Friday, November 15, 2013

our children are not our own

On Tuesday night I came home from work to find a message. One of my friends, who is a midwife, had given my name and phone number to her clients who had just delivered a set of twins, one of whom died a few hours after birth. I was being asked to provide a graveside service for him. I met with the couple, organic farmers who live about a half hour to my north, and the following is the order of service and eulogy I wrote and delivered this afternoon. I have done many memorials and funerals but this was the first I've done for a child, let alone a newborn, and my voice caught a few times when I delivered it.

November 15, 2013

Amery, Wisconsin

Welcome/Opening Words

Reading 1: “We Have a Beautiful Mother” by Alice Walker

Reading 2: “A Child Said, What is the Grass?” by Walt Whitman


“Your children are not your children.” There is never a time when the words of Khalil Gibran are more true or more cruel than when a child dies. Rabbinic wisdom says it’s in moments like this that people understand how God feels. It’s horrible, it sucks at our soul and gives us reason if we want it not to go on.
            But like God, the universe, and reality, we go on. Eventually the sting of [___] death will feel less and less like our own, and while we aren’t likely to forget it, it will become part of the mosaic of our past that we can look back on and not feel as if our world ended. The bitter taste on our lips, the ashes in our heart, will fade and then there will be laughter on our lips again and delight in our hearts. That’s as it should be. The Ecclesiast says, to everything there is a season. Grief and tears give way in their time to dancing and lovemaking.
            [____] are aware of this. As farmers, they’re aware of the time of year, the quality of the soil, alert to the wind and sunlight, rain and heat. This is how they live. [____] told me that last year was their best year ever, and this was their worst year ever. That’s how it goes, this cycle of day after day after day. There is no guarantee that the next day will be better, just that it will be. You can’t live only in the good days, can’t stay in bed on the bad days, you do what needs doing. And when you’re free gather with your family, warm in the comfort and presence of each other.
            Physicists have calculated that the amount of matter in the universe has remained stable since the moments after the Big Bang. As Walt Whitman wrote, “Everything goes onward and outward, nothing collapses.” It changes. Our children are not our children. We are not our own. We are each other’s. We have our season here and then we are somewhere else. But while we are here we are precious and it is among this precious company that [____] spent his season. Poet Mary Oliver says it best:  “To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”
            [____], hold one another. Keep each other warm and safe. Grieve how you will as long as you will. Remember [your other children] are shelter for you too. Be gentle together. Know that in this precious company you are safe. You are home.

Reading: “Where the Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein


Reflections, Memories, Thoughts


Reading: “On Children” by Kahlil Gibran

Ending: “I am Goodbye” by Bonnie Prince Billie

Benediction: “Take courage, friends. The way is often hard, the path is never clear, and the stakes are very high. Take courage. For deep down, there is another truth: You are not alone.”

“Our service together has ended. May your individual services continue.”

1 comment:

  1. One of my most favorite songs in the Twin Cities Women's Choir repertoire is "On Children." I cannot listen to the words without hearing the power of the music, the strength of 100 women's voices, some mothers, some not, expressing the truth of these words. You used the message well, it seems. Thank you for sharing such a difficult experience.