St Mary’s Easton was bedecked with soft toys and filled with lit candles and many, many photos as we gathered as a community to say goodbye to Elsie Lark and stand with her parents Phil and Helena in their grief. Over 120 people attended and many of them signed the Elsie Lark tree with their finger prints.
Elsie made her entrance to the sound of the Circle of Life from the Lion King, giving us an opportunity to wave the toy animals that we had all been given. Amidst the solemnity of an Anglican funeral service, there was also the lightness of touch of the passages and songs chosen by Phil and Helena, making it a really beautiful service and touching at so many points.
We sang Morning has broken and For the Beauty of the Earth and Over the Rainbow. Angelina and Claire read the story On the Night you were born and we all chimed in with her name ‘Elsie Lark, Elsie Lark’ at the appropriate moments. Incredibly bravely, Helena and Phil then took to the pulpit.
Helena read a poem that she had written as follows:
For Elsie, love Mummy x
A year ago, you almost died.
Your Mummy and Daddy were scared and cried.
So small and frail and ever so pale,
But you survived.
For many a month you lived in a room
So different from home, but really quite soon
You became more accustomed to your new surroundings
As days rolled to nights.
The people who love you all stayed by your side
While your champions in blue fought to keep you alive.
Though it wouldn’t seem to you at the time
But they loved you so when they looked for a vein
And you cried out in pain.
Those four walls became your land of protection
Despite the inevitable resulting infections.
Your body got used to the daily onslaught
Wires, tubes, painful tape and endless talks
Of what’s why’s and wherefores.
So tired, so weary, but no one would know
You cheerily grew as warm sun turned to snow.
A delight you became, you commanded the room
With inquisitive eyes and merry young tune
Of twitters and gurgles and cough cough atchoos.
You took in with wonder all things that presented
New toys from after by those who intended
To brighten your life and to help you to learn
That little girls can have fun.
Short glimpses of freedom you relished with glee
Crumble cat, bird song and the wind in the trees.
The noise of machines though, they never abated
You wore them regardless even though they were hated.
Five months ago, you almost died.
Your Mummy and Daddy were scared and cried.
Still small and frail and ever so pale,
But you survived.
Oh what a difference from then it became
You blossomed and flourished and everything changed.
You embraced new equipment that appeared under your skin
Like it was so normal, you still fitted in.
What is this new place? How come I feel free?
Who are all these people the same size as me?
They look fun can I play, can I stay the whole day?
We looked on in wonder and breathed.
Spring leapt into Summer exhausted, elated
But back to that place that sadly you hated.
Warm familiar faces greeted you then
And you still smiled and played and you rallied again.
On the 2nd of August at 1:30pm you died.
Your Mummy and Daddy were scared and cried
But somehow survived.
To Chloe and Felix and brave little Eddie,
Oh how you’ll be missed.
Now our darling Elsie you join that sad list
Of young beautiful children gone too soon.
Remember her now for the joy that she brought
For her smile, her giggle and the fight that she fought
To our brave Super Elsie you will never leave us
These tributes we give you in hope that they heal us.
Sleepy sleeps Elsie Lark.
Phil then read his tribute to Elsie as follows:
Thank you to all of you for being here to celebrate Elsie’s short but wonderful life.
It’s been a very difficult year for Helena and I and our immediate family, but it’s the support of all of you and those that can’t be here today that has enabled us to keep going through the challenges and enjoy all the many wonderful times we had with Elsie.
Elsie was born on Father’s Day. A magical day but also a difficult arrival. Elsie was whisked to NICU with congenital pneumonia and Helena to surgery and a short stint in intensive care herself. But we were quickly home as a family five days later and even got to The Chestnut Horse for a celebratory drink that first afternoon!
We had a lovely 7 weeks with Elsie at home. Elsie got out to Winchester Cathedral, Hinton Ampner and started to meet many of her new friends. We were learning as new parents like everyone does. Well that’s what we thought when we put Elsie in her bouncer for the first time and slumped to the bottom only to read the instructions afterwards and realise she was 2Kg too small for it!
The week after having her immunisation jabs we as parents were worrying about giving our precious daughter Calpol. A concern we needn’t have worried about. Elsie liked the hard stuff we would learn. Almost a year ago to today, on 17thAugust last year, Elsie was transferred to Southampton by the remarkable PICU retrieval team.
