People were chattering in the empty minutes before the Mass began. But when they brought in his casket, so small that most of his pallbearers were children, silence fell abruptly. Even the babies seemed to know that something important was happening. In the quiet before the priest began that beautiful opening ritual, there was only one sound: Carla was sobbing quietly. I listened to her ragged breathing and it sounded to me like the noises of a woman in labor.
We all sat down in the church together and I felt an unexpected relief. Tears have been sneaking up on me over the past few days, but here I was in a place where tears were perfectly normal. What a sensible thing a funeral is -- a place where it's right and appropriate to grieve together.
I didn't recognize anyone at first, but a woman in the next pew whispered my name. It was Amy, another breastfeeding counselor. Carla and I had made a road trip to her house together in 2002. I remembered all the things I was worried about on that trip, and I thought about all the gifts that the intervening ten years have brought, and even in the middle of a funeral I could only think "God is good."
The recessional will stay with me for a long time: Carla walked out behind the casket and the priests, flanked by her family and holding two of her little ones' hands. She was smiling, and singing "Lead me, Lord" with the choir. Mostly when we ask God to lead us, I think, we are imagining happy paths. Prosperous paths, maybe, or at least level and scenic paths. Most of us don't envision God asking us to follow a child-sized casket, holding a little body we have loved.
It wasn't until I was driving home that I realized why it was so fitting for Carla to sound like she was giving birth in that moment before Mass. Women in labor are being pushed beyond what they can endure; they're being asked to keep giving when they're not sure they have anything left to offer. It is no wonder that when a child is born into eternal life, his mother wails in just the same way. And in her song and her smile when the Mass was over, I saw an echo of the joy that comes when the work of birth is finished.