This morning was a very sad one. One of the saddest I have ever known. It was the funeral of a baby – a baby who died two weeks before he was due to meet us all. He died before he had a chance to live. His arrival on earth was greatly anticipated, surrounded by the usual excitement of new life and the joy that a much-wanted baby brings. I cannot fathom or imagine the suffering of his dear parents at this time.
The service was beautiful. Poignant. Full of tears yet full of hope too. Hope that comes from a belief in a God who comforts those who mourn and weeps with those who weep. As I sat there, tears streaming down my cheeks, I realised that – at these times – we mourn both the present loss and our other losses too. Whether the loss of other loved ones or the loss of hope, the loss of certainty, the loss of control, the loss of an easy-to-understand life. We often fail to take time to grieve that which we have lost.
Our hearts may be aching – sore and battered by loneliness, disappointment, disillusionment – yet we “soldier on”, “putting on a brave face” and “keep going”. We tell ourselves this is for the best. We listen to our heads and ignore our hearts. We do not take time to say goodbye to the hopes and dreams that once stirred our hearts and now linger in a rarely opened box. We do not like going to funerals and so we fail to mourn these losses.
A few years ago, I spent some time at an orphanage in Maputo, Mozambique. One of the projects run by the orphanage was in a local rubbish dump – a huge expanse of smouldering, stinking rubbish. A huge expanse around which homes were built, where many of the poorest people I have ever seen struggled to make a living out of other people’s rubbish – children, adults, mothers with babies strapped to their backs, teenagers. The day before I went to visit this project, one of my fellow volunteers spoke to me, “I hear you are going to the boccaria (rubbish dump) Becca. Tomorrow you will need to hold a funeral for yourself”. I didn’t really understand what he meant, I just knew it would be a heart-wrenching, life-defining experience.
And it was. Filthy, smiling children jumped on me and wouldn’t let go. Mothers with hungry children sorted through the mountain of steaming rubbish, trying to feed their hungry children, now immune to the horrendous smell. I met a teenager who had lived on the boccaria his whole life who told me that he loved reading books, especially Shakespeare (incredible). I came back to the orphanage different to when I left that morning. I understood now – I had seen and experienced something that no human being should ever see, people so poor that the crap and refuse of others had become their daily bread. Children playing in the rubbish, children who know no different.
I had seen the whites of the eyes of those living in this hellhole and I would never forget. Part of me died that day – that was why I had to hold a funeral. Innocence was lost. I felt both privileged – to have been given access to this world – and, understandably, devastated at what I now knew.
Since that time, in 2006, I haven’t held any more funerals for myself. It feels weird even writing that last sentence – perhaps the concept is so at odds with the way we live that it just sounds plain odd to make such a statement. I hate saying goodbye. I get upset watching others have to say goodbye in their grief. Yet would we inhabit a deeper, richer experience if we took some time to say goodbye to all that we have lost? Would being encouraged to say goodbye, to mourn, lead to less estrangement, depression and unhappiness in our society?
As those of us at the funeral today continue to mourn the loss of this precious child, we join countless others around the world in the shared experience of gone-too-soon bereavement. These earth-shattering deaths sit in the foreground amidst the backdrop of little deaths we face far more regularly. If we learn to mourn both the great losses and the smaller ones too, we will, I think, become those who know how to really live.