Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The Little Funeral

The little funeral

A baby was born to the Denker family. They have six children, who are all healthy, and so this was their seventh child. But it only lived for one day. I went there when it was to be buried.
   The Denkers’ home is very simple. The main floor has only two rooms where everything happens, and thus, no kitchen.  The small casket was on display in the front room and the door between the two rooms swung open and closed. The other children would walk in to take a look. A baby brother was dead and they were very curious.
   The floor of the small front room runs a bit crooked. The house is old and, here and there, the planks have come loose. As the children walked over the planks the cups on the buffet rattled. The little head in the casket shook back and forth a bit as if it were in pain, and it was as if the two folded hands would clench each other.
   But, naturally, that was impossible, since baby brother was dead.
   Brother Denker, a sister of his wife, and a cousin, were there, and after I had read and prayed it was time to go.
   The funeral director came. He looked splendid in his long black coat and white gloves.
   The understanding was that I would ride along to the cemetery. That worked out well since there was only room for four in the coach.
   The coach was waiting in the rain. It was dirty and the windows would not completely close. The horse hung its head and softly swung its frayed tail.
   The director helped each of us up the few steps into the coach and then hurried back to get the casket, because he, too, was going to sit inside the coach.
   We could all just fit. The casket bumped against the door as the director entered. In my mind’s eye I saw the little head shake as if in pain.
   There was not that much room inside and the little casket seemed to have grown in size so that Brother Denker and the director had to hold it across their knees. But it just worked.
   While we were still riding over the hard noisy cobblestone (the coach did not have rubber tires) we could still make a few audible observations, but at the cemetery the wheels ran over sand, and we fell silent.
   As we stepped out of the coach, the gravedigger appeared with a shovel in hand. He is always very helpful and let himself down into the grave to receive the casket from the funeral director. The director let the casket slip so that it almost fell, but the gravedigger caught it and laid it down safely in the bottom of the grave. He climbed out of the grave and began to slap the dirt off his knees. That took a moment because the ground was damp.
   I read the Apostles’ Creed, and then we returned to the coach where the horse was waiting. On the way back we had more room, and since the actual burial was behind us, it was easier to have a bit of conversation.
   Brother Denker could view the loss of his child in the light of the covenant and found much comfort in that. The sister-in-law said very little and the director enlightened us about the special difficulties associated specifically with small caskets.
   It began to rain harder, and also to blow, so that we were all bothered by the little windows that did not want to close. But the horse drew the carriage at a trot and so we were quickly back at the Denker home.
   The cousin had prepared the front room and served us a cup of coffee.
   I asked Brother Denker if I could greet his wife. That was fine. I went upstairs to a small bedroom where Sister Denker lay in bed.
    She was weak, of course, and pale. She has the eyes of a woman who has many children, eyes that hold the reflection of love and concern.
   It was better than I had expected. She was quite alert, and she is always friendly. Yes, I was right: she was still richly blessed with her six other children and she could commit her circumstances into God’s hand.
   Everything was, thus, as it was supposed to be and so I shook her hand and left.
   I glanced back when I was at the door. She lay motionless, eyes downcast, but two tears flowed down her cheeks, very slowly and quietly, as if they were welling up from a deep fountain of grief which words cannot express.
   In the little grave at the cemetery lay a child deep under the black earth, a child that lived in the light for only one day. And in a small upstairs bedroom the eyes of a mother wept.

“Kleine Begrafenis” in Peper en Zout by M.E. Voila, Kok: Kampen, n.d. Trans., George van Popta