is so difficult to explain. I have no idea how I am going to do so when the time comes. I think your conversation with Kai was so kind, so beautifully handled. I'm sorry that you had to handle it alone this time. Much love to you, remembering your Camille xoxo

  7. Amelia~ I didn't think I would react so strongly when we went to pick up Camille's ashes. I totally lost it. I was sobbing uncontrollably...I am thinking of you.

    Molly, Angie, Sally, lauraJane~ My heart is with you over these holidays..your presence in my life keeps me feeling loved.

    Josh~ Stella talking about a new baby making you happy. Kai does this too. "when we have a new baby..." "Don't be sad, we can have another baby" ugh... I don't know if that means you and Keri are pregnant or are trying or just something you talk about but I know what it is like to have expectations for myself and then trying to soften the blow of those expectations for our son. Sending you and your family love.

  8. So sorry. My husband can be pretty stoic, too. Although he talks about Eliza, he rarely cries or seems emotional. I just noticed the other day that in our guest room, where we still have a few of her things on a shelf, he had placed a hair bow that says "daddy's girl" on the ribbon. It is so hard to hurt and to know how much they are hurting, too. Sending love to you and your family.

  9. Josh~ I always said while pregnant with Kai: "How do I keep my son from becoming an asshole?" I meant it to...I believe we should be kind humans. I have come to the realization that we do the best we can to behave as we would have them emulate. I hope something good comes from my daughters death...nothing seems good enough. I think that is why I want to have another child so bad...well, one of the reasons. I want there to be hope for life instead of death, I want their to be the thought of this new little person existing because their sister does not. I want to look forward instead of back...but that is a silly statement. I think I will always look back no matter the brightness ahead because Camille is back there. UGH. I wonder how well Stella speaks. Kai talks like he is 4+ years old and so he articulates his thoughts very well. I also worry about his association with so much saddness around Camille. I think that is the love hate you speak of.

    Catherine~ I don't ever know if I handle things well, I wish I had it planned out better. I guess we do the best we can in the moment. I try and remind myself of that because as Kai asks to see pictures it is a gut wrenching feeling of regret that I did not have him meet his sister, hug and kiss and hold her as I wish he would have.

    Brooke~I wish our husbands grieved like we do... I really do. I know from our first son that my husband (as many husbands do) don't attach a lot until the child is born. We carry the baby. We love them from the beginning. I know he misses her and thinks of her...but he doesn't bring it up. He is not the best at being compassionate towards me. Sometimes I have felt bitter but I really try to allow him to grieve the way he does not the way I want. Damn it. Daddy's girl UGH! I miss the eventual father daughter dances and special times I wouldn't be a part of....I miss her for him. I know you do that too.

  10. This was intensely hard for me to read. Not only about the ashes (as I haven't looked), but about Kai. Since we don't yet have another child outside of the womb, I have no idea how the rest of our lives raising our future children will be. Will they react similarly to Kai? I know they should ask and you should answer... but man. That's hard.

    As for husbands. I feel such grief over the fact that I am the one responsible for creating these babies and keeping them safe in my womb, yet somehow that failed Andrew. And in turn, that failed my husband who was waiting to be his dad on the outside. Like you said, we mothers bond immediately and especially more as our pregnancies progress.

    This is impossibly hard, this life we're living. Not sure why we were "chosen" for the task, but it's absolute bullshit and I hate how unfair this is and how terrible we'll always feel that our babies exist only as ash.

  11. Sigh.. yes it is very different path we led explaining death to our living children. I know how hard this is and will continue to be.. but you did amazing with Kai.. amazing. Sending love and light...

  12. Renel, you are such a good mother. Honestly, I think it is so easy for parents to ignore addressing the hard things with their children. You are wonderful.

    I've never been able to look at George's ashes. I am petrified of them.

  13. I've never been able to look at Calla's ashes. Not yet, even though they sit up top on a shelf in the room we are in every day. And E knows pretty much nothing about her. C and I are on completely different pages about this and it really sticks in my craw.

    I am with Brianna on this one: you are an amazing mother. I remember thinking like you when I was pregnant with E: I used to tell people the only thing I wanted him to be was nice. With Calla I should have amended my wish to nice and ALIVE. Silly me.

    I hope Christmas was gentle on you. Lots of love to you, friend.


  14. Dear Renel,

    I don't think I have posted on your blog before but I do read and just wanted to let you know that I think what you are doing for Kai is so beautiful and brave. He deserves to know about his sister and to have his questions answered. Although he is young, he understands so much.

    I also wanted to let you know that my husband was much like yours, very stoic after our loss(es). In fact, he would often get angry if I brought the deadbaby subject up, as he thought we were all talked out about it and it was easier to just not mention it. At the time, it made me so angry. I wondered how it was that two such compatible people could grieve so differently, and I was sad that instead of our loss bringing us closer together, I felt like we were further apart than we had ever
    been. Now, at 18 months out, I am just beginning to understand how much he was hurting because he is finally starting to be able to talk about it some. Those months when I felt unsupported were so hard though, and I am sorry you are having to live some of that. Things will get better.

    Be kind to yourself, your husband and Kai. Xoxoxoxo

  15. You are doing such a wonderful job with your son. I also have to have these conversations with my son and it breaks my heart that they have to learn about this at such a young age...it makes me sick actually!!

    I also have a husband who "compartmentalizes" this whole dead baby thing and it makes me insane. If I didn't bring it up he never would. I was told specifically by a friend who lost his first born that men and women grieve differently and that we can't force them to be the same as us...I didn't know how right he was, but it still bothers me that he hasn't officially dealt with Logan's death and we just passed his year anniversary. We decided to bury Logan and I am able to go and visit him and leave with relatively little tears...my husband is a blubbering mess the few times I make him go with me. I am hoping with time this will change, but I figure as long as I keep my focus on my living children and myself that is all I can do and he has to reach that point on his own.

    This post had me in tears because I feel your pain and know your reality all too well. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers through the holidays and I hope you are able to find a little bit of peace in 2012.

  16. Oh those ashes. Sorry so late to post. I have reread this a few times. I get so stuck on the things that Kai asked. My Colin is 7 but he asks the same questions. They are hard questions to answer because saying these things out loud, well it hurts. It makes me sad that I have to explain all of this to a 7 year old. I don't want to tell him these things but he asks and it is my job to explain.

    I look at those little ashes sometimes and I try to piece them together in my mind. I wonder what the different fragments represent? I look at pieces and think, maybe this is a bit of a leg. Is that just weird? I want to see something more then just gray ash. I keep thinking that maybe I should get an urn that is sealed so that none of us can see inside anymore.

    I think the way you explain things to Kai is beautiful and shows what an amazing Mother you are to your two children.

    Love to you my friend.

  17. I had to work up the courage to read this post. It was so emotional for me to look inside the urn at Elizabeth's ashes for the first time. I still don't do it often. The idea that her sweet self - blue eyes and dark curls and chubby cheeks and tiny toes and all - had become this little pile of ashes and bits of bone is still beyond my comprehension.

    My husband also shows his grief in such small ways sometimes. The flowers your husband placed have a lot of meaning, I think.

    You handle Kai's questions so beautifully and honestly. It's really an inspiration.

  18. "Maybe she is in the sun or the trees or at the beach"... Kai is amazing, so are you.
    Liam's urn is on our mantle, I haven't looked inside, maybe one day I will.

  19. I'm so sorry for your loss Renel.

    I have never looked in my daughters urn :( I don't know if I have th courage - maybe one day. Her memory box is hard enough for me, it makes everything so real.

    My heart is with you and your family during this time


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