By John Coolidge
Brigid Valentine was born in the early hours on December 16, 2017. Immediately after she was born, I performed the sacrament of baptism on my little girl. I poured water three times over her chest, saying “the handmaid of God, Brigid, is baptised in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Within an hour, Fr. John arrived and performed the sacrament of Chrismation. After the sacraments, we sang the most difficult hymn I’ve ever sang: “God grant you many years.” Within two hours of her entrance into the Church, Brigid would be numbered among the saints in heaven. She died in my wife’s arms around 5 a.m.
We knew at about 20 weeks that our little Brigid was going to die. Her diagnosis was a developmental disorder of the brain. The prognosis was fatal. We spent the next 14 weeks preparing for a funeral that could happen at any time. Meanwhile, at Holy Cross, we were entering into the next phase of our mission; a larger building with space enough to grow before we make the final leap to a piece of land fit for a cemetery. We had just moved into our Walker location and there were still building materials in the nave. While some parishioners prepared the church for the funeral, we prepared Brigid’s body for burial in our own living room.
Brigid’s funeral was one of our first at Holy Cross. We’re a young parish, and we hadn’t prepared a funeral for any of our members, young or old. We have had miscarriages, and memorial services for those children, but never a funeral service in its entirety. We never dreamed our very first one would be for a child. You could say that Brigid’s funeral was, for our parish, a sobering reminder of the holy task we had taken upon ourselves. If we weren’t ready to care for and bury little children, even our own little ones, harrowing though it may be, then how could we take up this awesome responsibility to care for and bury the Orthodox community around us?
When the founding members of Holy Cross began this mission over ten years ago, they received a blessing from our Bishop to work towards maintaining a cemetery for the Orthodox community in southwest Michigan. The need for an Orthodox cemetery has become, for my family, more than just an opportunity to serve our local Orthodox community. My heart aches to see my daughter buried within earshot of the Divine Services, especially Great and Holy Pascha. I long to venture out during the Paschal season and shout “Christ is Risen!” over her grave. As we make progress on this journey we move closer to bringing my little girl’s body home to Holy Cross.
The Bishop’s blessing wasn’t for just a few founding members, but for all Holy Cross parishioners. Please join us in working to carry out our mission, by prayer, by planning, and by generous giving. Together, let us take on this labor of love to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ and show ourselves to be faithful stewards of God’s grace.