On a wet and grey Easter Monday amid slanting rain, my nephew Rory Staunton was finally committed to the Irish soil, buried beside his beloved grandmother in St. Peter’s graveyard in Drogheda, 30 miles from Dublin.
The dull thwack of the soil against the coffin after it was lowered signaled the final farewell for me to the 12-year-old boy who only a few weeks earlier was the joy and hope of his parents, New York based Ciaran and Orlaith Staunton, who is my sister. He was also the beloved big brother of his sister Kathleen.
Then, Rory contracted a deadly toxic bacteria after a slight cut during a basketball game and died in a New York hospital despite frantic efforts to save him.
I don't know what rough Gods insisted that it was time for Rory to be called home, but they surely were not merciful ones.
One look at my devastated sister and her husband and their daughter as the coffin was lowered for the final time would tell that instantly.
There is a finality to Irish burials that is not practiced in American burial rituals, where the coffin is usually set aside until the bereaved depart.
In Ireland, the body is lowered as the parents and bereaved watch.
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It is no easy job. Pallbearers strain to balance the heavy coffin as it is lowered.
Rory’s pallbearers were slipping and sliding on the wet earth as the rain poured down, finally succeeding, and I thought of Emily Dickinson's poem, "I felt a funeral in my brain" as the surreal scene unfolded.
"And then I heard them lift a box
and creak across my soul"
In a nice touch, the first earth poured on Rory's coffin was from his beloved Tullaghbawn Beach near Westport County Mayo where Rory loved to play with his cousins on long summer days.
Earlier, in a tiny County Meath church where he was once a ring bearer for my niece’s wedding, Rory's funeral mass was attended by among others, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, as well as Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness.
It was a fitting tribute to the remarkable young boy, all three had met him and loved him, close family and political connections to both parties ensured that.
Ciaran, Rory's father, one last time eulogized his son and talked about the pain of dressing him for his final journey and the grief of a father forced to bury his only son.
In those few moments it seemed impossible for Rory to be gone, the bright wonderful boy whose picture adorned his coffin and who Ciaran brought back to life with such vivid words and memories.
But gone he is, his race run long before its time. He has left behind an indelible mark on me and mine.
Thank you to all who wrote such wonderful supportive letters and I know from letters and responses that this brave little boy has touched hundreds of other lives also.
May he rest in peace.