Though it might seem strange, Ilse Fieldsend alongside her three-year-old daughter kept watch over little Georgia’s dead body for 11 days saying her presence comforted them.
“I stroked Georgia’s forehead and told her how much I loved her,” recalls Ilse. “I was a wreck, and often left her room to cry, but I still savoured every moment I had her next to me.”
A fortnight earlier, Georgia had suffered a sudden and fatal brain aneurism. After turning off her life-support machine, Ilse and her husband James made the highly unusual decision to bring their daughter’s body back to their Surrey home, where she remained for 11 days until her funeral.
In the early hours of the following morning, 27th December, however, Georgia was pronounced dead. Tests would later show an aneurysm – a rare, blood-filled bulge in a blood vessel that usually shows no symptoms until it bursts – had ruptured in her brain.
“It was awful, but we knew that if something happened to Joshua we would want him to be offered donated organs,” says Ilse. “Before she went into theatre for their removal we cuddled Georgia and said ‘you go do your bit.’ She would have wanted to help.”
Following the operation, Georgia’s body was taken to the hospital morgue. “I was frightened of seeing her there,” says Ilse. “I thought it would be upsetting. But she’d had artificial eyeballs placed under her eyelids, so the only sign of her surgery was a line from her chest to her belly button. She looked beautiful.”
It was a hospital mortician who asked, the following day, if they wanted to take her body home. “I hadn’t realised that was an option but James and I knew instinctively we wanted to do so,” says Ilse. “It still hadn’t sunk in that she was gone. I simply wanted to bring Georgia home where she belonged.”
Many are unaware that there is no legal requirement to keep a body in a morgue between death and a funeral, provided the death is registered and a funeral arranged. And although many wouldn’t wish to remember their loved ones as a corpse, others believe bringing the body home can help the grieving process.
To release Georgia’s body, the Fieldsends had to sign a transfer of care form, which they handed to their funeral director. A funeral car then transported Georgia to the family’s four bedroom home in Bramley in a portable hospital bed, on New Year’s Day.
“The funeral directors checked the temperature of her room – they said it needed to be freezing to best preserve her body,” says Ilse. “I was worried I was doing something dangerous or unhealthy but it was winter, and with her bedroom door shut and her window kept open, they said she would be fine. Her body was cold but she looked and felt like my little girl.”
Still in shock, she and James arranged Georgia’s funeral for 11th January.
Most nights she lay alone with her daughter. “James spent a lot of time with her during the day. I couldn’t sleep and instead spent hours telling her how much I loved her. I told her about her funeral arrangements and spoke to her as if she were still alive.”
At first, Ilse decided not to let Joshua see his sister’s body, and told her son simply that Georgia was poorly and sleeping. “But he started banging on her door and I realised it would be more upsetting if he couldn’t see her. So after a day we brought him in to read bedtime stories and have morning cuddles, just as we always had done. As far as he was concerned, she was asleep.”
Reaction from family and friends was varied. “Some came to see Georgia, others wanted to remember her how she was,” explains Ilse. “Nobody criticised me but some people looked at me as if to say ‘How could you?’. But you can’t judge until you have been in this situation.”
The following morning, the couple carried her coffin into her bedroom. “I took mine and Georgia’s clothes off before cradling her naked body,” says Ilse. “I wanted to feel her skin on mine one more time. I cut her hair so I could keep it. Her body was still floppy [rigor mortis is often imperceptible in little children] as we placed her in her coffin.”
After driving their daughter to the crematorium, Ilse and James gave Georgia one last kiss before closing the coffin lid. “I wanted to keep her forever, but I knew for Joshua’s sake it wasn’t possible,” says Ilse. “After the funeral I told him she had died, and would live forever in our hearts.”
Today would have been Georgia’s 7th birthday and Ilse’s grief has yet to fade. But she cherishes the the extra days she spent with her daughter’s body. “Taking her home gave us more time. It felt as if we were protecting Georgia until the very end. It was our way of saying goodbye and a beautiful thing to be able to do.”