It was 5 a.m. when we rushed to the hospital. I drove as fast as I could—that blood plaguing my mind—but this would prove to be the final hours of our third child’s life. Her name was Lulette.
A month later, I was standing at my little girl’s funeral, fixated on a huge wall of stained glass. The events replayed in my head, but I couldn’t stop staring at the pieces of glass. The angles and bits of colored fractals, disparate but held together at the same time.
All of this was too familiar. Only ten months before, we lost our second child, Jesse, the same way. That time it was during Thanksgiving of 2017. We were at my in-laws settling in for a movie when I could feel it in my gut—even before I had any information.
Jesse was born alive about four hours later. He was sixteen weeks old. His heart was visibly beating, and his little hands moved calmly about. There was no struggle. He went bravely. Eventually his right hand came to rest on his cheek, and his left hand came to rest on his belly. In his short moments, we baptized him, we told him of his parents’ love for him, and the story of God’s love for him. I suppose that is a good, complete life, though only thirty minutes long. The length of one’s life is no measure of its profundity.
His heart slowly came to a halt while in our arms on Thanksgiving morning. His body was buried two weeks later with my Bible, a letter from his father, a letter from his mother, and a drawing from his two-year-old older brother, Abraham.
Nine months later my wife was pregnant—and we were overjoyed—until it all happened again. Lulette was born much smaller, at eleven weeks. She laid calmly in front of me. Her short life mirrored that of her brother Jesse. A brief, brave stand in a tough world.
As I stood in front of that huge wall of stained glass at Lulette’s funeral, I thought about shattered glass and shattered lives. What holds this broken glass together? What holds broken people together?
The day of the funeral was warm for October. That morning tasks and projects for work left me hurried and frustrated. But when I entered through the arches leading into Mt. Calvary cemetery, my disposition shifted.
The sadness, the pain, the anger, re-entered my heart. Memories of Jesse and Lulette’s deaths flooded my head and intertwined images of blood and tears, doctors and waiting, rage and impatience, holding and baptizing, driving at night and driving again at sunrise.
Lulette’s funeral was a communal service, a corporate gathering for parents who had lost children—all born too early to live. As the room filled up with people, my tear-clouded eyes lifted from my child’s name in the program to the people surrounding me—their faces with the same contortions and watery streaks as mine. It was the most eclectic group that I’d ever sat among, gathered in one place. Black, white, and brown. Rich and poor. Suits and tattered t-shirts. Do-rags and Mennonite head coverings. I thought again about the shards of glass held together in a beautiful image. I thought about the shattered people in that room held together by a common bond: the death of our children.
All these people had come to mourn and bury their children. These people came to tell the truth with their bodies, and their children’s bodies. Their tears told the truth. These parents, the old men who volunteered as pallbearers, the pastor—they all told the truth about these children we had lost. Maybe we looked foolish, mourning children who had never taken a breath, but so be it. Frederick Buechner once wrote that “if the truth is worth telling, it is worth making a fool of yourself to tell.” Count us among the fools.
The people nodded when the officiant said that God loves their babies. They nodded when he said that God is with us. They nodded when he said that God hates death. And they nodded when he said there will be a reunification. I don’t know for sure what these folks believe, but God how I hope they believe these things.
This was a vision of living in the truth: by acknowledging and believing that the one who promises that their kids—who are buried today—will not be buried forever.
These people I was with—all of us shattered people—broken and disparate, yes. But held together by a common bond. A common suffering. A common death. A common resurrection. And in that we are together, being remade into something more beautiful and true. This is a truth worth telling, and a truth worth living—even when it means burying your children.
Cover photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen.