Our son Thomas was born. He died. And he had to be buried. And I thought about what I wanted him to be wearing when we laid him in his coffin. I knew it had to be something special, something really beautiful.
So I went shopping and, in the one and only children’s clothing boutique in town, I found exactly what I wanted: an exquisite ivory baptismal gown. But would it fit our son? The owner of the shop appeared at my elbow, eager to help and I told her I was worried the gown would be too big. She asked me how old our baby was, and I replied, “One day old,” and I might have stopped right there, but I didn’t. The words flowed out of my mouth: “But he’s dead. I want a gown to bury him in.”
The woman’s eyes filled with tears. She reached out and enfolded me in a huge, warm hug. “If it doesn’t fit,” she said. “I’ll alter it for him myself.” She took the gown from my hands and placed it on the shop counter, and then said,“You’ll need a singlet and how about some socks? And look at this shawl. It will look perfect over the gown.”
I followed the woman around the shop as she gathered various items of clothing. Of course Thomas had to be dressed properly. Yes, he needed socks and underclothes, as well as the gown. Why hadn't I thought of them myself?
It was a very expensive gown. The shawl cost a lot of money too. But that didn't matter. This was the only outfit I was ever going to buy Thomas. I wanted our son to be dressed in the best.
The sales woman carefully wrapped the baptismal gown and the shawl in a piece of tissue paper and then she slid them into a large paper bag, together with the smaller items of clothing and then handed them to me. I had my money all ready to pay but she shook her head. “That’s okay,” she said. “No charge.”
How could I walk out of the shop with all these beautiful clothes without paying a cent? It didn't feel right. But how could I refuse such a gift of love? The woman must have understood how I was feeling because she proposed a nominal sum which I gratefully accepted. Then she hugged me again before I left the shop.
Several days later we attended Thomas’ viewing at the funeral home. I leaned down over his coffin, and carefully picked him up. The ivory gown flowed over his little rag doll legs. A matching bonnet covered his fair hair. I adjusted the delicate shawl and held him close. He was beautiful, absolutely perfect. And so were his clothes.
Did it really matter what Thomas was wearing when we buried him deep in the ground? I think about the rain seeping into his coffin. I think of his beautiful clothes decaying away. Was it all a waste? No; those clothes were important. They were important to me and they were important to Thomas.
I think Thomas knows he was buried in an exquisite gown of love.