We gather in Shangannagh Cemetery on a fine cold February Saturday morning. Family – grandparents, great grandmother, aunts and uncles – holding white balloons. We gather and wait by the grave of Anto who died at the age of 36. The two cemetery attendants and I talk about the elections and how politicians might do better if they told the truth. But mostly we talk of the sorrow that fills the place where we stand. One of them, John, normally works in Deans Grange cemetery and he assisted me in burying baby twins a few years ago. They say that I do death well. So does John. His kind nature is ideal.
The car arrives and the young family begin their lonely walk up the path – two men carrying the little white coffin. Lennon’s daddy and uncle.
The boy was born a few days ago. A beautiful boy his dad told me in a voice that was filled with love and admiration. We knew ahead of time that he would not survive. And looking at them, the mammy behind the coffin – how physically hard as well as mentally and emotionally, to give birth and, within days, to walk to your baby’s grave. They are a beautiful, handsome couple. Dignified. She is radiant with motherhood – radiance mingled with sorrow. He and I have spoken on the phone a few times in preparation. He has a fine, loving nature – all his caring is for her.
I think of the mystery of this baby whom God knew and loved before he was formed in his mother’s womb, loved long before the world was ever made; how he was the face of God for them for those short hours. Why so short a time? Only God knows.
They place the coffin in his Grandad Anto’s grave. We pray. White balloons released into the air. We part and on parting I discover that I baptized their first child a couple of years ago. She is well.
Every single person there is grateful, expresses gratitude for the prayer. We are all in that moment the best of people, participating in something sacred. I would love to hold the couple and mind them and save them from pain. But I can’t. This is their journey. But I will hold them in my heart in prayer, in that lonely space within me that is reserved for grief and its healing.
Last Saturday in this very cemetery I buried four year old Sophie. Click on the ‘Frozen’ image below to read my reflection on her funeral. My prayer is for all parents who lose a child. An unspeakable loss.
The Lord consoles his people and takes pity on those who are afflicted. For Zion was saying “The Lord has abandoned me, the Lord has forgotten me”. But does a woman forget her baby at the breast, or fail to cherish the child of her womb? Yet even if these forget, I will never forget you. See I have carved you on the palms of my hands. Once more they will speak in your hearing; those children you thought were lost. You shall know that I am the Lord and that those who hope in me will not be put to shame. (Isaiah 49)