Catherine Ashe faced a mother's nightmare when she found out, 32 weeks into what she described as an "otherwise uneventful" pregnancy, that her son had a chromosomal condition that would most likely lead to his death before birth or shortly after. And, despite the fact that she was already staring down that nightmare, she faced a challenge when she decided to bring her son's body home with her from the hospital.
Ashe described in a powerful essay how, while researching what she needed to do to prepare for her son's death, she began to consider a home burial. It took an enormous amount of effort, but Ashe was finally able to sort through the rules and regulations for her state of North Carolina to make sure a home burial would be legal.
So, when her son, James, died at the age of 5 months in 2017, she did exactly what she wanted to do: She brought him home for his final resting place.
"[E]verything in my mind and body rebelled against the thought of leaving him in the hospital," Ashe wrote. "I could not fathom the thought of my son’s tiny, lifeless body being wheeled to the morgue and laid on a cold, stainless steel table to eventually be placed in a freezer. He would be alone, and he had never been alone in his life."
I could not fathom the thought of my son’s tiny, lifeless body being wheeled to the morgue.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that Ashe was not only a grieving mother but also a parent well within her legal rights, the medical staff treated her as if she was doing something wrong. They were "visibly flustered," Ashe wrote. The staff didn't allow the parents to leave immediately, even insisting that they procure a car seat (which they did not bring) to take their son home in.
Instead of leaving her son in a cold morgue and dealing with the ins and outs of the funeral home, burial details and visitation hours, Ashe described how they opened their home in the mountains and allowed family and friends to say their last goodbyes to their son, as he lay in the bedroom he should have occupied. They were comforted in their own space, reminded of the sunny days they had spent with James in their home before he left them. And at 4:52 p.m., the same time he'd entered the world, they buried him.
Ashe ended her essay by sharing how today she is grateful that she is able to see her son's grave, adorned with small gifts from his sisters, from her kitchen window. She shared her story in order to encourage other parents that there is a "better way" to deal with the death of an infant born too soon. Not all families may be aware that a home burial is an option for an infant (although rules vary by state), but if a home burial can ease the burden of grief in even the smallest way, it's an option that needs to be discussed. It might not be right for everyone, but for families like Ashe's, home was the only place they wanted to be.