Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Little White Hearse

The Little White Hearse

By Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Somebody's baby was buried to-day --
The empty white hearse from the grave rumbled back,
And the morning somehow seemed less smiling and gay
As I paused on the walk while it crossed on its way,
And a shadow seemed drawn o'er the sun's golden track.

Somebody's baby was laid out to rest,
White as a snowdrop, and fair to behold,
And the soft little hands were crossed over the breast,
And those hands and the lips and the eyelids were pressed
With kisses as hot as the eyelids were cold.

Somebody saw it go out of her sight,
Under the coffin lid -- out through the door;
Somebody finds only darkness and blight
All through the glory of summer-sun light;
Somebody's baby will waken no more.

Somebody's sorrow is making me weep:
I know not her name, but I echo her cry,
For the dearly bought baby she longed so to keep,
The baby that rode to its long-lasting sleep
In the little white hearse that went rumbling by.

I know not her name, but her sorrow I know;
While I paused on the crossing I lived it once more,
And back to my heart surged that river of woe
That but in the breast of a mother can flow;
For the little white hearse has been, too, at my door.

I found this poem the other day and it really struck a chord in me. This poem, written close to a hundred years ago so perfectly describes the kinship between babylost mamas. There is a bond that draws us close, that terrible feeling of knowing, of understanding. I don't know any of the mothers I blog with in real life, but I've grown to care deeply for many of them. There is something about the heartbreaking cry of a mother mourning her child that draws those of us that have been there to her, to comfort her and love her. At first, when Calvin died, I felt that it was kind of morbid, mothers of dead babies flocking together. Now I have a deeper understanding into the compassion and shared sorrow so few can understand.

I have also been struck by a passage on another blog about how infant mortality rates are so low today compared to what they were a hundred years ago. I suppose it's true, I ran into hundreds of examples of mothers and infants dying during birth when I was researching a little family history. Funny how those old vital statistic records make you think twice about life today. I'm pretty sure it was taken for granted that a family would lose at least one child back in those days. My grandmother even had told me a story about my grandfather's mother giving birth to a stillborn baby in the pasture of their farm. She simply left it there and went about finishing her chores and didn't go back for the baby until she was done. While I suppose it was commonplace maybe even fifty years ago for infants to die, today it just doesn't seem like it should happen. We have so much knowledge, our society has made so many advancements in medical technology that you would think that they could fix anything. I never knew babies died anymore until mine did. And I guess they always will. It's such a sad thing, to realize that some things can't be fixed, that human beings will always die from something, even the youngest amongst us. However, in learning firsthand that sorrow, and having shed tears for many a mother I've met through this dark journey, I have learned that even though death can't be undone, there lays a comfort from those that have gone before, to pave the way for those of us who come behind. And we too shall bear offerings of comfort and love for those who join this dark journey behind us. May I never forget the hands that reached out to me in my darkest hour by reaching out to those in theirs.


  1. When I used to hear that keening cry whilst I was visiting Jessica in the NICU, my heart used to feel as though it had stopped. I knew that I had sounded exactly the same way.

    I used to count the pumps around each incubator and when they reached a certain critical mass, my heart used to feel as though it had stopped.

    I wanted so desperately to do something, anything to stop it happening again. Right before my eyes.

    Like you, I didn't really believe that babies still died. Until my daughter did. For weeks after I thought I was the only one.

    I wish that the little white hearse never stopped outside anyone's door. At times I have felt like that I have joined at the tail end long procession, Ella Wheeler Wilcox is somewhere up ahead of me. I feel torn between wishing that she wasn't and feeling glad that she is. That she knows. That she understands.

    You are there too Margaret. Thank you for reaching out your hand. xx

  2. So very true - I know I need you all and don't know how I would have gotten through the last 11 months without the women who know. Much love.

  3. Such beautiful words Margaret. I find myself thinking of you often. I believe we will, meet in real life. I really believe we will.
    Love to you my sweet friend.