On a recent early morning radio program I heard an interesting discussion. It was about the modern custom of photographing people after they’d died. Some listeners approved, while others maintained it was intrusive. Many photos were of stillborn babies. One caller told how her small daughter delighted to look at the picture of her younger sister and often talked about her. They’d explained how the baby died when her heart stopped beating, so the toddler asked if she could keep the photo in her room. It was her treasure.
I was touched by this story and suddenly realised that many of us have a gap in our lives which we seldom talk about. It’s a space occupied by a person who’s a stranger to their own family. Many couples expect a child for months and then the baby girl or boy dies before they are able to fulfil their destiny. But is it possible that they can still have an impact on our world…and the world to come?
When fathers were excluded from the delivery room, the mother was often the only one in the family who saw their child. This was my experience when our second son was born. We have no photos to remind us of him.
As the nurses wheeled me out of the labour ward that night, I turned to look at my baby in the humidicrib. I didn’t know it was the last time I would see him. He was struggling to breathe with only one good lung and nobody suggested that I stay with him. Mark’s earthly life lasted for ninety minutes, but I never held him in my arms. There was no talk of a funeral and we were told that he would be buried in a ‘common grave’.
I’ve sometimes wondered what that meant, but I’ve now discovered that he’s one of only three babies in the grave. The others are Mary, a baby girl who lived for two hours, and Russell, a little boy who died six days after his birth. It’s a comfort to me that they were placed there together and now I can pray for their parents.
Below is a photo of a portion of the beautiful Memorial for Babies that has since been built at the West Terrace Cemetery, in South Australia. The family of each baby can lay a paver with a leaf on it in memory of their child. Between 1930 and 1980, 30,000 babies were buried in fields at the back of the cemetery with few markers or headstones.
I didn’t know all these details as we drove home a week later without our son. I sat in the car and longed to hold him. The space in my arms felt wide, empty, slashed, like a harvested paddock. I was bereft.
When Maurie and I walked into the house I immediately noticed a new piece of furniture by the lounge room window. I hugged Maurie and wept at the loving thought that inspired such a gift. He’d bought a piano for me!
I went to the gleaming instrument and ran my fingers over the keys. It responded with a glorious tone and I began to play a song…In the name of Jesus, in the name of Jesus we have the victory!
The piano still lives in our home; I play it every day. If God uses my music to touch hearts, I believe Mark shares in the giving. His life can bless people far into the future and forever!
Although we don’t have a photo of Mark, we’ve planted a Melia tree in our garden as a memorial to him. Once Maurie had covered its roots with soil, he laid aside the spade and we stood together beside the weeping foliage and prayed. We thanked the Lord for the life of our little boy and for the truths we’ve learnt from it. As the tree grew, Maurie took some of its pea-shaped seeds and propagated them. Others in our family may want to have their own Melia tree to grow for Mark’s sake.