I was recently reminded of this poem from the book Poppies and Snowdrops when I was told of its use at a funeral…
You love him. That's why you feel like this. That will never change.
Without you he wouldn't have discovered life, enjoyed learning, driven you crazy as he strained in adolescence to gain his independence while needing you more than he would admit, or you could know.
And he still needs you, in spite of his death.
In death as in life, he is your child, to be remembered with all the love you ever had for him,
with all the frustration he brought you,
as well as the joy and privilege of parenthood.
Love him still.
Always love him.
Talk about his birth, his life, his ups and down
Talk of success and failure.
Talk of love and frustration.
Talk about him.
And never, never let him go.
He is your son.
He was and is and always will be.
The joyful pain of knowing that will live with you forever.
Every day you will picture him,
hear his voice
and ask the unanswerable 'what ifs'
until that point when it registers that,
in spite of all that has happened
nothing, but nothing,
can separate you, or him, from God's love.
Even now you are still a uniquely valued child of God.
God hurts with you,
cries with you,
enfolds you with love.
And you are safe.
Nothing can harm you anymore.
Your memories are safe and the love in which you are held is eternal.
So rest, my child, in that love of God that will never,
but never, let you go.
© Andrew Pratt
By this I mean death at or near to birth, literally ‘around birth’. Here I would include abortions, still birth and spontaneously aborted pregnancies as well as deaths in the first year, cot deaths and so on. None of these can be ‘swept out of the way’. For a woman to have conceived is enough to begin to anticipate the birth. If that birth doesn’t take place then there will be feelings which need to be dealt with. Each situation is different. As with every death listen to what is being said, watch how people are responding and, in turn, try to respond sensitively and sympathetically to different needs as you perceive them. Fathers have feelings too and it is worth remembering that when much attention may be focussed around the mother. If there are tangible memories these are important. Parents may have an ultrasound scan or photos of a still born child and may have held him or her. There may well be feelings of guilt to deal with and, again, anger or depression. In the case of a cot death a lot of questions may be asked about what the parents did or did not do. This can be exacerbated by the presence of the police who will need to be involved in such a death.
Some ministers may think it inappropriate to baptise a dead child but if this is a compassionate action to take at a parent’s request you may well want to over-ride your theological scruples in order to offer comfort. Only you can decide. A funeral is always appropriate if this is requested and undertakers usually charge minimal expenses or even none in the case of the death of a child.