I'd never been to a child's funeral before.
The idea of it always seemed to be a real challenge to faith, to belief in a God who was love. What kind of love is it, you wonder, that allows a child to be taken away? It is so unnatural, feels so wrong, for parents to bury a child.
Last week, I was at the funeral mass of a twenty-month old boy who suffered most of his brief life with ailments and injuries -- until he finally gave out. It was heart-wrenching and indescribable in many ways, but it was also -- to my surprise -- a testiment to faith.
The boy's death brought together hundreds of people, who packed a small church near the beach here in Los Angeles. His doctor's and nurses were there, and participated in the Mass through the presentation of the gifts. Aunt, uncles and godparents gave eulogies that brought on tears.
But at the center of it all was a mother and father. They must have been enveloped in grief, but in that church on that day, they were strong and calm -- in a way that was almost hard to grasp.
And then the close of the Mass came, and just before the end, a large screen unfolded, and a short presentation of a too-short life began. Pictures of the boy with his mother and father and siblings and doctors. Smiles from a sweet toddler teathered by tubes and drains to machines and medication.
Faith was everywhere in the photos: the parish priest who stopped by the hospital frequently, friends from church who came by to help in any way they could -- and most importantly the day when the boy felt strong enough to leave the hospital, go to church, and become baptized.
Faith was there in the photos of his mother's face. For nearly two years, she lived in hospitals night and day, and through the strength of her faith kept her son going -- until she could not anymore.
But she knew -- she'd done all she could; everyone had. There was just another plan. She and her husband were able to keep going, to celebrate their lost son, and to love the children still with them.
I left the Mass praying for my own two girls, asking God to protect them -- to let anything happen to me first before they were ever touched. And I asked for just a small measure of the faith and strength I witnessed.