Elsie had tests for everything on the planet. Each test came back negative. A trick we would learn was that Elsie liked to keep her secrets. Elsie would spring back and almost home only to return back to HDU or PICU. She just missed her Aunties we would say. And Aunties the wonderful nurses became. The team at Southampton became her extended family and our home away from home.
Days of uncertainty turned into weeks and months. Each test and investigation becoming more invasive for her. Even Elsie’s lung biopsy surgery happened on our wedding anniversary. Elsie liked her secrets remember, so even a biopsy would only show she had a Interstitial Lung Disease but not which. A heart catheter revealed she also had pulmonary hypertension.
It was a difficult four and half months learning what medications would keep Elsie stable but we got home for Christmas. Well to be able to call an ambulance out on Christmas Day. The ambulance men did enjoy Granny’s mince pies!
We were rarely home for more than five days at a time. Each time returning to Southampton, learning something new about Elsie’s illness. Elsie’s requirements increased more and more. She was on 24/7 oxygen, many exotic medicines, fed by a tube to protect her lungs and was on a continuous IV infused drug. As an accountant and actress we have learnt real skills now and probably completed our first year of medical school.
But after a returning at the end of May from a 7 week spell at Great Ormond Street we were lucky to have an incredible 5 weeks at home with Elsie. She was growing and learning. She was such a delight.
You all have one of her toys and you may have noticed she has a lot of safari animals. That’s because on the walls of PICU in Southampton there are many guarding over the children. Elsie had a bed next to a tiger and in one of the cubicles a Giraffe. One of the toys she got was one such Giraffe because of this. That Giraffe she took comfort to and would always be with her when she slept. So for when we had that magical day as a family with her, celebrating her first birthday at home, it was hugely fitting to be able to introduce Elsie to real Giraffes at Marwell Zoo. She loved animals. She had such a smile on her all day. She loved seeing animals in the Itchen Valley and was so thrilled to see horses and sheep just here in the Gray’s paddocks behind the Church.
Home wasn’t easy or normal for Elsie. But she took everything in her stride. She loved bath time (and Splashes). She loved stories and even if rather than being snuggly tucked into bed was ruined by having to wear a mask for her ventilator she would be Elsie and learn to smile because of it. She loved the whooshes, that pressure from her BIPAP meant it was night time and Giraffe was there to suck on.
Elsie, or Chop as we would fondly call her was so gentle, so calm despite what she was going through. Her inquisitive scratch of her fingers understanding new textures and shapes. We have many wonderful memories of you Elsie and you taught me so many things.
You taught me what Bravery is.
Every time you had a blood test you did not fight.
It was the holding of your hand or foot that really made you annoyed.
Not the prodding or poking.
After the kind doctor had finished you immediately gave a smile.
You taught me what Love is.
I thought I knew what true love was.
But seeing your Mummy at your bedside every day.
Or having to find the strength to wave goodbye to you those times I went away to work.
You taught me what Happiness is.
That beautiful smile of yours regardless of how you were feeling.
Showing off the 9 teeth you were very proud of, and yes they were strong when you had a good bite!
Hearing you chirp with excitement when I came back to you if I had been at work that day.
You taught me what Home is.
Yes for you it should have been the comfort of The Old School House.
But instead it was where you wished to be at that time.
For Mummy and Daddy it was your bedside or fortunately the wonderful Ronald McDonald accommodation that kept us close.
Home comforts were one thing but home was with you wherever that was.
You taught me what having Fun is.
You so enjoyed playing with your toys.
Even in that recent week in HDU sat with your mask on in stupid amounts of oxygen you just wanted to lean towards the end of your cot and grab toys out of your basket and play.
Despite all your leads and wires you still wanted to learn, to feel, to touch.
In fact you thought all your leads and wires were good toys too!
You taught me what being Noisy is
All those times you were sat chatting across the room in HDU
Yes Elsie is feeling better the nurses would say!
You were often the noisiest in the unit. Was it talking to the other babies or to the strange beeps of the monitors. Whatever it was you had a voice and it was lovely to hear.
You taught me what Generosity is
Without being taught you wanted to share
Even Giraffey. You held him out and wanted us to share.
As sweet as it was sucking Giraffey was something not to share!
You taught me what Dedication is
Everyone in Team Elsie, the wonderful nurses and doctors who worked tirelessly to help you
The support that they gave your Mummy and Daddy
The patience that they had to put up with your Mummy and Daddy too!
