Earlier this year I observed an autopsy of an infant girl. This is my response to the encounter. There are no identifying comments in the text.
My assumption is of cot death though of course this is not diagnosable at point of autopsy.
I lost my own brother to cot death when I was 5 years old. I remember him vividly and I remember his absence in our home just as clearly. Our lives were never the same again; his loss is still felt now nearly 30 years later. Seeing Baby X brought so much of the pain back into stark focus and I wondered if the mortician had treated my brother so kindly and with such respect. I hope so. I wrote this letter because I was shocked by the violence of my feelings. I was literally knocked sideways by the strength of them and they seemed to have no resting place. I started to write the letter in my head and began to find some peace as I acknowledged her life and paid my respects. I can't bring her back to life, I can't heal the pain of her parents but I can lay to rest my own feelings. She matters and that is what my own heart needed to know.
Dear Baby X,
I wanted to write to tell you about the last time I saw you… the first and last time I ever met you. I have to confess to being unprepared for such a significant moment in my life but I want you to know that you changed my life and I will never be the same again.
I started to feel nervous as I got changed into scrubs to enter the mortuary, doubting the wisdom of coming but there was no going back and before I knew it I was walking into the room where you lay. I was first drawn to your sweet little face, long eyelashes resting gently on your rosy cheeks, for the life of me I would swear you looked asleep and my instinct was to pick you up and wrap you up warm because Baby you looked too cold on that table. Your hands were laid by your sides, fingers gently curled as if they had just let go, I imagined reaching out and your fingers grasping my own.
The tubes and needles used to try to bring you back to life were still there, evidence of the battle to save you and bring you safely back to your Mummys arms where you belonged, but also a reminder that it wasn't possible. Everything had been done but it wasn't enough and you had already gone.
The mortuary technician was so gentle with you and though you can't feel it any more, he was careful not to hurt you. He told me the story of your passing and I thought about your family and my heart hurt with their pain of losing you.
The procedure itself was hard to watch but I stayed with you and thought of the life you were meant to have, of the potential in your little body and in your face which looked so ready to smile and giggle. I imagined the happiness you had already undoubtedly brought to your family and the memories they will be holding on to, and though it may take them a little while to smile again, when they do it will be because they remember you.
When the time came for me to leave, I knew I was leaving you in good hands. That your body would be respected and treated with dignity, and returned to your Mummy so she can say her last goodbyes.
Most of all I wanted to let you know that you matter more than you'll ever know. I am… was a stranger to you and your family, but you touched my heart and I am grateful for you.