Death of a child
by Bronwyn Johnson
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It is very difficult for someone who makes a living with words to suddenly find themselves speechless. I did not know what to say to my friend when her little boy died. For once I had no words. I was terribly afraid that I would say the wrong thing but then, what is the right thing to say? Is there anything you can say that would ease the pain or perhaps help them to understand why this awful thing happened?
It was sunny outside but my skin chilled as I entered the auditorium. My voice echoed through the empty hall as I whispered a “Hello” to a small group of people sitting in the far side of the room. We were the first to arrive at the funeral. Ten minutes to go and only the few of us were there. It was as if people were staying away from this funeral because they knew that it would be one they would never forget. They were putting off their arrival until the last minute.
A week ago a little boy was smiling and playing in the carefree way of little children. His parents, who had recently arrived in our country, were planning his second birthday, which was due shortly. He laughed and squealed as he chased his siblings on the grass. He was the picture of health and happiness. We did not realize what a short time we had left with him.
Just before church one Sunday evening a function was held to meet and greet this family and welcome them into our community. While his parents were being introduced to everyone the children went outside to play. The older children scampered off quickly and the little boy battled to keep up with them. Eventually he decided to go off on his own to explore the new surroundings. He walked around to the back of the church building. Looking about he saw no one. He decided to venture further and crawled through a hole in a wall into the neighbouring house. While people stood around chatting and watching the other children playing on the grass, this little boy fell into a cold swimming pool. Not a splash was heard, not a cry. After a while his father grew concerned and started looking for him. He called to the other adults standing around and they all joined in the search. They searched the church grounds thoroughly and eventually discovered the hole in the wall. A short while later, his lifeless body was found floating face down in the swimming pool next door. His mother screamed into the night and everyone felt the cold grip of fear tighten around their hearts. This terrible thing could have been avoided. Any one of the people standing there could have seen him slip away and could have stopped him before he disappeared. But no one did and now it was too late.
When someone dies from old age or a prolonged illness it is a little easier to accept because you are given time to come to terms with the loss. When a little child dies in such unfortunate circumstances it affects everyone in a way that is difficult to explain. Every person that had been present that day feels a sense of responsibility. Everyone thinks, “What if...?” or “If only I had done something….” The parents were in a state of total shock and thanks to the love of God they have remained strong. The question “Why?” haunts their every waking moment. People who never even knew the little boy shed tears because they empathised with the family. What a tragic loss.
I stood in the auditorium knowing that I too, would soon have tear filled eyes. I decided to hide behind the mask of journalism. I planned to observe and take notes to avoid becoming too emotional. This was not to be. As soon as I looked into the bright eyes on the picture of the smiling child looking up at me from the funeral program, I knew that I would not be able to maintain my composure for long. He looked so much like my own son. I whispered a silent prayer of thankfulness to God that my children are still with me, for the thousandth time that week.
Soon a stream of people came in and the seats were quickly filled. People who hardly knew the family had come to show their support and love. Members of our church from throughout the region had come to mourn the death of our little friend and to love and support his family. A little boy, who had no idea what a powerful force his death would be, had united strangers. We forgot our own problems. They seemed insignificant in comparison to what this family was going through. We set aside all differences. Arguments and disagreements were cast away as people embraced estranged friends in unconditional forgiveness.
We all prayed that the grief we felt would somehow lightened the load carried by the family of the dead child. We hoped that tears we shed would ease their pain. We would gladly have offered to carry some of their sorrow. We knew that the depth of pain and grief they felt would be unbearable.
When the family entered, silence fell. They clung to each other as they slowly approached his coffin to say their last farewells. Each of his siblings carried a small ball in their hands. He had loved to play with balls, they told us. They placed the ball lovingly into his coffin and smiled upon his sleeping face. They stared at him for so long and as they did so, their expressions grew peaceful. They knew that he was home. He was in the loving arms of God the father. He could never return to them but they could make sure that one day they will go to him.
The rest of the service passed in a blur. All I remember is crying until my eyes were red and swollen. I could not even write a word. My mask of journalism had fallen away in an instant, as my human spirit identified with the family. I am a mother with two little boys. It could have been my face staring down at my dead child. It could so easily have been my screams shattering the night. Fortunately God spared me from this pain, but it could so easily have been me.
We do not know what day and hour we are going to be called home. It could be in many years from now or in the next moment. The only time we have, that we can be certain of, is right now. I think I’ve hugged and kissed my husband and sons a million times this week. I have told them as many times that I love them very much. I feel sorry that it took a tragedy for me to realise how much my family mean to me. I hope that I never forget this lesson. I hope that this little boy did not die in vain. He touched my life in an unforgettable way and I will cherish his gentle memory forever. He will be remembered every time I look into the big bright eyes of my sons and hear their happy giggles. I pray that his parents realise that no one is to blame, that they are good parents and that we love them. May God give them peace and strength to live the rest of their lives in appreciation of the time they had with him.
We feel such sorrow and grief at the death of a loved one. As humans we have but a limited capacity for love, pain and sorrow. God is eternal and has an unlimited capacity to feel these emotions. His love extends through time and space and touches each of us individually. His grief and sorrow is endless. Yet he gave his son for us. He watched his son die a painful death because of his love for us. We cannot begin to imagine the grief he felt.
I have only seen it from the outside but I have seen enough. I will never underestimate the love of God again. I will never underestimate the great sacrifice he made for us, or the value he placed on our souls. I will be eternally grateful. Good-bye Cowey, we loved you, and thank you.
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Oh my, Bronwyn. How tragic. I am moved to tears and heartache for the loss of this child. I cannot fathom the grief God must have born when he sent his own child to his death. Thank you for a poignant reminder of love, sorrow, and the love of our Father.