This week, I went to a child’s funeral. She had been born three months premature and had a host of physical ailments throughout her short life. Her parents spoke of her struggles and her strength. They talked of how she brought them closer together and the lessons they learned from her. Her father pointed out that she only lived 524 days, but they seemed to be days filled with meaning and life lessons for her family.
The words of Mary Oliver’s poem A Summer Day popped into my mind:
“… Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Looking around at the people gathered in that church, watching hands wiping away tears, young and old, men and women, I wondered who will be changed by this event. Who will allow the vulnerability of this moment to stay with them over the next hours, days, weeks? Who will sit with the questions death raises? The whys and what would could have been questions. Who will rethink the paths they are following and make course corrections? Who will allow the sorrow of these young parents to affect them, not just for today but for the foreseeable future and beyond?
Sitting in that church, listening to the pastor talk about the resurrection hope of this Easter season, I thought about life and death and faith—especially faith during times of trouble.
I sometimes wonder how people who have no faith cope with the tragedies that life brings. I wonder how they make sense of a baby born too early and dying so young.
Because of my faith, I hope for a life beyond this one.
Faith enables me to picture this baby move beyond the pains she endured in her short life into a new life. I can imagine her surprise at being enveloped in light and being totally free. What joy! What bliss!
Abstraction is not something I am particularly good at, so I don’t have a clear image of what heaven looks like, but I don’t need it. I have faith that there is a heaven and that life is not ended with death, but that it is changed into something unimaginably more fantastic.
I will continue to think of this young family who lost their daughter. I cannot imagine the depth of their sorrow, but I can imagine a supportive community of faith believing with them that their daughter was a gift to them for the time they had her and that she continues to live through them. St. John Chrysostom wrote, “Those whom we love and lose are no longer where they were before. They are now wherever we are.”
I will hold this family in prayer and hope that the lessons they learned from their daughter will continue to shape their lives for many years to come.
Faith teaches me that all in life is gift, including life itself.