It sits at the front of the room. It’s all I can look at, all I can see. The casket is white with silver handles. It’s too small, I keep thinking. A casket this size shouldn’t have been created.
Aaron was one day old. He fought for every breath, but I think he especially fought for those last ones. He died on the same day as my grandmother. When I cried beneath the dark sky full of stars, I cried for both of them. They’re forever linked together inside of me. My grandmother was fighting for her last few breaths, too. It doesn’t matter how long you live, whether it’s one day or eighty-nine years. The people who love you are still full from the pain of loving you only to have you ripped away. I like to think Jesus introduced Aaron and my grandmother yesterday when they both entered into his wide-spread arms.
Aaron was born early alongside his twin sister, Adalia, at a mere twenty-six weeks. Emy, his mother and the housekeeper at the house I’m staying at, began hemorrhaging and needed to go to the hospital. You must know this about Emy: she is forever smiling. Whenever she speaks, she laughs, her eyes lighting up like a Christmas tree. We’ve laughed a lot together.
I had asked her earlier what she was planning on naming her twins. She didn’t know yet, she had said, because she was worried they might die. She had lost five babies already. It was hard to name them only to have them wrenched away.
We prayed as Emy was taken to the hospital, praying over her and those two precious babies. Adalia entered our world first, just under two pounds, and Aaron came fifteen minutes later, even smaller than she. The doctor induced Emy and then went home to sleep. He didn’t think the babies had a chance of living, so he couldn’t see why he should bother to try and save them.
If the babies lived for forty-eight hours, they would be given medication. But they had to make it that long first. Aaron’s tiny collapsible lungs begged the air for breath, and Jesus blew life into him for one full day. On December 2nd, his lungs grew too tired. Jesus holds him now, and Emy’s arms are left with a twinless baby girl.
The funeral is today, the casket on a small table in front of me. When the service is over, I see Emy sitting at the front by herself. Everyone has gone outside to prepare to ride over to the burial site.
I sit beside her. For once I am grateful we do not speak the same language. I couldn’t possibly gather up a sufficient enough string of words. So I sit, and then I hold her hand, her arm, our bodies against each other, my lips pressing her soft, caramel cheek. We don’t say anything.
She stands and walks over to the small white casket. I follow. The top lifts and there he is, her baby boy. He is the smallest child I have ever seen. He hardly takes up room in the casket. I can’t stop staring at him — his nose sloping so gently on his face, his lashes long, his mouth perfection. He is a staggering work of art — the milkiness of his skin joined with watercolour bruises on his cheeks and neck from Emy’s hard labour.
Emy brushes his hair tenderly with the tips of her fingers. She is still smiling, only this time all I can see is sadness. Can you hear the crack and splinter of my heart fragmenting as I stand beside her? I wish I could hold him, run my lips against his downy eyebrows, and love him back to life. But Emy has enough love to drown oceans. She has much more love than I.
We gather alongside the others and press our bodies into the truck. Aaron is tucked safely in the white casket. We are the hearse. We slam down the long dirt road, this funeral procession, and Emy is sitting behind her lifeless son.
I watch as Segundo, Emy’s husband, digs Aaron’s grave. We sing Jesus Loves Me and It Is Well With My Soul as they lower him into the red dirt. Emy is crying and I cannot sing. Not because I don’t believe the words, but because I can hardly bear the palpable pain that makes up the air around us. It’s too much. A casket’s not supposed to be this small. A baby’s not supposed to die when his death was clearly preventable.
On the way back to our home, David, Emy’s eleven-year-old son, cries. His head is buried deep in his hands. “He’s always wanted a brother,” Emy says. “But all my boys have died.”
Oh Aaron Platzlu, you may not have been loved widely but you were loved deep. May you rest in the precious arms of Jesus until we see you again. And may Adalia live, dear God. I can’t comprehend this family having to do this again.