Last month I found myself having to say something at another such Funeral, this time following the cot death of a girl of three months. Her parents wanted a short and simple service and had prepared some beautiful things about their daughter which they wanted to say, so I suggested that there might not need me to add very much. ‘No,’ they said, ‘we want you to say something proper.’
What I found myself saying was this. It seems to me that we get our own sense of meaning from those who for some reason appear to value us. They may well do so because we are attractive or witty or successful or useful, but we know that doesn’t count, because either now or in the future we may find that we are unattractive, uninteresting and of little achievement or help. So we really get our own meaning from those who value us without cause. Many of us are lucky to get that from different places: from among our family and friends; from total strangers; and from God.
What I tried to say was that this child had all three: in her distraught parents, in the NHS and in her Baptism. We know her life had meaning because her parents loved her, because we bothered directing our taxes towards her care, and because God’s activity was made visible around her. So it seems to me her life had no less meaning and no more meaning than any of ours.
Obviously, hardly anyone at the service could be expected to follow a line of intellectual reasoning like that, but at least her parents were thankful that something proper seemed to have been said. I have no idea whether the reasoning would stand up to serious scrutiny anyway.
Nevertheless, I even dare to wonder whether such things would be true about the stillborn child for whom I will take a service tomorrow. I know her life had meaning because she was valued without cause - in being loved unconditionally by her parents, in being dealt with without charge by a firm of Funeral Directors, and in being owned openly before God in the same hospital’s Chapel.
And the extra thought I would say to those of you who come to a summer Evensong in a Cathedral is that all this might alert us to an important reason why we are taught that we should not value people by how attractive they are, what good company they are, how successful they are, or how useful they are. It is that if we place meaning in those wrong places, we find that we are denying our instinct that the life of such a child has meaning.
I've been spending time over the last week with another family who have suffered a stillbirth, and I've dug out again for myself these words which I prepared as part of a sermon when preaching in the Cathedral almost exactly four years so.
The picture is a different view of the recently vandalised cross on the 1927 grave of fifteen year old Bert Davis in St Michael's churchyard. I've noticed that the three burials in the churchyard in the month after his were of a 12 year old (whose address was a Mental Hospital outside Lincoln) and children aged 8 hours and 5 years (from the streets adjacent to the one in which Bert lived).