Community of Sorrow
Chase Wayne Kelch only lived an hour and eighteen minutes.
Born 16 weeks premature, his body wasn’t developed enough to survive outside of the womb. A first child, he had parents and grandparents eagerly waiting his arrival. Now they were left with the task of coming to terms with an emptiness.
The death of an infant brings its own special sorrow. The immense effort that should result in new life ends with the usual physical and emotional struggle, but a trip home with just adults in the car, and an empty baby bedroom.
VU grads Calvin (‘05) and Bettina (Helms, ‘04) Kelch, now of Fresno, faced this. Their first response was for Calvin and grandfather, Lynn Helms, to work on the construction of a beautiful little casket. Made of polished oak, and fitted to a perfect size, with wood handles, it had a quiet elegance to fit the quality of their dreams for their son. They tucked a top and a screwdriver into it (it’s a “guy” thing: every boy needs a toy and a tool).
They called family and friends together to mark little Chase’s passing with an open invitation: “…we celebrate in community, and we mourn in community.” Near the town of Exeter, in a country cemetery, with snowcapped Sierras shining on a sunny spring morning, they gathered for the burial.
Then came the creative and the unusual. Calvin’s idea. When they were ready to have the casket brought from the hearse to the grave, they risked a call for involvement. They asked all those present who, for any reason, had lost a child, to form a line from the hearse to the tiny grave, and become the pallbearers to pass the casket along.
Around 30 people stepped forward. Some as couples, some without spouse present. Some whose grief was well-known, others who had never been known to share this experience. In silence, except for tears, Chase’s earthly remains went down the line of loving hands. In remembrance of past pain, and in solidarity with a newly grieving family, they held and passed the small shiny container to its final resting place.
A grief shared is a grief lightened. There is power in community. Calvin and Bettina learned it, and found a way to turn to community when in sorrow.
Dave Gable, Director of Church Relations