Picking up the phone, I heard the voice from another dad who had lost a child. He lived hundreds of miles away but identified with me. He had served as an associate pastor for several years but had also, like me, lost a child, a little daughter who was only three years old. He told me about his daughter and then quickly got to the point of his call. He and his wife had received an invitation to be the senior pastor of another church, located in the deep south, about seven hundred miles away. His question…”How can I leave this town, the very place where my little girl is buried?”
My grip tightened on the phone. I also struggled with this issue. After Denny died in 1991, I had several inquiries, asking if I would move many miles away to serve in other churches. As I prayed and considered each request, I struggled with the idea of leaving this town, the very place where Denny is buried. It seemed his grave was an anchor and I couldn’t bring myself to leave this town, the place he loved and grew up.
Men seem to be hard-wired to protect and provide for their families. This innate drive within us doesn’t stop when our child dies. We don’t stop parenting just because we bury them. After Denny died, I often walked the floor at night, worried about his casket and the vault that encased his resting place. At first I thought myself to be odd and that surely no other dad felt this way. Across the years I have heard other dads, as well as mothers, share the same thoughts. Again, we don’t stop parenting when we bury our children.
The question from the dad on the other end of the phone was sincere and i didn’t quite know how to answer him. As we talked, I remembered the practice of my wife, Buelah. Several years ago, here in Olathe, a dear friend lost her little girl at birth. The baby’s name is Elaina Pittman. Not long after she died, her family had to move away because of a job change. My wife, knowing the parents could no longer watch over their baby daughter’s grave, decided that she would tend to the flowers of Elaina’s headstone. So, on Memorial Day each year, my wife and I decorate Denny’s grave and then walk over to place fresh flowers on Elaina’s grave as well. Then, we always take a picture and send to Elaina’s parents. They are always grateful that their daughter’s grave is cared for.
“Why don’t you try to find a “babysitter” for your daughter’s grave while you are away?” I offered the suggestion and he took it in. Later, I learned that he and his wife were able to move away but they knew that a trusted friend would watch over and care for their daughter’s grave each Memorial Day.