A reflection composed after concelebrating the Funeral Mass of a child.

I can’t take my eyes off his hand as he rests it on his wife’s shoulder. I don’t think it is a conscious gesture. His arm just instinctively wraps itself around her each time she shivers with the intensity of it all. Sometimes her hand reaches up to touch his and their fingers intertwine and caress reassuringly.

The family sits in the front seat of the church near where the short white coffin of their oldest child now lays. Surrounding it are mementos of their son’s all-too-short four and half-year life. A few days earlier, Cillian’s life ended without reason and shortly after he had waved goodbye to his dad and his brother when he was dropped off at the crèche. Today it’s their turn to say goodbye surrounded by people struggling to cope.

Cillian’s baby brother occupies mum’s other hand as his attention swings between the empty Santa hat on the kneeler in front of him and the bottle of Coke sitting beside him. In years to come he won’t remember that when Mum and Dad are speaking from the altar he keeps interrupting and wants his turn at the microphone! But, he will be told often about his brother who now plays among the angels.

No one at any side of the altar has learned how to answer what Fr Gearóid calls ‘the interminable list of questions’ that springs up when the frailty of our human lives is exposed so tragically in front of us. And no one tries today. Instead, instinctively, we are just drawn to be there. Our hearts and spirits want to do for the family what their arms are doing for one another.

Arms that have held; arms that have lifted up; arms that have wrapped and cuddled; arms that today will shoulder. Arms that need each other. Entwined.

We came to support. But it’s we who have been inspired.


–TH, Dec 2018.