Thursday, 18 August 2011

On the death of a child (3)


My siblings and I are wont to tell people that we are from a family of nine children.  Then we have to pause for a moment and add “actually there were ten of us”.

For we had a sister who died.  Her name was Sylvia.  She was the third to be born, so her two older sisters (who are of course also my older sisters) have some memories of her birth and death.

Mum or Dad never said much about Sylvia.  They were of the generation who kept many sorrows in their hearts. So what I know is very little. 

 I think that she was born in 1942 (two years before my twin and I were born).  

From what I’ve gleaned I suspect that she was born with spina bifida, and that her life here on earth was very brief.  I think (but I am not certain) that she was buried at the foot of the grave of our paternal grandfather in Greenbank Cemetery, Bristol, U.K.  How odd that I know so little.

This wee child was treasured by our Mum.  And when Mum died (almost ten years ago) our two older sisters voiced the belief that she would see Sylvia in heaven.

2. My youngest sister gave birth to a son in 1987.  She named him Jack Leonard - the names of our father Jack Povey, and our step-father Len Woolcock. I never met this nephew.

Jack Leonard died of what is sometimes called “sudden crib/cot death”.  He was about three months old. 

A dear friend, the Revd. Gwen Sears from Pittsfield MA, had recently visited my family in Bristol, at which time she took a lovely photo’ of my Mum holding her newest grandson.  So both Gwen and I grieved when Jack Leonard died, but our sadness could in no way be compared with the grief of his mother, my youngest sister.

3. Thomas Povey was born on 11th May 1993.  He was the son of my dear brother Martyn and his wife Wendy.  Tom was named for his maternal grand-father Tom Williams.

My nephew Tom was died on day he was born.  By the grace of God, I was in Bristol and I baptised him in the neo-natal intensive care room at St. Michael’s Hospital. I led the prayers at his burial. But that is incidental. 

What is true is that his Mum, Dad and older sister Laura still grieve his loss, and his younger sibling Sam knows that he had a brother who he never met.

Such grief. Such sadness.

And the list goes on.

(a) My friends Ray and Irene (both now deceased) had an adult son named David who was murdered.   They “never got over his death” - why should they?

(b) In August 1983 fifteen year Scott O’Connell decided to run away from his home in Chicopee MA.  He was killed in a road accident as he hitch-hiked on Interstate 91 in Hartford CT.    I did not know Scott or his family.  But I was called upon to say the prayers at his funeral, and to be present to his family in their horrendous grief.

(c) In 1987 nine year old Wayne Suriner III was mowed down by an errant driver as he crossed a street in Pittsfield, MA. I’d never met Wayne, though I knew and admired his aunt who happens to be a priest in the Episcopal Church. 

She and I “did the funeral” and spent endless hours in ministry to his parents Wayne (Jr) and Susan.

(d) In February 2009 Hunter Pope, aged 12, died after contracting flu. Twelve year old children should NOT die of flu.

 I had been his Pastor in Cambridge, MA until my retirement in 2006. I adored Hunter “a blithe spirit” in every sense of those words.  And I loved and cared for his parents Ken and Tess, and his siblings, Ramsey, Connor, and Molly.

It fell to the lot of my successor in Cambridge, the Revd.  Holly Lyman Antolini to minister to the family, and she did it so well.  And she was gracious enough to encourage me to visit with the Pope family when I happened to be in Cambridge a couple of weeks later.

And here is the rub.  Scott, Wayne, and Hunter were twins.

Scott’s twin is Shawn.

Wayne’s twin is Rebecca.

Hunter’s twin is Molly.

God be with Scott, Wayne and Hunter

And I am also a twin. I have a twin sister called Elizabeth.

TWINS OR NOT the grief at the death of a child is all but unbearable.

So I honour my sister Sylvia, and my nephews Jack and Tom, even as I try to enter into the horrendous griefs of those other dear friends whose children have died.

I wish that we could break the barriers of silence and listen to the wails of those whose grand-children, children, and siblings who have died “much too early”.

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