Sweet baby boy, I will think of you every Halloween when I pass out candy to the trick-or-treaters, wondering what kind of candy your favorite would be. I will think of you every Thanksgiving, setting out a place for you, wondering what type of food would have been your favorite. I will think of you every Christmas morning as your older brother comes bouncing down the stairs, with eager eyes to see what Santa brought him. I will wonder which gifts you would have gotten and what joy it would have brought to your face too . . .
Such were the words shared by a grief striken mother last night over the her deceased son who lived a grand total of 21 days. This child born normally at 38 weeks soon developed a serious heart condition in his second week of life which overtook the strong fighter in him, one week later. This mom who took her newborn to a well-baby check-up, believing all was well, witnessed her child never coming home after this. In the hospital, the doctors did the best he could, but nothing more could be done. And, in those moments of this child taking his last breath when he should have been at home, crying, eating and sleeping, a parents’ worst nightmare came true.
For the mourners who gathered at the funeral home, the sadness was so thick it seemed to suffocate ever attempt of breathe in the room. On the altar, in a “Moses basket” laid a little boy with his eyes shut, so sweet looking that you could have thought he was just napping. But this was an eternal kind of nap.
I served as the pastor at this event, even though I’d never met his parents and the three-year old brother until a couple of hours before the service began. I came into this situation as a volunteer pastor through a relationship I have with a local funeral home to provide spiritual care to those who do not have a formal church home, but want a religious service.
Countless pastors, I know, don’t enjoy or offer to do services like this, but it was a choice I made when I first began full-time ministry to at least try it. It was a great way, at first, to gain experience in one of the most important rituals of pastoral life and to meet a community need. But, the more I’ve done these type of services, the more I’ve found doing such funerals as an essential part of my job. Unexpectant deaths are when pastors are needed the most, right? I am so glad that the church which employs me full-time makes allowances in my schedule to have this kind of ministry.
As I walked in the room, I thought I was strong enough to handle what I would find, especially with the natural distance already between us, but I was wrong. The baby on the altar wrapped in a brand new blue polka dot receiving blanket surrounded by baby-blue stuffed animals and teething rings, sought to do me in too.
Even before the mother and father gave their sorrow filled tribute to their son that they’d barely had the chance to get to know, I could only think of how devastating such a loss would be for weeks, months, and years to come. Everything this family had come to know and trust about birth, life and hope was shattered. Why would a loving God allow such a thing to happen? Why must this family suffer so?
As the representative of God in the room, I really didn’t want to speak, for knew I was in the midst of so many skeptics. I was in the mist of so many (including myself for that matter) who wanted to shake a fist at God and say, “Why?” The more I thought of it, I’d almost rather pass out blankets and lead the gathered community of family and friends in a wailing session. Such only seemed appropriate.
But, in my professional calling, I found words to say, “Jesus says, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the life, the one who wipes every tear from every eye and makes all things new.”
And in the hours since the service completed, I can’t seem to get out of my mind the images of that sweet baby boy in that dream crushing basket, and his energetic toddler brother, running around the funeral home, unaware really that this story as a human being had been forever altered, and this tear-stained mother’s dress that she never intended to wear on such a day that she would never want to wear again.
I have to pray for this family because only a prayer would seem to do. My prayer is for the survival of hope– hope that can out weight the darkest of days, the loneliness of nights, and the most discouraging of afternoons when these two parents feel they have nothing more to life for. I pray for this older brother who will soon be asking questions as to where the baby is. I pray for this family’s close family and friends who will play a significant role in their care in the months going forward. I would ask you to pray for them too as we all say together, “Lord, have mercy.”