WHY I DUG MY SON FROM HIS GRAVE AND ‘STOLE’ HIS BODY
When Charlotte’s baby died abroad, his catastrophic funeral service left her so traumatised, that she literally took matters into her own hands.
Charlotte knew she couldn’t even start to grieve until her son was laid to rest properly – so the day after his shoddy burial took place she crept into the cemetery and stole his body back from his grave.
A passerby screamed at her to stop when she saw sobbing Charlotte digging through the soil with her hands to reach her son’s coffin.
She’d only undergone a C- section days earlier, but Charlotte winced in pain and continued digging until at last her baby was back in her arms.
Then she ran out of the cemetery and put her son’s body in the back of the car to speed him to a place where she knew he could rest in dignity.
As we walked along the beach, hand-in-hand, walking our dog, my partner Mario rubbed my bump.
‘All right in there, Little G?’ he said. ‘Soon I’ll be bringing you down here in your buggy.’
‘I can’t wait!’ I laughed. ‘It’s about time Daddy did his share of carrying you about.’
But as Mario leaned over and kissed me, I suddenly realised I hadn’t felt my baby move since last night…
I was 34 weeks pregnant with my first child, a little boy. We’d already named him – George.
‘I’m worried,’ I said to my partner Mario. George was usually so active, kicking constantly. But today – nothing.
‘I think we should call the doctor,’ Mario said as we made our way back to the house.
‘He can’t come yet. It’s too soon,’ I said, tears springing to my eyes.
I was from London originally, but had lived in Cyprus for the last 15 years. Only with a baby on the way, Mario and I had decided the time was right to move back to England.
‘I want George to be born there,’ I said.
Although my mum still lived in Cyprus, the rest of my family were back in the UK and I wanted our son to grow up with their support. Our flights home had been booked for the following week.
Back home, we longed for some reassurance.
‘It may be nothing but I think you should come to the hospital just to be safe,’ the doctor said.
But as he rubbed the ultrasound scanner over my belly half-an-hour later, he shook his head.
‘He’s gone,’ he said.
‘Gone?’ I said, confused. ‘What do you mean – gone?’
‘Pre-eclampsia,’ he said matter-of-factly, prodding my belly. ‘My guess is he suffocated. I’m sorry but there’s nothing more we can do.’
I couldn’t take it in. He couldn’t be gone, he just couldn’t…
‘Your baby being mixed race wouldn’t have helped,’ the consultant went on. Mario’s parents were Greek Cypriot and mine English.
Was he really blaming my illness on our mixed race relationship? There were so many questions I had, why hadn’t I been tested or told the warning signs?
But all the doctors seemed interested in was making sure I paid my bill for the treatment. We’d funded our maternity care privately because there’s no NHS in Cyprus.
Reeling in shock, I was told to wait to be induced to give birth naturally.
As I sat staring into space, I heard Mario’s raised voice – ‘It’s not going to happen,’ he said. ‘There’s no way you can out her through all that not to have a baby at the end of it.’
It was agreed I would have a C-section.
As we waited for theatre to be free, we sat in the clinic. All around us we could hear the screams of women giving birth; the cry of newborn babies.
Six, seven hours dragged by until they were ready for me.
As I was taken down to theatre, all I could remember was the smell of the anesthetists’ aftershave. And afterwards, waking up empty-handed and screaming: ‘I want my boy! I want my boy!’
But unlike stillborn births in the UK, here there were no tender moments spent cradling my baby, kind midwives carefully cutting a lock of hair or taking tiny hand and footprints to treasure.
Instead, my son was taken straight to a freezer.
‘Please, I just want to see him,’ I begged over and over like a broken record.
Three days passed and my empty arms still ached for the baby they’d never held.
‘Why can’t I just see him?’ I wailed.
‘It’s not a good idea,’ the surgeon said.
‘But why? Surely I have the right to see my child,’ I asked.
‘Put it this way, chicken would rot if taken out the fridge, wouldn’t it?’ he sighed.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
‘My son is not a piece of meat!’ I roared.
‘Do something!’ I begged Mario. All I wanted got to give my son a kiss and cuddle before he was taken away for the last time.
Eventually, I was shown a tiny parcel wrapped in the cheap green paper that they used to wipe up blood during surgery – my son.
I leant forward to hold him but the surgeon shook his head. Instead, reached out to gently stroke his cheek. He was icy cold and still coated in blood. As I bent down to kiss his forehead, the surgeon turned and walked away.
I never even got to hold my baby.
In line with local tradition, George’s body was to be buried within 48 hours.
Still hospitalised and recovering from surgery, Mario and I had to rely on extended family help to arrange the service.
Can you imagine what it feels like, trying to arrange your baby’s funeral while you’re surrounded by mothers cooing over the new babies? Torture doesn’t even come close.
I was discharged from hospital on the morning of George’s funeral.
Mario took me home to change and then my dad who’d flown over from the
UK arrived to take us to the funeral parlour.
