The father placed the small white casket into the back of the family SUV. He stood there a moment, hand resting on the pearl-lacquered surface, staring at the ground. Then he slipped into the driver’s seat and drove his baby boy to the gravesite.
We watched the SUV lumber across the hills, saying nothing. There really wasn’t much to be said.
How in the world do you carry on after burying your child? I have no children and secretly, guiltily, I was glad of it today. If I can be so devastated by the loss of a beloved cat I doubt I’d survive what my friend and his wife are going through.
We sat in the tiny chapel atop the hills outside Portland, listening to the wind and the priest. He conducted a simple service in crisp white robes, richly punctuated with apricot embroidery. The garment matched the scarf he laid, tenderly, on the little coffin.
He wasn’t trying for high-flown phrases, but talked of loss and really awful days and our noses pressed forlornly to the window, begging a little boy to stay. He spoke softly, in Spanish and English, the Spanish so sonorous and sweet and personal that I blinked away tears.
I’m not sure the mother heard a word. She sat with her husband, glassy-eyed and unresponsive, eyes glued to the little casket.
I work with her husband. All of us in the office have followed the family through a difficult birth and the endless, anxious time after, when the doctors knew something was wrong but couldn’t quite put a finger on it. They bumped along for a few months, conducting test after test that came back normal until the final, devastating conclusion: The boy’s body couldn’t manufacture vital proteins.
“Now,” the father told me last summer, “We just wait.”
“Wait for what?” I asked, puzzled.
“For him to die.” He said it matter-of-factly, and I didn’t know how to respond.
I still don’t.