Friday, March 1, 2013

My son Nathaniel

You would have been nineteen soon.

On March 1, 1994 my son Nathaniel, who was due to be born two weeks later, died in the womb. His death was confirmed by an ultrasound. After returning from the doctor, we gathered our other five children and told them what we had just found out. The grief hit each of us in different ways.

Immediately we started to make plans for both the birth and the funeral. We contacted our pastor who was helpful and a friend of ours who is a funeral director.

The next several days were some of the best and worst of my life. The best was the gathering around us by family and friends.

We met with the funeral director who has a beautiful cemetery in the mountains. They told us that they give a free plot to stillborn children. We walked through the cemetery and picked one out. We were given literature on markers which we could choose later. Then we looked at caskets. They all seemed too funeral like.

I decided that I would build one myself. The boys and I went to the lumber yard and bought the wood that we needed. My wife and the girls went to the fabric store and bought material for the lining, pillow and outside. Many tears were shed as we put it all together.

We decided the service with our pastor. It was fairly simple. He did several readings from Scripture and then preached a sermon that deeply moved us both then and at times that we have listened to it since.

I wrote a memorial folder that was handed out at the service and mailed to some friends as an announcement. It had Nathaniel's name and footprints on the cover. Inside were two notes. One I had written to Nathaniel on the day that he was born (March 5, 1994). The second was to the reader. It spoke of our families trust in God and acceptance of His will for our son and our life. Also included on the inside were the dates of his death, birth, celebration service, weight, length, eye and hair color. On the back was a list of pro-life ministries that gifts could be sent to in lieu of flowers, etc.

After the service my friend helped me carry the casket to our van. My family and I then led the procession to the cemetery which was about 30 minutes into the mountains. My sons and I then carried the casket from the van to the plot. After everyone gathered, our pastor shared some final words from scripture. My friend and I then set the casket into the ground. I picked up a shovel and filled in the dirt until the casket was covered. My two oldest sons also put in several shovels of dirt. We then received many hugs and words of encouragement from family and friends.

Spontaneously, several friends picked up the shovel and finished filling in the grave. I cannot express in words how moving this was.

One thing that we found out was that being involved in the intimacies of planning and carrying out the service and burial helped us work through our grief. That is one thing that I would emphasize. Modern funerals take away from the reality of death. In times past, the families were the ones who handled the body and prepared it for burial. Of course, that is not always possible but we cannot shut off ourselves from what has happened.

The job of a Christian Funeral Service is twofold. One is to confront us with the reality of death and the other is to confront us with the blessed reality of eternal life.

Many in our family are not Christians. Some of them were touched through the service and burial in a way that they could not be in any other way.

Looking back, I have no regrets of how we handled our son's funeral. The pictures of it remain a vivid and pleasant memory in my mind.

Happy Birthday son.

Philip

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