There is a beautiful, old, wooded cemetery near our church where Marathon and I will sometimes stroll during the Sunday School hour. It’s a large place, and though we’ve been a few times, we still haven’t explored all of its nooks and crannies.
The last time we were there, we went to the far end of the cemetery. As we rounded a corner and headed toward the back, Marathon said, “This section must be for the poor” because it was absent of any large markers or headstones. The only markers were small and flat to the ground.
After getting closer and seeing how small the graves were, we realized this section was full of infants, mostly under the age of 2. There were graves with little matchbox cars and other toys on them.
It was so sad and sobering. All these little people, many of whom lived less than a year, most of whom lived less than a week, all lying here in this place together.
At first it seemed strange. No families. The rest of the cemetery is laid out in family groups. But not this area. These infants were resting among total strangers – infant strangers. Why?
Of course, these infants don’t have a spouse to be burried beside. And the parents are likely still alive, as are probably the grandparents. But surely there is some relative, even if a distant one, who the babe could be buried beside.
Then it hit me. Cemeteries are not for the dead. They are for the living. A place where family can go to remember and grieve the lost loved one. Is there a place that could be more comforting than an area that bears witness to the fact that this family is not alone in its suffering? This place of sorrow must actually be a place of great comfort for those parents. They are not alone in their loss. Death has not singled them out. Many families have suffered the same loss, as can be seen by the dozens of tiny graves.
I don’t frequent cemetaries and don’t know if having an infant section is standard practice. But, what first seemed to me like a section in the back where they put all the little people, now seems a like a thoughtful way of helping parents cope with such a painful loss. It’s a place to remember the infant they barely knew, and a place to sympathize with other families who have suffered in a similar way. Somehow, sharing the suffering – even with total strangers – must lighten the load.