On December 18, 2010, in my post entitled, “Mary Elizabeth Reveals – Part Three: Tom,” I wrote these words:
“The next morning my first husband and the priest told me Tom had died during the night. I asked the time. They told me that Tom had died at 1:40 a.m.
Later, I told my father the story. He said that I awoke exactly at the time of Tom’s death because his little spirit had wanted to tell me “goodbye.” Tom’s spirit may have told me “goodbye” in the realm of consciousness where we live, but I do not believe that his spirit has ever fully left me. I feel that his spirit remains here, waiting for me, so that on that day that I too die, we shall leave together.
Forty-two years later, in June, 2007, I held Tom’s little casket in my arms.
But that is another story, for another day.”
Today is that day. I did hold Tom’s little casket in my arms in June, 2007. Because I had been bleeding so much after he was born, I only saw my firstborn immediately after his birth, but his image is seared into my mind forever. My first husband stayed watching him in the nursery of the hospital all that day and into the night. He and my mother were at Tom’s funeral with the priest. Because of my bleeding, I could not attend his funeral. I never held him in my arms. But after my first husband, and lifelong friend, died in 2006, I began a crusade to find his burial site in New York City, and to have his remains exhumed to be buried, with a headstone we could not then afford, in Georgia where I currently lived with my second husband. Three weeks before my second husband died unexpectantly of a major stroke, he had said to me “If you are able to work it out with the authorities in New York City, I will drive you up there, and we will bring down Tom’s little body together.” He was such a generous man, and he had met my first husband in 2002 when my friend had visited in our home for Christmas. As destiny would have it, my dear second husband was never able to honor his kind offer because of his untimely death, but I was able to have Tom’s little body exhumed from his burial spot in New York City, and sent by air to the same funeral home in Roswell, Georgia, that had buried my second husband in April of 2007. Tom’s body arrived the first week of June, 2007. I decided that Tom would be reinterred beside my second husband (my first husband’s body had been cremated), with a space for me to be buried later, between the two. So, I entered that funeral home where his little casket had been placed in a room, alone, for me to spend time with him before he was reinterred two days later. I talked to Tom. I cried. I knew I had to hold his little casket next to my chest because the urge was so great. I had never been able to hold him in my arms when he lived. I reached for his very small casket and lifted it to my breast where I embraced it, with tears flowing, 42 years after he was born and died. I finally had had the emotional closure of my infant son’s death. He was reinterred into the Earth, two days later, on June 6, 2007. June 6th was chosen because it was the anniversary date of my marriage to my first husband in 1963. My brother drove up from south Georgia to attend with a lifelong friend. My sister drove over from a suburb of Atlanta. Another family friend sang, beautifully, “Amazing Grace.” The Episcopalian priest of my church said a few words. I gave the eulogy for my son which I had written only hours before, but the thoughts had been in my mind for years so the words flowed easily. Here is that eulogy as I delivered it for Tom, on Wednesday, June 6, 2007:
“Tom, your Earthly father expressed his deep and abiding love for you in the poem he wrote for you almost a quarter of a century after your death. Your Heavenly Father expressed his sustaining love for you in keeping your remains and spirit safe for over forty years, and in bringing you home to your family in Georgia through His amazing grace toward us all.
My love for you is visceral and spiritually without end. When I held your little casket to my breast and heart on Monday, I felt as if I finally had you in my arms. The emotional release was overwhelming. I had carried you in my body for six months over 42 years ago, and I saw your little face and body immediately after I birthed you. That image is sealed forever in my mind and spirit.
So here, today, we do not so much mourn your passing as we celebrate your brief life and know the joy of the Lord’s Holy Spirit surrounding us all today. It was not coincidence that brought you back to us. It was God’s holy plan for your life. In comparison with the totality of the Universe, all of our lives amount to only seconds of existence. In comparison with the consciousness of our Creator, each of our awarenesses is no more than that of an ant’s. Yet, the Lord weaves our lives for his purposes, even when we cannot understand how or why.
So it does not matter that you lived only 23 hours and 41 minutes. In terms of God’s understanding, the fact is that you did live. You demonstrated your tenacious desire to exist and to affirm life even against the greatest of obstacles. The nurses were in awe of your will to live though you, no doubt, had undeveloped lungs, and you weighed only 2 pounds and 4 ounces. But live you did, Tom, from one day to the next, inspiring so many by your stamina. And when your struggle on Earth was over, God took your little spirit home to Heaven. Your mission here had been completed. You had had a life as we here each have a life and you left your mark forever.
