In college I worked one summer at a funeral home. Morbid? Maybe, but I wanted to be around the death process to understand, not fear it.
Sometimes though things, places, events — they change you, change the way you think, change the way you see and feel life. That summer changed me, one night in particular.
I had two jobs that college summer. As soon as I finished my maintenance job, I’d shower, put on my suit and rush to the 2nd job at the funeral home.
It was a visitation that night, just one body, with few visitors expected. The funeral home owner told me he and his family were leaving town for a short trip, threw me the keys and told me to lock up after everyone left that night.
No one was there, so I went into the state room and was shocked to see the tiny casket. Inside was a beautiful, eight month old baby girl.
I swallowed, hard.
The owner was right, few came. The family was poor and had very little social support. Very graciously, the owner had provided almost everything free of charge for the family in such a time of grief.
There were only three people there the entire evening, the mother, grandmother and me. That was it. No one else. No family. No friends. No visitors.
I sat outside the state room door and listened to the mother grieve. There is such a ripping emotion, a feeling of deep hollowness in the sound of a mother grieving a lost child.
Eleven days earlier a horse had fallen on the lady’s husband. He’d had three operations on his leg in nine days and was in the hospital ICU. It was still nip and tuck for him.
In the midst of the stress and going back and forth to the hospital, the unthinkable happened.
The eight month old baby girl had an undiscovered blood disorder. Within twenty-fours of the first symptoms, the baby’s kidneys unexpectedly failed. One floor under where her daddy was being treated, she died.
Now, at the funeral home visitation the night before her funeral, I sat near the main entrance. From where I sat, I could see the mother and grandmother on a couch directly across the room from the little casket.
The baby girl, even in her permanent sleep, was adorable. She had on a little dress and a small pink and white bonnet. She looked more like a lifelike doll in a storefront window than a lifeless child.
The empty armed mother and grandmother sat nearly two hours quietly talking in the state room. They went to a back patio for a few minutes before wandering back into the state room.
That’s when the mother moved to the tiny casket. She reached for a music box sitting beside the little girl, wound it, and carefully placed it back in the coffin beside her daughter.
Maybe because it had been so quiet for two hours, but the soft song chiming from the music box shattered the silence like boulders at a glass factory.
Without moving a muscle, the mother stood next to her child watching her baby sleep.
The music box played Brahm’s Lullaby. With each ring of a note, the music played in the ears while the words sang in the head:
“Go to sleep. Go to sleep. Go to sleep my dear baby. Close your eyes, Start to yawn, Pleasant dreams until dawn.”
The mother bent down and whispered something intended only for her child. The heart broken mother touched the small bonnet with trembling fingers as the song continued:
“Go to sleep. Go to sleep. Go to sleep my dear baby. Close your eyes, Start to yawn, Pleasant dreams until dawn…”
The grandmother joined the mom at the casket and fresh tears from a bottomless well of grief flowed.
The music box, ever so timely, played down its song.
Slower and slower, softer and softer, the music box wound down.
“Go to sleeep. Goo too sleeeep. Gooo tooo sleeeeep myyyy.”
The music hushed.
The baby slept.
The silence screamed.
The two women fell in each other’s arms uncontrollably sobbing, mourning from the deepest of the deep.
Changed. Forever, changed.
I never sang Brahm’s Lullaby to my own children. I still can’t hear it without thinking of this baby girl, who would now be 34 years old.
I don’t know how her family ended up dealing with everything, how long it was before stormy darkness turned to partly cloudy days, or even what happened to the little girl’s father.
And I’m not sure how, but somehow the tears that fell on the carpet that night eventually began to dry.
Even so, some tears never dry completely.