Column: Dealing with the death of a child

Rt Rev Geoff Pearson, Bishop of Lancaster
Rt Rev Geoff Pearson, Bishop of Lancaster
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Recently a seven month old baby died after an eventful short life.

Although spending a lot of time in hospital for heart operations, nevertheless there had been some joyful times at home and opportunities for real bonding. In writing to someone close to this baby girl I found that my words would carry little conviction. I had not lost a child. I could emphathize but it would fall short. Instead I turned to my great hero, George MacDonald. This 19th Century Scottish author was a great influence on C.S. Lewis and J.K. Tolkien. He also wrote out of deep suffering having witnessed at least four of his children die. Here are some of the extracts I included in my letter.

“Our child is gone from us, but we are following after, and I shall hold her yet again to my soul . . .”

“My wife suffers much still. I trust she will feel more by and by that death is but the shadow of life. But she sorely wants her child to talk to just for a little. I think we have all learned a little through the sorrow – and will more and more look forward.”

“We are in a house with windows on all sides. On one side the sweet garden is trampled and torn, the beeches blown down, the fountain broken; you sit and look out, and it is all very miserable. Shut the window. I do not mean forget the garden as it was, but do not brood on it as it is. Open the window on the other side, where the great mountains shoot heavenward. Down those stairs look for the descending feet of the Son of Man coming to comfort you.”

“We have had great troubles since we saw you, losing in one year two of our children. But faith, and hope and I trust charity also are stronger than before and we go on expecting one day ‘ere long to find those whom we have lost.”

I love this great author for his hope and the sense of eternity that he describes. Not was he so heavenly minded that he could not grieve. The death of his eldest daughter was a terrible blow for MacDonald. He could barely leave the grave: he came back twice after all others had left, and it was with difficulty he was at last led away. But from his family and his letters we know that in the face of deep loss he never ceased trying to maintain his faith into old age.