Forgive your father and forgive me, your mother, that we were not whole enough, as people yet, to have had the mental and spiritual stamina to help you on your journey here. But you knew this before I here voiced it, and you have already forgiven us our weaknesses, even before I asked it of you. I know that you know now, and have known before, that no two parents could ever love a child more than we loved you, and still love you, in spite of our early frailties.
I will never have a multitude of Earthly memories of you, Tom, but I do have spiritual memories of why you came into this world when you did. You were the first grandchild of my family and your loss affected not only your parents, but your grandparents. When your twin cousins were born, also premature, a year and a half after you, my father told God that he could not bear to lose another grandchild, and he promised God that he would alter his life for the better if the Lord would save his twin grandsons and their mother, his daughter-in-law. So your life and your passing inspired your grandfather spiritually. Perhaps your twin cousins and your aunt have known a longer life because of your short one. Later, when I had the same problems in pregnancy with your half-sister that I had had with you, I had learned better how to control the viability of the pregnancy so that, again, your short life could have helped to give your half-sister her very existence. I have always believed that you have been, and still are, her Guardian Angel on Earth and that fact has mattered to her on several occasions. God bless you for that.
Your life is the connection that my first husband’s family and my family will always have together, blood of our blood. Your father and I – spiritual and mental friends forever – are bound through eternity through your life. His poem of you, being published next month in New York City, will continue to inspire others as they read of your life and the love it inspired in him. Your step-father, in March of this year, three weeks before he died, had told me that he wanted to drive me to New York to retrieve your little body and bring it to Georgia, if legalities could be arranged. So he loved you, too, the father of your half-sister. And you will lie forever beside my body and that of my dear second husband, keeping him company until I and your half-sister rest eternally beside both you and your step-father. Your father’s ashes are spread over Mt. Ranier in Washington state, and his sister, your aunt, believes your father would have wanted you to rest beside me here in Georgia rather than alone in Brooklyn, New York.
Tom, through your brief life, you have been a giver to the lives of others, a life filled with God’s amazing grace of joining families together in a spirit of love and forgiveness. Through this ceremony and this gravesite, which were meant to be even before you were born, your life’s story will continue to inspire family members and descendants not only for demonstrating how unconditional love and forgiveness joins families, but also how God’s amazing grace to those on Earth can show us all the light to the way to our Heavenly home if we will only open our hearts and minds to see that light.
When your body and spirit passed from this world, Tom, I awoke immediately from a deep sleep at the very moment you died although I was in another room. I knew without doubt that you had passed because the hospital became suddenly cold. My father, your grandfather, told me later that I awoke exactly when you passed because your little spirit wanted to tell me goodbye.
So today, Tom, with my spirit joining yours, I tell you hello. I thank God for His grace and love to me and I proclaim my deep and abiding love for you. Thank you for everything good that your little spirit has worked in so many of our lives on Earth. You are home now, my dear son. And as God showed us through the death and resurrection of his son Jesus, death begets life when we are open to affirm the light of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives. Thanks be to God.”
In commemoration of the life of my dearest friend (and first husband), who was a profoundly positive influence in my life, and who was a poet and teacher, I wish to share the poem he wrote about our son, in the 1980s, twenty-one years after Thomas’ passing, and fifteen years after we had divorced. See below:
“TO TOM, HIS FATHER’S ONLY CHILD
Tom, your insistence on living was not reasonable.
Wiser heads than you or I knew
two pounds, four ounces
was not enough and your lungs were undeveloped,
though you breathed for
as hard as you could, and never grew to see me fail,
to ask a question, become angry,
or in my presence shy,
but worked like a miner and never learned anything
I could have taught you about
not being brave,
and though my will was not enough, with time I would
have learned from you, and it
might have grown
to match your own. ‘A handful,’ the nurse said, I never
held, and you will stay, Tom,
for as long as he,
who has still to lose his memory, though science being
science is right, you were like your father,
Tom, not reasonable.”
- *Note: According to Tom’s birth and death certificates, Tom actually lived 23 hours and 41 minutes before he died in NYC in 1965.