Today I attended the funeral of a child.
She was my husband’s cousin, and she was 12 years old. I hadn’t yet met her prior to today, which is a shame, because she seemed so bubbly. There were posters upon posters of collages of her with her family and friends. I couldn’t believe how many pictures there were! And she was smiling in every single one. A huge, genuine smile, with two adorable dimples. It was beautiful, and made me think to make sure to take more pictures of my children. There can never be too many pictures. And there were so many people there. Classmates, and family. Hundreds. Many of them wearing plaid, button down shirts. I’m not sure as to the story behind it, but I know it was in honor of her. I couldn’t believe the amount of support and love. Her youth pastor said wonderful things about her, and sang a couple lovely songs that she personally liked. Everything about it: the casket, the flowers, the pictures, the weather, everything was beautiful for such a tremendously tragic occasion. I think that if she were there, she would have been exceedingly proud. Then I saw her mother, and I was in complete awe with how strong she was. She hugged everyone that she came across- genuine hugs- lasting at least 5 seconds. She hadn’t met me before today, but she hugged me tightly, then turned to look at my infant son, who gave her one of his biggest, gummy smiles, and she smiled back, and tickled his tummy. I still cannot wrap my mind around the strength she had.. I feel like I would be a blubbering mess in the corner, and scream at anyone who got too close to not touch me. But through her tears, she remained strong for her husband, and her two sons.
The first funeral I ever attended was for a 6 year old boy. I was in high school, and I would babysit him. He was born with multiple heart defects, but you wouldn’t know it. He was lively, and funny, and a ball of energy. He adored Thomas the Train, and race cars (because his dad raced them). And he was able to meet his baby brother before he passed.
I remember getting the call, but for the life of me I can’t remember who called me, or what they said. And then just laying there in bed, trying to comprehend it. I went over to their house the next day with their neighbors. I stood behind everyone, trying to think of something- anything– to say. What could I possibly say? But his parents opened the door, and greeted their neighbors, kindly thanking them for coming over, and then we made eye contact… and the three of us just broke down and cried. I can’t remember how long they held onto me, but I remember thinking I didn’t want them to let go.
The day of the funeral, I recall thinking about what he would look like. I had never been to a funeral prior, and figured that he would just look peaceful. Like he was sleeping. Just like those nights I tucked him into bed, read him a book, and kissed his forehead…
But I was wrong. He was too still, and it bothers me that that is the last image in my head of him. I can see him in his tiny casket as if it were yesterday, with a toy Thomas in his little, folded hands…
That was the last time I’ve walked up to a casket. I’ve been to several more funerals, but I just can’t do it. Including today. And I hope she understands, and I hope that’s not disrespectful… but the images in my head now are of the mass of people, the hundreds of photos, and how much love and encouragement she had in her short life.
Hug your loved ones just a little tighter and a little longer. We shouldn’t need reminding to do that, and yet we become complacent. And always tell them you love them. It’s not possible to tell them too much.