Tuesday 24 October 2017

'After a baby's death, we swim in a sea of grief...'

The funeral in Galway last week of baby Rosabel was heartbreakingly described as 'the only occasion she would have in her whole life'

She lit up the room: Rosabel on her first birthday
She lit up the room: Rosabel on her first birthday
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Rosabel was the kind of baby whose little smile would light up the room and have everyone smiling back at her - and whose little laugh would, in turn, cause everyone who heard it to laugh along with her.

Last Monday morning in St Mary's Church, Claddagh, Galway, where her parents Suzanne McClean and Gary Monroe were married, Rosabel had everyone in church in tears.

It was her funeral.

Rosabel Mary Monroe was born on the afternoon of January 5, 2016 - a tenth grandchild for both sets of grandparents in Galway and Dublin. The evening before the funeral, at Rosabel's home in Mincloon, out in the countryside, Suzanne said that Rosabel's funeral would be the only occasion she would have in her whole life. Those words were as heartbreaking to hear from a mother as was the sight of Rosabel seemingly asleep in her cot at the foot of her parents' bed upstairs last Sunday night.

She didn't seem to be disappearing into the eternal twilight; she seemed asleep; at peace. It was like that Eimear O'Connor poem Fractured when "the soul takes flight from thee/Cracked open from the pain of life/Fractured, yes/But free".

Downstairs, there were pictures of Rosabel on the kitchen table lit up by candles. Four-year-old Ruben was running around the back garden with his cousins, oblivious to the actual reality of what happened to his sister three nights before. Suzanne said that the day Rosabel was born, Ruben came to see her and promised Rosabel that he would be her protector. And he was true to his word, said Suzanne. People told stories about Rosabel and how they would be overcome with delight around her. That was the gift she gave. Rosabel added in her own way to the sum of human goodness.

On June 9, 2016, she uttered her first word. Much to her Daddy's dismay, this word was: 'Mama'.

"What I wouldn't do to see your arms outstretched just one more time, calling me Mama. Or to hear your Daddy call your name, like only he could, as he'd come through the door from work," Suzanne said last Monday morning from the altar.

"People often commented that perhaps she was an old soul. I was never quite sure how I felt about this. I always quietly knew there was something exceptional about her, but I wanted her to be ours and ours alone, not somehow borrowed from a higher entity that we couldn't explain."

The song The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face was played at the church. It was Rosabel's song since Suzanne's scan at 23 weeks. The radiographer noted that she had the prettiest and most perfect face she had ever seen. And so it became her song. Suzanne sang it to Rosabel in the hospital room as she tragically cradled Rosabel in her arms for the last time last Thursday week. They still have no answers as to why she died. They may never.

Nick Cave's Into My Arms was also played at the funeral mass ("I don't believe in an interventionist God/But I know, darling, that you do/But if I did I would kneel down and ask Him/Not to intervene when it came to you.") Ruben used to sing this to Rosabel when she was still in the womb. Her father Gary said Rosabel was an angel flying too close to the ground. Suzanne said that there are no words available to her and Gary regarding how they felt.

"We are broken beyond repair but amongst the anguish and despair there are fleeting seconds of peace - where I truly believe our borrowed angel is OK. That she came to us because we prayed so hard for her; and because we wanted her so much; but that this was the deal - she was borrowed. I got my daughter, and she was all the daughter I could ever need. But she was too good to be true."

Along with her parents and Ruben, Rosabel is survived by her four grandparents, John, Margaret, Syl and Jean, her wonderful godparents Jenny and Roger, her loving aunties, uncles and cousins and her many, many family friends.

In her eulogy at the church, Suzanne said of those who live on after Rosabel: "All of their lives have changed forever and it is heartbreaking to see the loss in their eyes. You my darling, will never feel loss like this. Your heart will never be broken like ours and your dreams will never be shattered. You, our angel, will remain innocent, pure and forever young. Our love for you was like no other love, but with this now, our grief for you is like no other grief."

Rosabel's grandmother Jean lost her sister, her only sibling, Paula, when she was two years of age - some 60 years ago. In Rosabel's hand when she was laid to rest in Rahoon cemetery with Sharon Shannon playing Amazing Grace, Rosabel carried with her the little blue elephant hair clip that had been in her Paula's hair when she died.

The priest at the funeral Mass said that for some people a stumbling block to faith was: why do bad things happen to good people.

I don't think anyone can make sense as to why a 16-month-old child should die in her cot last Thursday week. It makes no sense. Even less sense to Suzanne and Gary, who are in a private hell, and whose pain is unimaginable. Nothing can lessen that pain now or in the foreseeable future, or possibly ever for them.

"We must learn to swim in this sea of grief," said Suzanne, "we must accept the uncontrollable waves that bash against us and cause us to lose our breath and then we must accept the calmer moments that we cannot understand. "Sadly her body rests tonight under a bed of white roses but her soul is free and she is waddling in her nappy around the house and garden of her family home."

Her family will never stop loving her, never forget the fun and the great memories she gave them in the short time she was on this earth. Edna O'Brien once wrote that our homes retain memories of us after we've gone. I believe Rosabel's house on the hill and the land in her hometown of Galway will always remember her, too. As will the wind outside in her garden in Mincloon that shakes the trees as delicately as Rosabel's last breath.

Sunday Independent

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