By Helen Dorado Alessi
People use the word “overwhelming” all the time but this is a completely different type of overwhelming. Where, and how, do I begin to help this broken hearted family? How do I take it slowly and give them the time and space to honor the little soul who has been lost? Who will step up to help with the costs of all of this? AND then, how do I find out what truly happened, why did it happen, and how will we make sure it NEVER happens again to any immigrant woman and mom-to-be? This will surely not end here!
I am completely overwhelmed. The beautiful family standing in front of me is in absolute crisis and I think it’s the saddest, no, I know it’s the saddest and most unjust story I’ve ever taken in. But today is going to be a day of closure for Evelyn and her family—or can it?
“Sra. Helen, ¿me puede llevar a buscar a Stefani? Ms. Helen can you take me to get Stefani?” Before I can react, she adds, “No la puedo dejar allá mucho más tiempo. Me está llamando… I can’t leave there her much longer. She’s calling for me…”
“Sí, Evelyn, vamos a la funeraria a recoger a tu niña. Yes, Evelyn, let’s go to the funeral home and pick up your little girl.”
As we get in the car, I feel the cold heaviness coming off of Evelyn’s body. I can tell she is not even trying to take care of herself, but who could blame her? I know her sister and mother are very worried about her. She tells me that she is beyond depressed and just wants to have the pain end. “Pero, Sra. Helen, no se lo diga a mi mamá. But please, don’t tell my mom.”
She begins to tell me that everyone keeps telling her to go out, to leave her little room where she has scotch-taped all of Stefani’s sonograms on the wall next to her bed, to go walk by the ocean. But she is afraid to walk by the ocean, and I see terror in her eyes. I am longing to make small talk, but how could I be so cruel? I say, “Evelyn, tell me more.”
She says that her dreams are filled with her wanting to hold her baby, and that just as someone is to put her in her arms, she is snatched away. She cannot stop crying, deep uncontrollable crying. I tell her, “Go on…”
She tells me she cannot look at her other two children without seeing little Stefani standing next to them as a toddler. That she has visions of her running around the house, happy and free. I don’t think that either one of us can take much more of this.
We arrive at the funeral home parking lot, and I am grateful. The owners of the funeral home have been so kind to Evelyn. To bury a baby costs several thousand dollars. We called to see if there was anything they could do. Yes, they would charge her $400. Evelyn was able to come up with $200 and my board contributed the rest. I let her tears run dry and give her a moment to regain some strength before I say, “Are you ready?” She says, “Sí.”
We walk arm-in-arm into the funeral parlor. I ask Evelyn to wait for me in the hall. I walk into the office to say we were here to pick up Stefani’s remains. The frazzled and unkempt man says that Evelyn needs to sign some papers. They are in English. I sit with her and carefully interpret what is on each paper. Evelyn did not hear a word I had said but she signed anyway. She was far away, her face flushed and red from crying. She just wanted to get out of there.
As we turn to face the man, we noticed he has a small white box in his hand. It’s a very small Federal Express box. I am in absolute shock. I did not know they made boxes that small. I look at Evelyn’s face and see the look of disbelief. How could they be so unfeeling as to hand a grieving mother her baby daughter’s remains in an ordinary, awful, white box with a Fed Ex label across it? Oh, my God, I am going to lose it and hit this guy. What is wrong with you?! I feel like screaming at him. How dare you hand this mother a Fed Ex box like this?!
I know I have to control myself. This is not going to help the situation. I ask Evelyn to wait for me in the lobby.