What makes a ‘good’ parent? The bottom line, the choices that we make for our children out of love makes a ‘good’ parent. Our heart forever walks outside of our body. We do everything in our power to protect and cherish that heart. Making choices in our child’s best interest - even when that choice is hard, makes for a ‘good’ parent.
My husband and I have an inter-religious marriage. We as parents made the choice to provide the kids with a Hindu upbringing for the first 10 years of our marriage. That changed when I felt that the kids were lacking a sense of community. I introduced the kids to the Ismaili religion and thus began our inter-religious family journey. We celebrated Shivratri, Holi, Navratri, Diwali, Eid, and Khushali. My husband started attending and volunteering at Ismaili events. The kids went to the Mandir (Temple) and the Jamat Khane (Ismaili place of worship). They respected and learned the religions of both parents. Lilly’s funeral would be no different. She would be cremated with a blend of Hindu and Ismaili rituals and prayers.
We almost lost Lilly in 2017. Hazar Imam (the Aga Khan) had started his Golden Jubilee visits and was scheduled to come to Atlanta in March of 2018. In my heart, I knew that Lilly had a short life. I wanted Lilly to be granted Mahadin Chanta (Ismaili last rite prayers) with the Imam. My husband supported this decision and Lilly gave her consent to start the application process. Mahadin Chanta with the Imam is granted to individuals that are over 70 years of age or who have a critical illness. She was denied Mahadin Chanta due to her age. Mental Illness and Addiction was also not viewed as a critical life-threatening illness. I appealed the decision. I remember pleading with God: If she’s going to live long then I accept your decision but if she doesn’t have a long life please grant her this opportunity. Lilly was granted approval on the day of the ceremony. Lilly met Hazar Imam in March 2018. She spoke with the Imam for about 3 minutes - something very few do. I never asked Lilly what was said and she didn’t volunteer any information. It was a special blessed moment between her and the Imam.
Arranging a child’s funeral is a job that no parent can prepare for. We were faced with the overwhelming task of planning something loving and meaningful for our child. It had not even been 48 hours! A friend had taken the responsibility of shortlisting funeral homes and setting up appointments for us. Lilly had a lot of friends from high school, university, and rehab. She had also made a connection with the parents from the parent groups. It was important for us that everyone be able to attend the visitation and pay their final respects. The first funeral home we went to - my husband and I both broke down. We were in a room surrounded by caskets and urns. The music was eerie and nothing was warm about the experience. If not warm, shouldn’t the experience at least be comfortable? We left the funeral home after 10 minutes of discussing the ceremony. We were not in the right frame of mind to sit through this. This had to be a bad dream! Were we really planning Lilly’s funeral, was she really gone?
Somehow we mustered up the strength, said a prayer, and rang the doorbell of the 2nd funeral home. We were greeted by a gentleman with warm eyes and a soft voice. He told us that he was sorry for our loss (words I was immune to). The funeral home was quiet. He led us to a meeting room. Suddenly, we felt calm, collected, and focused. He took some information from us and walked us through how the ceremony would flow. There would be a visitation of 2 hours (10 am - 12 pm). Due to Covid, the visitation would flow in groups of 50 visitors at a time. We were expecting close to 200 visitors. At noon the chapel would be open to ONLY 50 close family members and friends for the funeral ceremony. After the ceremony, there would be a small procession from the Chapel to the crematorium. At this time only the priest and immediate family would be present for the last prayers.
We ended up in a heated discussion of who would dress Lilly. Typically, the staff of the funeral home dress the deceased. I was adamant that ONLY I would prepare and dress Lilly for the funeral. The director was worried that I would break down and not be able to handle it. I gave birth to Lilly, I had nursed Lilly back to health, I had spent many nights by her side, I had spent countless months healing her wounds, I was her mother, and ONLY I had the right to get my child ready for her final journey. The funeral director finally agreed. We ended up choosing a beautiful oak casket with intricate work, a salt urn in the shape of a sphere, white candles, and the flower arrangments. We were going to provide the funeral home with the mantras (chanting) that we wanted to be played in the background and a slideshow to be shown on the screen.
Planning an event to honor a child’s death is not something anyone ever wants to do. No one wants to talk, read, or think about a topic like planning a child’s funeral. How do you even begin to design an event to commemorate your worst fear? We left the funeral home exhausted, overwhelmed, and in disbelief. Was this really happening? I believe that Lilly and her many angels were giving us the strength and courage to see this through.