There wasn’t much to the Woodside cemetery back in 2002. It was January and the wind coming off the pond whipped across the barren hill leading up to the older graves. There were a few headstones scattered just above where I stood but the field around me was fairly empty. Just one grave with a woman my age buried beneath. Her inscription read, “Don’t cry for me, I did not die… I live with the risen Lord!” I liked that and thought this might be a good place to bury my son, my child. It was one of those out- of-body moments when you know you are where you are, but you still don’t fully believe it. I was cold, but it didn’t matter
Then out of the corner of my eye, I caught something moving up on the hill. Was it an animal? Someone watching me? I walked up the hill towards a more populated area of the graveyard and noted a large black stone with small trinkets lining the foundation. The large object that caught my attention was an enormous stuffed Winnie-the-Pooh, waving in the breeze, tied to a bush beside the grave.
As my eyes traced the name and the two dates beneath it, my heart sank. Bruno… born 1998, died 2000. He was clearly Portuguese or perhaps Brazilian. I couldn’t understand the inscription beneath it. But there was an image of a smiling little boy, and then this scripture: He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. Psalm 91 . It was familiar to me, but now it felt like I was reading it for the first time. I stood there for awhile, gazing at the stone, the words, knowing that God was trying to work something into me. I visited that grave many times during my frequent trips to Woodside. Pooh bear endured some snow and rain and I believe dried out periodically in the summer sun. After what seemed a long time, he disappeared but I could tell someone visited there often, leaving small toys, little boy keepsakes.
I hadn’t thought much about little Bruno until last night when I went up to the cemetery with Rosie, my dog, to plant some bulbs. I could hear laughter and words in a foreign language drifting down the hill, and I spotted a little boy running among the stones, making airplane noises and the universal boy language of machine gun spray and crashes. I flashed back to my own childhood, playing hide and seek amid the granite markers at my brother’s graveyard while my parents tended to the small plot. I didn’t want Rosie to crash a special time for this family so I stayed far away. Later I saw them walk down the hill towards the pond together, their laughter light and easy and they were holding the boy’s hands as he skipped between them.
Before I got into the car, I walked up the hill to Bruno’s grave. Fresh stone glistened in the evening sun and little ceramic frogs and lizards lay across the white gravel. Over to the right, a shiny ceramic Pooh bear smiled at the reptiles. Then I noticed the date. Born March 19th 1998. It was his birthday. How well I understood the significance, the sorrow that settles in a parent’s heart, the silent nod towards a date that once brought such joy. But I thought of the little boy, Bruno’s brother, of the parents’ laughter and their hands holding each other. He who abides in the secret place of the most high…. It was clear they had weathered the storm a lot better than that old Pooh bear. They had found the same secret place that God was ushering me towards on that cold January day as I was choosing a place to bury my son… shall dwell in the shadow of the Almighty. Every day, birthdays too. He is a Redeemer. He can’t remove all of the sadness because then He’d have to remove our hearts, but as long as we are here, He invites us to a secret place, in the refuge of His mighty shadow, and He will even use Pooh bears and gravestones to lead us there.