I went to a funeral today. It was for a little boy that was only seven years old.
I’ve been to more funerals for children over the past four years since we entered this world of childhood cancer than I can count. Viewing the grief of these newly bereaved parents is like ripping a bandaid off of a raw and gaping wound. It brings all of the memories, that we try to push below the surface so that we can function on a daily basis, front and center.
Today’s funeral was especially sad for me. We met this family four years ago at Children’s hospital when we were going in for weekly treatments. I remember meeting Momma – this woman that is beautiful inside and out. Gabriella loved this little boy. He was only three years old at the time. He, like is Momma, was a beautiful person. Gabriella would tell me that there was nothing good about clinic days except the people that we met there. She looked forward to seeing the kids in the waiting room. Little kids were drawn to Gabriella. She just loved them. She would read to them and do art projects with them. But, this little boy was special. Gabriella would “take him to school” with her. And, all of you know how much Gabriella loved school. It was her happy place. So, for her to let him sit with her or hold her iPad while she was Skype-ing with her class really meant he had a special place in her heart.
After Gabriella died I lost touch with so many of these families. I had only just gotten back in touch with Momma a few months ago. At which point I found out that, while surviving the original brain tumor, a secondary brain tumor was diagnosed that was terminal.
I hear that word – terminal – and every part of me revolts. How is this even part of our lives? How can our children be diagnosed with terminal cancer!?! WHY is this permissible in this day and age? Why aren’t more people outraged by this? Why isn’t more being done to change these statistics?
I arrived for the viewing and made my way to the front of the church to pay my respects. The church was packed with people. As I approached the casket I noticed that it was child-sized. It kills me when I see these small coffins. The smallest one that I have ever seen was the size of a doll box. It was so small that one man picked it up, cradling it in his arms and carried it. The coffin today could only have four pallbearers. This little boy loved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. His coffin was painted to look like a turtle shell. It was so perfect, so fitting. But, so incredibly heartbreaking.
When it was time to start the ceremony, Momma and Dad came to say their last goodbyes. There was a character blanket that was in display besides the casket that they took down and gently and lovingly tucked around him. Touching, kissing and looking at their son for the last time. And, then the coffin was closed. Never again would they be able to see their son again.
There are several sounds that bereaved parents will be forever haunted by. The first was the sound of the doctor telling us that our child has (terminal) cancer. The sounds of our children crying in pain because of the treatments. The sound that our children make as they are taking their last breath. The sound of the coffin lid closing. The sound of the casket being lowered into the ground. The sound of dirt being thrown on top of our child’s coffin. THESE are the sounds of an indescribable pain and grief.
As I said before, I have been to many – too many – funerals for children. This service was full of love and support for the bereaved family.
This little boy had been an honorary police man for the county. The police chief eulogized. The pallbearers were police officers. The police department escorted us to the cemetery; which was about an hour away. I call this ride the “road to hell”. I’m sure that all bereaved parents call it the same thing. I have never witnessed an escort like this one. It was fitting for the highest dignitaries. There were dozens of officers on motorcycles and at least half a dozen patrol cars following behind the Hearst. We traveled on a major eight-lane expressway, through business areas and residential neighborhoods. The police stopped traffic from entering along the entire route. The cars in the procession were the only ones on the road.
The graveside heart wrenching. Watching the pallbearers bring this beautiful coffin to its final resting place brought memories of Gabriella’s funeral flying forward. Momma and Dad released seven doves – one for each year of Life. The doves took flight then circled around the grave before flying off.
And then it was over. A life was ended. I couldn’t help thinking that here was another life that ended but it wasn’t completed. How many more incomplete lives will there be? The answer to that question is too much for me to contemplate right now.
My Sweet GG said, “If I die, if I loose my battle then other people will join the war. And, we are going to WIN this war!”