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A Funeral for Baby Sion

A moving story from South Wales has once again underlined the importance we place on giving the dead a proper testing place and treating them and their memory with respect. A year ago a new-born baby boy was found dead in the River Taff as it flowed through the city of Cardiff. His body was wrapped in a blanket and towel, but there was no means of identification and no clue as to who his family were.

But it’s easy to guess the story behind the discovery. Fortunately, it’s a much rarer one in Britain than it used to be: a young and inexperienced expectant mother, perhaps abandoned by the father or living with a strict religious family, feels unable to reveal her pregnancy and keeps it concealed. She gives birth alone. Sometimes the baby remains alive and healthy, despite her inexperience. Sometimes it’s still-born or dies shortly afterwards. What can she do? She is forced to abandon the baby in a public place, counting on someone finding it and looking after it, if it’s still alive, or giving it a decent burial if it has passed away.

This unhappy scenario has played out many times down the centuries and still often happens in poor countries. In this case the baby was abandoned dead and the mother has still not been traced. The story of “The Baby in the River” touched everyone who heard it and a public appeal was launched for funds when it was announced that he would receive only a council funeral, which would have meant the simplest and starkest burial, without mourners or a service or any headstone to mark his final resting-place. The public appeal was successful, raising enough money to give the baby a proper farewell. He was given the name Sion and when he was buried on 28th June 2016, there were many mourners in attendance, including members of South Wales Police and midwives from University Hospital Wales. The money had paid for flowers, a religious service and a headstone to mark his burial spot in the children’s section of a cemetery in Cardiff.

The midwives wrote a poem for the service, describing how the baby had never even had the chance to learn to walk before he passed to the destination that awaits all of us, sooner or later. But whether a human life ends at birth or lasts a century and more, we recognize the importance of saying farewell to the departed person  in the right fashion, with a ritual or ceremony and some permanent memorial of their resting-place. This is why people often donate money or choose to attend a stranger’s funeral when they hear that someone has passed away without living friends or relatives or, as in Baby Sion’s case, without any clue as to his identity. It seems very sad that someone should be buried alone and unmourned, with consideration given only to doing things as cheaply, quickly and efficiently as possible.

In Baby Sion’s case, that heartless minimal burial didn’t happen. Kind people ensured through their donations and attendance at his funeral that he was given the proper farewell that his mother must have wished for. And perhaps, having heard or read about the funeral, she will be able to attend his grave in future and leave flowers there. Perhaps she has already done so. She must have good reasons for not coming forward, but we can hope that she was comforted by the respect and dignity Baby Sion received from well-wishing strangers.