‘He’s perfect,’ I wept as we gazed at our son’s body in the coffin. He’d been washed, dressed and wrapped in a fleecy cream blanket mum had bought.
I gently placed a trinket in his casket and lay a white rose on his body before the coffin was closed.
Mario drove us to the local cemetery in Limassol.
But when we arrived at the cemetery with George’s coffin, our relatives were equipped with spades.
‘What’s going on?’ I asked, confused.
The grave hadn’t even been dug.
‘But it’s so hot!’ I wailed.
I was terrified George’s body would start to deteriorate in the blistering heat. As I looked for a tree to shade him under, Mario grabbed a spade and started to dig.
I begged someone to take George back to the hospital to keep him cool until the grave was dug, but they just looked at me blankly.
I couldn’t believe this was happening. But it got worse.
Twice my son’s coffin lowered and raised again when it was obvious the grave was still too shallow.
After an hour of digging the grave was still shallow but they insisted it was ready and placed George’s coffin just a few feet from the surface.
Traditionally olive oil is poured onto the coffin, but none could be found.
I watched in horror as the coffin was instead doused with liquid paraffin and a few lumps of earth thrown on top.
The priest even refused to say a prayer because George hadn’t been baptised.
It was too much to cope with. Distraught, I broke down.
‘This is the way it’s done here,’ said a voice from the congregation.
‘Would you let your child be buried like this,’ I snapped back.
‘This isn’t a burial, it’s a circus!’ Mario screamed before driving me back home.
But back at the house, I paced up and down. The burial should have been our chance to grieve. But how could I rest knowing my son had been buried with so little dignity?
Anger burned. It wasn’t right.
George’s grave had been so shallow… what if an animal dug him up? It didn’t bear thinking about. No, I had to get him back.
Desperate, I even thought about going to get his coffin then putting it into our fridge until we could arrange a proper service.
Then Mario had an idea. His dad was buried in a cemetery half an hour away in Larnaca. He called his mum back in the UK and asked if she would mind them opening his dad’s grave to put their baby in with him.
‘Anything to lay my grandson to rest,’ she agreed.
So early the next morning, Mario and I told the family to gather back at the cemetery in Larnaca. Then we crept back to Limassol to steal back our son’s body.
Desperately flinging away the fresh earth, we dug up George’s grave with our bare hands.
But we’d been spotted.
‘Stop!’ the old woman cried. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’
‘It’s OK,’ I said calmly. ‘This is my son and I’m taking him with me.’
Then we quickly wrapped his coffin in a carrier bag and snuck out of the cemetery.
I kept watch as Mario carefully washed George’s coffin down with water.
I desperately wanted to open the coffin and kiss his body one last time but I was frightened. The doctor had warned us not to look at his body and I was worried he’d be badly decomposed because of the searing heat. Instead, I gently stroked the wood and carefully placed him on the back seat.
Then we picked up my mum where we’d told her to wait by the side of the road and she followed us in her car to the next cemetery. There, Mario’s mum had arranged for the priest who had buried his dad to be waiting for us. He had no idea what had gone on before. As far as he was concerned, this was
George’s only burial.
This time, everything was how we expected. His tomb was opened and the coffin gently placed in.
‘Granddad will look after you now,’ I whispered.
Finally a prayer was said and with dignity, George was finally put to rest.
The release was immense. I looked at Mario, could see the relief on his face too.
‘It’s over,’ he soothed as I placed my head on his shoulder.
A few weeks later, Mario and I moved back to the UK. Mum came too. I hated leaving George but knew I needed to leave Cyprus – it held too many bad memories now – for the support of my family and friends back home.
As the months passed, I tried to move on but it was so hard. It wasn’t just that I’d lost my son, but the whole horrific experience of his burial haunted me daily.
‘He’s sleeping safely now,’ Mario promised me. His granny laid flowers on George’s grave every week.
But still guilt lay heavily on my shoulders and I was plagued with nightmares and started counseling.
I was so traumatised that when I fell pregnant again the following year, I knew there was no way I could go through with it.
‘I can’t do it. I can’t take the risk of losing another baby,’ I told Mario.
We’d been told there was every chance the pre-eclampsia could come back with future pregnancies.
I thought he’d be angry, but –
‘I agree,’ he said.
We booked an early termination, went to the clinic together.
As we left hours later, I knew we’d made the right decision but still, it was heartbreaking. Once again, I wouldn’t get to hold my baby.
Now, two years on, the grief is just as raw and we’re both full of regret. I regret not holding my son, not taking a picture of him when he was washed and not opening his coffin for a final goodbye. But my biggest regret is not moving home sooner because I think my baby might have been saved.
I still hope that one day I’ll be able to move on enough to take the chance of becoming a mum again.
For a while what we’d been through threatened to tear us apart, but I’ve only managed to survive this nightmare thanks to Mario.
But they threw my son away like a piece of rubbish… And no matter how much time passes, I’ll never get over that.