Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Baby Garden

Monday we (the PW students) went around the room and talked about the first funeral we went to. The variety of experiences and the students' emotions about each were quite impressive. Their reaction to mine ("they" including the professor) was, unsurprisingly, morbid fascination and mild horror. I'd be remiss if I didn't admit to relishing the rather sick thrill of sharing something truly unusual with a classroom full of my peers.

My first funeral was when I was about 12 years old, and it was my good fortune that I wasn't close to either the greiving family or the deceased. It was held for a late-term, miscarried infant: a girl who I'll refer to as Anna. To this day I have wondered why Anna's family chose to have a full-fledged funeral mass (the family was Catholic, like mine) instead of the more customary private burial service, but I'm content with not knowing, as the reasons are probably personal.

The baby's coffin was placed centrally in the chapel for the whole service. I barely knew the mourning family, but I still felt that my initial mistaking of said coffin for a to-go box was a little shameful. I also recall my guilt for almost bursting into laughter when the family's surviving child almost dropped her sister's coffin while carrying it in a procession to the gravesite. (Please rememeber this was my first funeral)

My mirth died (no pun intended) when we reached the gravesite; it was in the middle of the Baby Garden (not its official name), a special section of the cemetery reserved for miscarried and stillborn infants. Trinkets like pacifiers, baby shoes, rattles, lace barrettes, and stuffed animals had been strewn about the graves by their respective families; quivering slightly in the cold morning's gusts.

One tombstone bore an inscription which haunts me to this day (aside from the quivering mementos). Instead of a Bible verse like its neighbors, the marker had a simple sentence that read, "We'll hold you in Heaven."

Suddenly this weird, almost cartoonish ceremony for a baby in a to-go box became real. Suddenly I noticed that some of the infants' tombstones bore the same names as some of the families in attendance, their mothers quietly weeping nearby. Suddenly this special kind of tragedy and sorrow was tangible, understandable, and relatable to me, despite my never having experienced it first-hand.

Just one simple sentence and yet it tells so much. It communicates the excitement of expecting a child, the incredible sorrow at losing it before it's even born (and the family is able to hold it), and the faith-based hope of meeting this lost life in the next life.

The mere fact that one well-written sentence was enough to snap a nervous, ignorant 12-yr-old out of her childish perception (and into a much more mature one) AND still be just as meaningful 9 years later is miraculous to me. It's a powerful testimony to the art of lingual expression, and though I could never have known it then, that experience would never leave my list-of-inspirations as I pursued said art as a career.

1 comment:

  1. The death of a child is always a traumatic experience, even when that child has yet to be born. Many times, it happens so early and suddenly, there isn't really anything to bury. I can certainly understand the want to bury the child, and to have the funeral. After all, believing that life begins at conception, which we do as Catholics, we must reason that the child was alive, and indeed, had a soul. The child was probably already a part of their growing family, and to have him or her taken from life before he or she could experience it beyond the womb, that would have hurt the family greatly. The funeral was very much for the child, but also for the grieving family. It can often help ease the grief in time, instead of letting it bubble up inside and affect their health physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.

    To be honest, I think a funeral mass should be said for every child, and I'm quite surprised that it isn't, given our beliefs on when life begins. It could help ease the grief of many families, not to mention continue to drive home what you found on the day of your first funeral, that it wasn't a joke, and that a child died. A child, you know? It's not just some lump of tissue that many find too inconvenient to allow life. The loss of a child is a great loss to all of us, and good people ~should~ stand up and mourn.