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