Preparing a Funeral for a Baby and Feeling the Influence of a Life

a column about love

One of my dearest friends—my oldest friend from my 12 years in Brooklyn—spent many years trying to get pregnant.  She did IVF, and it worked!  She was pregnant!  We had so much excitement for this couple.  Our Brooklyn community of friends was overjoyed.  We hosted a ridiculously awesome shower at my home.  And all seemed to be the happiest of endings. Until the baby was born.

Immediately upon Beatrice’s birth, the doctors knew something was not right.  After several weeks, she was diagnosed with an extremely rare genetic disorder, one that was likely life threatening.  The baby girl would likely not ever be able to leave the hospital ventilators, even if she lived.

This put a lump in all our throats.  We were all just young professionals in Brooklyn. We spent our days hanging out with each other, visiting Coney Island or having picnics. We often crammed lots of people into a Mini Cooper and went on road trips. We sat around and talked about business ideas and our big New York dreams. We BBQed on rooftops, decorated our mid century modern apartments, worked long hours, and got together as often as we could for dessert nights. And now our friends had a 4 lb baby in an ICU incubator.  It felt like the life you hear about from off in the distance—the worst-case scenarios that never seem to hit home.

We had nearly just packed up our fancy baby shower. And now we were organizing a laundry schedule for the parents. Preparing a meal drop-off rotation. Collecting quarters for hospital vending machines. Pooling funds for car services so our friends wouldn’t have to battle the subway day and night. Dropping off books to read, snacks, etc. Little children from our church practiced songs to record for the baby. And friends worked on a baby quilt. It was an operation like I’ve never seen before. People literally just poured in to help. I took it upon myself to be the hub of the operation. I had the time. I was not able to have children myself. And my heart could not have been bigger for this family and this baby. Every ounce of myself wanted to do all I could to help.

And one more thing...I needed a purpose. I needed a purpose like my life depended on it. You see, my husband of 7 years had just announced to me that he wanted to leave our marriage. And that he wanted a divorce. And that he did not have children with me. No one knew this but me. I sat there watching my life unravel before my eyes while at the same time watching my friends’ lives unravel before theirs. It was like everything that was so near and dear to us was being stripped from us. But never in my life had I been more in tune with what was left. Even with a husband that was on his way out the door, even with a baby whose life was fragile...what was left was LOVE. Love for each other. Love for this life. Love for babies. Love for friends in need. Love for what we had. Love for serving each other and fulfilling each other’s needs. Never before had I so clearly seen that love & service are the greatest healing balms of the world, even in times of the worst imaginable circumstances.

It wasn’t long before my husband made an exit and left the state. Two days later that sweet little baby passed away. Just before I received word that she died, I had the sweetest moment that I will never forget. I finally received from a tech friend the recording of all our friends’ children who were singing words of peace and comfort and joy for that baby and her parents. I was listening to it in my home, alone, and sobbing, but feeling more love and peace and comfort than I had ever felt in my life. A couple of hours later, I got the call from Bea’s parents, saying that Bea had just passed. I consider those children’s singing voices a tender mercy from God. Those voices filled my home that evening. And my heart had never been more full of love and hope and gratitude for what really matters most in this life.

Normally the presiding head of our church congregation would be in charge of the funeral. But he was out of town. And so one of his counselors, his wife (both my dear friends), and myself worked day and night to plan that funeral. We were all under 30. We had never planned a funeral before and had no idea what hoops it would take to quickly bring together a smooth event for the family. But because of the multitude of people willing to jump and help and beg for assignments, we organized a luncheon, flowers, musical numbers, speakers, an organist, car dispatchers, people to drive family to Greenwood Cemetery from the church, even water bottles for the graveside service in the blistering July heat. Women cooked day and night. Men so tenderly helped with every need. People of our church & friend community helped in every way imaginable. A 13-year boy even showed up on his skateboard the morning of the funeral to help set up chairs. The feeling of service & love that all the men, women & children felt that day is something that none of us will ever, ever forget.

At the funeral, my friend later wrote that “the baby’s grandfather gave what would be considered the eulogy. But rather than talking about the life and accomplishments of the deceased he instead expounded upon all of the service, love and charity that this beautiful little girl inspired in those who surrounded her.” She made us better people. She gave us hope for this life and all the goodness that can exist. She reminded us of what it feels like to offer love so freely and willingly. She brought us closer to what God represents. She brought us closer to whom we all have the potential to be. I will always be thankful for Bea.