Posted by: Philip Rushton | January 28, 2013

The Sanctity Of All Life: Reflections on the death of a baby

This past weekend I had the not so pleasant task of officiating the funeral of a baby who died a few hours after birth. I have spoken at a number of funerals in the last year, but never one like this. While the passing of a loved one is always cause for grief, there is something especially difficult about the death of a baby. It defies the expectation that our children will out live us, it robs parents of the gift of child and all the hopes and dreams that comes with that life.

To be honest, it is hard to know what to say in a situation like this. There are plenty of unhelpful platitudes and cliche’s that do not do justice to the depth of the pain this event has caused. Usually a listening ear and an available presence are the best gifts we can give those who must go through this long journey of grief. While the memorial service was an important part of the grieving process it was not the end of it. Probably the most important part of the service was when I stopped talking and everyone gathered at the back of the chapel and spent time together talking, supporting and hugging one another while having a cup of coffee.

One of the things that I was reflecting on while meeting with the family was the impact that this young life had on his parents. Though this child did not live for more then a day, he touched the lives of his family and left a lasting mark on their hearts.

It brought to mind a quote from Leo Tolstoy that I heard at another funeral for a baby:

“People ask: ‘Why do children or young people die, when they have lived so little?’ How do you know that they have lived little? This crude measure of yours is time, but life is not measured in time. This is just the same as to say: ‘Why is this saying, this poem, this picture, this piece of music so short, why was it broken off and not drawn out to the size of the longest speech or piece of music, the largest picture?’ As the measure of length is inapplicable to the meaning (or greatness) of productions of wisdom or poetry, so—even more evidently—is it inapplicable to life. How do you know what inner growth this soul accomplished in its short span, and what influence it had upon others? Spiritual life cannot be measured by a physical measure.”

I have never been so convinced of the sanctity of human life as when I was preparing the funeral for Saturday. Even though this child did not live more then a few hours, he made an eternal impact on this world. This tiny one and half pound baby bore the image of God. He was and is God’s handiwork that evoked reverence, love, and longing within the hearts of his family. The depth of grief felt in his absence is a testimony to the significance and importance of his life.

The implication that this has for all of us is to recover that same reverence, love, and respect for all humanity. It is something that we so easily forget in our day to day relationships. Each life is created in the image of God. Everyone we encounter was woven together by God within the womb of their mother, created as God’s handiwork. In effect, we must become pro-life all the way. We must celebrate and protect life from the moment of conception to the moment of death. We need to advocate for the vulnerable unborn child, as well as the disabled neighbor, or the alcoholic that came into my office last week, or the vulnerable people in countries we are at war with, or the people we tend to alienate due to theological or political differences. If I learned anything last week, it is that every life has intrinsic worth.

One of the poems the family asked me to read sums it up well:

The world may never notice
If a Snowdrop doesn’t bloom,
Or even pause to wonder
If the petals fall too soon.
But every life that ever forms,
Or ever comes to be,
Touches the world in some small way
For all eternity.

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Responses

  1. Powerful and well said.

  2. Having walked in these shoes, tho many years ago, your words have comforted me too.
    But, they always do!
    Thank you and I know you have been a blessing to this family.

    merry

  3. Phil,
    At the end of your reflection, you listed those we need to cherish and advocate for, such as the vulnerable, the disabled, the alcoholic, and those for whom we disagree. As I read, I began to be convicted of the people in my life that fit in those categories, and I how needed to adjust my attitude and actions toward them. To value them with the same worth that God does. So this baby’s life, through your words, has “touched my life in some small way… for all eternity”

  4. I had a friend who had a very difficult pregnancy and Pastor Liz helped me at the time over the loss of that child. Thanks again for added dimension Phil. Ditto Stan’s thoughts. God sees the Golden core, even when we struggle, we always need to try to see the potential, look past the exterior expressions of addictions or evil displayed.


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