The day I buried my daughter

To mark Baby Loss Awareness Week, our editor Jonny Ivey has written a series of articles after the recent and tragic death of his baby daughter. This is the final article of three.

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I’d never seen a coffin the size of my daughter’s – one small enough to need only a single pallbearer. 

Her father. 

I stood outside the church with Edith’s coffin in my arms. From inside, her song began - the same symphony that beckoned her into the world.

This wasn’t how it was meant to go. Walking my little girl down the aisle wasn’t meant for now. It wasn’t meant to be like this.

In my mind, walking her down the aisle she’d be dressed in white, a bouquet of flowers in her hands. Her auburn hair would be flowing; her figure, feminine. Standing outside the church door, she’d kiss her old man’s cheek and say, ‘you ready, Daddy?’

We’d walk slowly down the aisle, arm in arm, to that symphony; her high-heels would softly click on the stone floor; smiling heads would slowly turn.

Edith Joy – my joy it would have been. It wasn’t meant to be like this.

I walked. With her in my arms. Down the aisle. Not in a white dress, but in a white box. No heads turned. There were no smiles.

Tears.  

Texts. Songs. Reflections. Prayers. Praise.

No coffin should be that size. No coffin should be any size. Please, no coffins. It wasn’t meant to be like this.

I wept. Like Jesus (John 11:35). He knew that it wasn’t mean to be like this.

Mud

He knew the pain of standing next to the grave of someone he loved (John 11:34). He stood with me on the day I buried my daughter, next to the gaping trench about to swallow her earthly presence.  

I lowered her to her resting place. Her grave was filled. I was hollowed.

The earth swallowed.

The earth is so dirty. The day I buried my daughter my hands were glazed with mud. It seems fitting that this muddy earth that snatches life would provide the mattress for our dead.

Mud. Doesn’t it seem fitting? From mud you came and to mud you shall return (Genesis 2:7). We spend our lives avoiding the mud. If only we can get clean. But as long as this swallowing earth is our home, mud will be our mattress and our bed.

It wasn’t meant to be like this.

But Jesus didn’t only weep for the mud. He was made dirty, so we’d be made clean (2 Corinthians 5:21).

God’s penalty for human sin had the Son of God muddied. Bloodied and bruised, he carried a multitude of graves on his broken back.

Stripped and striped, he died (Isaiah 53:5, KJV). Crucified. He was buried in the mud. He made his bed with us in the dirty earth.    

But mud has always been God’s fertile soil. In it, he grows green shoots, a vine, eternal life. Jesus died, and was buried in the mud, so we’d be cleansed and given white robes (Revelation 7:13).

Saturday

Jesus died on a Friday - history’s darkest day. He rose on a Sunday – history’s greatest day.

We don’t often talk about the Saturday.

On Saturday, the Bread of Life was lying lifeless in linen cloths, left to spoil. The Light of the World was extinguished. The Resurrection and the Life was dead.

For me and my family, today is Saturday. Our little girl was left lifeless in the grave, her light extinguished from our lives. It might be Saturday for some years to come.

We’ll always sit around the dinner table with one of our children missing. We’ll always look at family photographs and see a gaping hole. On the 20th September 2036, we’ll weep thinking of our beautiful daughter who’d be turning eighteen.

Of course, there'll be many joys to come. But so long as we’re in these bodies, away from the Lord and apart from our daughter, nothing will completely heal this wound. Our hands will always be muddy.   

In this life, the day will always be called Saturday.

Sunday

But did the Bread of Life actually spoil? Was the Light of the World really extinguished? Did the Resurrection and the Life remain dead?

Didn’t Saturday’s sorrow become Sunday’s joy?

Our ultimate hope isn’t that Saturday would improve - what hope do we have in a world wrapped in burial clothes? What hope for those who’ve fallen asleep in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:18) – those of old, the church, the Ediths?  

If Saturday is our hope, we’re trusting in embalmment oils and spices. If Saturday’s our hope, more than anyone else, we’re to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:19).

But no, our hope isn’t Saturday. On Sunday morning, Christ was ‘raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep’ (1 Corinthians 15:20).

He went before Edith. Like the Lord Jesus, her end wasn’t the soil, but the sky; her hope wasn’t the grave but glory - a perfectly re-created world, stripped of its linen cloths and its bondage to decay (Romans 8:21).

The Bread of Life is fresh; the Light of the World is burning; the Resurrection is very much alive. This is our hope – the hope that enabled me to bury my daughter.

Today is Saturday. Tomorrow, Sunday.

Christ, our hope

As I lowered Edith’s coffin into the ground, with her I buried my hope in this world.

But as I did, I experienced a new hope in the world to come. This was a hope which I always knew about, but to some extent, neglected in favour of the hopes of this world.

I was holding onto Saturday. My hope tended towards linen cloths and embalmment oils.

Christ has always been our only hope; but to savour the truth that all we have is Christ, a person truly has to lose all else (Luke 9:24).

Edith knows that already. I’m learning. Healing. Grieving. Today is still Saturday. But tomorrow is Sunday. And because of that, I can bear the pain.

I will see this day out, holding onto Sunday’s hope – the hope of seeing the resurrected Christ.

After all, he’s all we have.