When I was a little girl my father managed a funeral home. As a kid I spent many hours exploring and playing at Daddy’s “office” being exposed to the many parts and stages of the physical farewells of our culture. Surprisingly it was an inviting place for me. A safe environment to learn so much about loss.
My mother, being a pianist, would sometimes be asked to play in services for grieving families who didn’t have a church or community to draw from. When I was about eight years old my siblings and I were also asked to sing in a service. It was for an infant that we did not know but that day I sang all three verses of ‘Jesus Loves Me’ to a room of strangers. I remember stepping out on to the very familiar platform and not being able to take my eyes off the horribly unfamiliar casket. I had seen my fair share of coffers but never one so undersized. It was white, covered in something soft like feathers, and would have nicely fit my favourite doll.
Just a child myself I had no concept of a grieving mother’s pain, but when I walked out of that service I cried. I remember feeling confused and a little silly for the amount of emotion that unexpectedly came rushing out over someone I didn’t even know. That scene would often play in my head throughout the years and though the sharpness of the memory faded the intensity of my associated emotions seemed to grow stronger with each visit.
There are not many clear memories for me of the days after the car accident, but I do recall the absolute dread I felt about having to pick out a miniature box for my own daughter. As if I was eight again singing in front of strangers unable to take my eyes off a ‘train-wreck’. The fear was so strong and intimate it felt as if I must be reliving a nightmare. So much so that in my relief when I found out Madeline’s body would be allowed to rest in Colin’s arms I remember feeling hope.
Now as I fly home after a Christmas away there is this accustomed heaviness creeping in. Each mile I travel brings me closer to another devastating encounter with a tiny casket. My heart aches and my body dreads facing that little box. The knowledge that it holds the child of my dearest friend, a little girl who will forever be a significant part of my grieving journey, brings me right back to that helpless girl on the stage. Right back to my own goodbyes.
In life these little ones represent the greatest joy and in death they demonstrate the cruelest reality. All in such a tiny chest.