Tiny white casket

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.

5 thoughts on “Tiny white casket”

  1. I have been there, only our son was with us for 20 years. People say ” I don’t know how you do it, I would just die”. We feel that way too. We just put one foot in front of the other, we go on. We are lucky, we have another son. We lived for him for a while before we could live for ourselves. It has been 4 years we have learned to live as a different family. We now have love, life, joy, happiness again. We will always miss John but we live on as we know he would have wanted.

    It is a club you never want to join but there are so many of us for so many reasons. Sometimes life is just hard. But if we hadn’t loved him so much, we wouldn’t miss him… that was the gift.

    1. Lesley, thank you so much for responding. I’m so sorry for your loss…

      And by the way, saw your work at Kittrell-Riffkind and really like it…

  2. cynthia, my deepest condolences to your co-worker and his wife. while my daughter is now 26 we have 2 grandchildren, and i can’t imagine loosing them before we go!

  3. Thank you for your tender post.
    We have been there and done the little white casket thing – it is an awful experience and there is nothing you can say, but just being there is all you can do.
    Our “firstborn” died after 10 days – they never really knew why (we found that hard to believe in this day and age)….but it does.
    We now have one fabulous daughter we call her our “take home baby” she is 21 now!
    My deep condolences to your friend and his family!

  4. We were the co-workers today. 5 months old she was – small white casket. The mother sobbed – we sobbed as well. She looked for comfort in her husband – he had lost a 9 month old with his previous wife. Two angels in heaven now from this family line. Don’t know medically why. Tragic – really tragic. Sad day. How do you move forward after losing a child? Children should not pass before you – but sometimes they do. The biggest of hugs to all that have lost a child. I don’t know what more to say…

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