You taught me what a Snuggle is
You would love a cuddle, so gentle, so comforting
Oh how we would try and keep you calm if your hypertension was doing nasties.
Those cuddles in the middle of the night that kept you out of PICU, oh we would do that every night Chop!
We miss your snuggles. We miss your gentle touch. We miss your lovely smile. We miss your energy and fight. Its time for sleepy sleeps now.
You’ve got Giraffey darling. Now dream of Unicorns and Teddy Bears…
…and Teddy Bears riding Unicorns.
The Bible reading was 1 Corinthians 15:35-44 (see below) and was read by Sue (Elsie’s granny) and Linda (Elsie’s other granny) read God’s Lent Child.
Alex Pease then gave the following address:
A couple of weeks ago, I had the immense privilege of baptising Elsie Lark at the Southampton Hospital Paediatric Intensive Care Unit.
Whilst Helena got everything ready and the hospital staff stepped back to give us space, there was a moment of peace in that little room, at the centre of that busy hospital. And I prayed that God would intervene and restore Elsie to full health.
As I did so, I had a brief impression, a picture, if you like, of Elsie happily running off away from view in a little dress, down hill, through a field of daisies…a beautiful picture of childhood joy.
I had hoped that this might mean that she would be healed; healed to the fullness of the character which we glimpsed, despite her young age, that calmness, gentleness, both inquisitive and also vocal, with her long slow gaze, which so entranced her mummy and daddy and grandparents, although, I suppose, at that stage of her sickness, it would have been crazy to expect this.
The question we all face at this time is: ‘why?’ ‘why?’. And whatever anyone may say to you, trying to be helpful, there are no easy answers to this question. No platitudes are of any comfort. So everyone, please don’t speak them to Phil and Helena.
There is a mystery at the centre of the universe. If we believe, as I do, that the universe was created by a powerful God who loves us each individually and that life is a path which is going somewhere, a path that has a purpose, how does that stack up with the suffering which Phil and Helena are experiencing?
It just seems so unfair and it would not be at all surprising if we, if you, Phil and Helena were angry with God for allowing this to happen. If he can intervene why didn’t he in this case, as we hoped that he might when we were all praying for her, as we hoped when we were baptising her.
I really cannot answer the question why God did not intervene, except to say that the world is not at all the way that it should be; the way that it was created by God; and Christians believe that this problem started right from the beginning of the journey of our human ancestors.
God knows how much you as parents and grandparents are suffering, because his own son Jesus died far too young, crushed by this imperfect world, in which so many people are suffering every day as we speak. So he stands with you in your agony as someone who knows what it is like to lose a child.
But in the process of dying, Jesus made a change to the nature of a universe broken by sin, which is the beginning of the solution to this vale of tears.
As we persistently call out to him in our distress and, yes, in our anger, he promises that he will send the Holy Spirit, the comforter, to be with us, so that his presence can comfort us, can reassure us, however dark the valley that we are walking through.
As for Elsie, well, wonderful as the words of the Lion King are (and who cannot enjoy that movie, child or adult? It is, of course, an accurate picture of the natural world), I would like to suggest there is more to creation than the circle of life: where our destination is only to become the grass which feeds the animals, which feed those of us who remain, there is a more wonderful reality for us than just the cycles of life in the natural world.
There is also the supernatural, as the reading from Corinthians which Sue Binney has just read show us, the Christian view sees life as a continuum, which goes beyond the circle, a path, a way, which transcends any end in death.
And this is not just a pious hope of something beautiful at the end of the rainbow, but something about which we can, in Jesus Christ, be rock solid, confident.
The image Paul uses is of a seed which has to die to become a stalk of wheat, and of humans he says, the perishable damaged body which is sown, is raised imperishable. It is sown in weakness, but it is raised in power; it is sown as a natural body (broken like the rest of the world), but it is raised as a spiritual, a supernatural, body.
So it is with Elsie Lark and so we are right to release her back to the God who has lent her to you; lent her to us, as the poem says, which has just be read by Linda. Out of the weakness of our, of her, human natural body, into God’s warm embrace; into imperishability, into that place, that other dimension, we call heaven, which is close, but we cannot now perceive, in which she can run through fields of daisies and follow to her heart’s delight, the inquisitive nature that God has given her.
We left the church to the sound of ‘You’ll be in my heart’ by Phil Collins.
1 Corinthians 15:35-44
The Resurrection Body
35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39 Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory.
42 So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (1 Co 15:35–44). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.