I have a funeral to preach on Tuesday. This evening my wife asked me what I was going to say. I told her that I didn't know yet. She seemed surprised, but I'm not sure why. I don't know if I'll know what I said after the service is over.
The loss of a child is so different in each situation, but so similar. I've been reading poems and stories and although each honors a different child, a common thread runs through everyone -- an incredible grief. It's a grief that doesn't just go away. It's part of a hurt that pitches a tent and sets up permanent residence in a heart.
I wrote about my experience burying a child. It's here in this post. I just reread it, and I invite you to read it again or for the first time. I'll wait.
Not that long ago, I told my wife that sometimes I felt ashamed because I didn't think of our little boy every day. Unlike her, my life has gone on for short bursts without being dragged down by the memories. But not for too long.
You see, it seems like God is always placing people in my path who have a child in NICU or have lost a baby or have lost a grandchild far too soon. It's almost a little freaky. Last month, on the anniversary of my son's funeral, I was speaking with the mother of a sick little boy in NICU who shares my birthday. That mother shares my son's birthday. You can't make this stuff up.
I've mentioned to a few people that I wish I could remember more about my son's funeral, especially with this service coming up in 36 hours. All I remember is my wife and I taking pictures of our dead son in the casket, bringing him to the cemetary in what looked like an ice cooler, and a whole heap of crying. The minister traveled two hours to perform the service, and I don't remember a word he said. But I do remember he was there.
Maybe most of the burden for the family and friends (not to mention the pastor) is just being there. I believe God will give me some insightful words Tuesday morning, but I don't know if they will be memorable or even make a difference to anyone for the next week.
And in a strange way, I feel the love of God reaching out to me in all of this. I still feel the grief 17 years later, although it's not the same intensity. I have the comfort of knowing that I will see him again, without the tubes and wired that accompanied our first meeting. But I also have the prayers and well wishes of many people who realize that I have a tough job to do. My friends at the racing bulletin board, TrackForum, managed to find me even though I didn't try to burden them. (Hi, guys and gals!)
Then there is the bond that my wife and I share in all this. This death has brought back the experience that we shared so long ago and still share today.
I have few memories of this three-month boy who just died so suddenly, but the one that shines out is the last time the baby's mother brought them to church for Sunday worship. The baby's great aunt had been holding him through the pastor's long-winded sermon, but she had to come to the piano to play the final song for the service. So she walked with the sleeping baby in her arms and approached my wife from behind. My wife was suprised to see Great Aunt reaching out to her with that little baby in her arms, asking her to hold the baby while she played the piano. The expression on my wife's face was priceless. She's a little baby-crazy anyway, and the look of sheer joy on her face was something to behold! That tiny little boy had brought my wife an incredible amount of happiness.
And that's the story of his life. He brought happiness for almost three months. The mention of his name will continue to bring an odd mixture of happiness and sorrow for years to come, but the fact that he made grown-ups and children alike smile is a part of his legacy.
Some give joy their entire lives. This little boy was one of those people.