Vignettes: Young Grief
He wore a bright apple green tee shirt. He was probably about 10 years old, slight in build with mid brown hair. His shoulders were hunched and he clung to his mother’s hand as they came into the church entrance hall. His eyes were red and he had obviously been crying quite a lot.
As his mother made her away across the narthex toward the tables full of photos and other small items, he held back a little – as though afraid. He cuffed His nose with his wrist and his mother put her arm around his shoulder. He leaned in, almost as if he wanted to disappear, perhaps hoping that if he did the whole circumstance would disappear too.
They approached the book where friends and family stopped to sign their names, a testimony of loving memory to Sophia and support to her parents. Yes, we were laying little Sophia to rest. Her parents had had to make that unthinkable decision to switch of life support. They had hung on for a few days so that out of town family could come to say their farewells, and perhaps hoping for a miracle that would bring their Sophia back to them.
The boy was destroyed by grief. His face was drawn and wretched with it. His mother signed and asked if he wanted her to sign for him. He shook his head and held out his hand for the pen. As he bravely added his signature to the growing list, he sniffed a couple of times and hung onto his stomach with his other hand.
I watched as he slowly walked passed the photos looking intently at each one. Tears rolled down his cheeks and my heart felt heavy at the sight of his young grief. And yet I did not wish that he shouldn’t suffer so. I realized he was learning a grand lesson in this grown up world. He was courageously grieving the loss of his little friend openly. He wasn’t trying to do the “manly” thing and cover up his feelings. His heart hurt at his loss and he was crying with the pain, not the least bit embarrassed .
They took seats inside the church along with his Dad and his sister. The funeral Mass started and I saw him lean into his Dad for a while, then once more against his Mom. He was feeling this every step of the way. Finally, it got to be too much, and he and his mother went back out into the narthex and sat on a bench under the window. His slight body was caved in and he clutched onto his stomach with both hands as if in letting go he might lose a part of himself.
So as I prayed for Sophia and her family, I also prayed for the little boy in the green tee shirt. I asked God to comfort him and to heal his broken heart.
After the Mass, my friend Debbie told me she had spoken to him out in the narthex and asked if he was Sophia’s friend. He had nodded yes. She then said that she imagined they had had some very happy times together and told him to think of just one time when they had enjoyed something really special. She then encouraged him that when he said his prayers that night, to tell God to tell Sophia that he was thinking about that one very special happy time they had had, and that he was happy to have that memory. And she told him in the following days to think of other happy times and do the same thing: tell God to tell Sophia about them. Debbie assured him that if he did this he would then always have happy memories when he thought of Sophia.
What an incredibly beautiful and love-filled gift she gave that boy. I know that it was God speaking through her. He has a way of using her in that way – to uplift others with her words. And once again I was grateful; grateful for community and the gift of love that we share with each other.