The consolations of a Catholic funeral

Charles Cowling


Here’s an extract from good and powerful piece in the Catholic Herald by Siri Abrahamson

In the midst of a grey, damp winter, at the end of a healthy and normal pregnancy, our second child, a daughter, dies at birth. Despite 20 minutes of attempted resuscitation in the delivery room, she never draws breath outside my body. The neo-natal consultant has tears in his eyes when he comes up to the bedside where my husband and I are clutching each other’s hands in disbelief. “I am so sorry. We couldn’t save her.”

Our shock is complete. There was no indication this would happen. When we are asked if we would like our baby blessed, we say yes, in a haze. We are willing to grasp at any straws to try to numb this pain. The hospital’s Catholic priest turns up shortly thereafter. I can’t remember asking for a Catholic priest, but perhaps we had. Neither my husband nor I are Catholic, though my mother is.

The priest gets our names wrong, yet his prayer offers unexpected solace. He leaves us with a rosary. That night, and for many more nights to come, I sleep with it around my neck.

When it comes to arranging the funeral there are three available options – a Church of England service, a Catholic service or a non-religious ceremony. I ask my husband, an agnostic, if we can have a Catholic service and he says yes.

… … … 

A month after Elspeth’s death the funeral takes place in a crematorium in north London.

It is another cold and grey winter’s day. In accordance with our wishes, only a handful of friends and family are attending the service, and the heartache of everyone present is palpable. My husband and I have dreaded the service, being so close to our baby’s cold body again, the finality of what we are about to experience. When Elspeth’s coffin turns up, in a hearse delayed by morning rush-hour traffic, it is so small. My husband is encouraged to carry it inside. Standing in the front row of the crematorium’s chapel with our older daughter, I watch him walk inside, his face and body contorted with sobs. We know few words of the prayers said by the priest, but the service is beautiful and more meaningful than we had dared hope. Just as we walk outside, the sun breaks through the clouds for the first time in weeks.

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