Yesterday, I watched a little girl in a box get covered with dirt. She was two days old. We tried to understand what happened to her, how she died, because we want to make some sense of what happened, to make our own evaluation of whether someone could have prevented her death. Did she get good care? Was there justice? But we don’t know the answers to that. We don’t know the answers to anything.
Our friends buried their baby and we stood with them and watched, because that was the only thing left we could do for them. The grandfather of the child told us that she is not in that box; she is in God’s arms in heaven. I believe that. I believe our son is in heaven and their daughter is in heaven. I can’t prove that to you. You can believe that my belief is wishful thinking.
It’s a huge cemetery, much bigger than we realized. It went on and on. It’s simple and cluttered and crowded, mostly with wooden markers. I read many children’s markers on the way to her grave. It isn’t manicured, it isn’t laid out pristine in precision rows. No one spent thousands of dollars to reserve a spot, to buy a casket, nor to chisel granite or marble as a reminder.
We surrounded the open grave. They opened the top part of her tiny box so we could her face, embalmed and still.
Her father gives his kindness to everyone. He always, I mean literally always offers his smile to me when I see him, and his smile is beautiful. His smile is kindness and encouragement. He used to work at our school but he changed schools, so I don’t see him every day like I did before. He has been married for five years, and for five years they have hoped to have a child. Then they learned she was pregnant, and carried that hope for nine months. And then we were watching dirt cover the box.
I had never told my friend that our son died, because you don’t just bring that up in conversation. But I told him as we walked back through the cemetery. I don’t imagine it helped, because “help” is not a word that makes sense there. Nothing makes it better. There are no “right” words. No words change anything. But I wanted him to know I was with him, and that our friendship and our shared grief were why I stood out with there with him at noon on a Sunday, with his family, and his community. Because there’s nothing you can do, but you still do what you can.
Somewhere out there, where I don’t and can never live, I have an 18-year-old son who plays with my 8-year-old boy. He’s following his older sister, one year ahead, who’s in college already, figuring out where he wants to go, what he wants to do next year. Though his little brother is blonde, he has brown hair like me. Does he love to read and play ultimate? Does he ignore us and roll his eyes and stay out late and drive us insane? Is he going to use his passion and brilliance to make the world a better place, or just to make a lot of money?
In this world I live in, I still have the ashes of a baby boy in a tiny little box. We’ve never felt like it was the right place to bury them. The baby boy is in heaven, of course, and all my hope is there with him, but I still have the box.
That life and this life are what I recount to myself as I watch them shovel the dirt over that box and it disappears, as I watch the life here of that tiny girl disappear from her parents’ eyes, and all they will ever see of her here are reflections when they see children whose age she would have been, when they ask themselves “Would she have looked like that?” or “Is that how she would have laughed?” I pray to God that my friends will have a child, a brother or sister to their little girl. I pray that’s not the only time they will hold their own child here.
And I pray for the time when we will hold all our children again.