Burying 11-month-old victim tough on everyone

ColumnistSeptember 24, 2013 

Madison Stewart

A few minutes before 3 p.m. on Tuesday, the motorcade of cars, trucks, and SUVs, led by deputies and a Rock Hill Police car, pulled onto Rock Hill’s South Cherry Road from West Main Street for the few hundred yards south toward Grand View Memorial Park. It is called a park but there was a motorcade, and cops, because it is a cemetery.

“The little girl,” said a clerk at the convenience store across the street. He is an immigrant from India and he shook his head, and his face was sad because in any country, the death of a child so young hurts.

The cemetery was where, Tuesday afternoon, a few weeks before she was to celebrate her first birthday, Madison Stewart was to be buried.

Earlier Monday, Justin Bivins and another worker at Grand View, an immigrant from Europe who is so shy he didn’t want to say his name, had dug the tiny grave. It was about half the length of an adult grave, and the two men made it perfect. The sides were exactly straight and true.

It was one of eight graves the busy cemetery already had dug for this week, and the week is just starting. But it is the only one for a child who died from a skull fracture and other injuries.

It is the only grave for the victim of what police say is homicide by child abuse, allegedly at the hands of Madison’s mother’s boyfriend.

Long before the mourners came from the church where the funeral was held, Bivins the gravedigger and the immigrant from Europe made sure the grass around it was perfect. They had other graves to handle, and did handle them, even tamping fresh dirt and planting grass seed near some graves, and covering others with straw to help the grass grow.

The two men filled in fresh, soft dirt around the marker for an infant who was buried in 1968. They tamped the dirt and brushed the stone until it was perfect and clean.

“We want them all to be right,” said Bivins.

Both men had hard hands, dirty and callused.

Bivins is a quiet guy; the immigrant who said he has a stepson even more so. But Bivins did say how he has two kids of his own, a boy and a girl, ages 4 and 10. That’s why he works so hard, in all weather, digging graves.

For his kids.

“I’m a family guy,” Bivins said.

And here, in the graveyard where he works, someone’s child who had so little chance at life was going to be buried. So it was going to be perfect.

One of the Rock Hill officers said that during the trip from the city limits to the cemetery, most people had pulled over, in both directions, in honor of the funeral motorcade.

“Most people I am sure didn’t know who this was for,” the officer said.

The police officers stopped the traffic on South Cherry Road in front of the cemetery – five lanes – so the motorcade could get into the cemetery without traffic whizzing by. All those officers, all that strength of the law, could stop frenetic people hustling in life to get where they need to go. They did so with faces that did not smile Tuesday, because they knew the funeral was for a child.

By the time police in Chester County were able to get to Madison Stewart a week ago Wednesday, there was nothing that all their courage, and badges, could do. By Friday she had died.

Inside the cemetery, hundreds of people clustered around the graveside. It was close to the busy road, just a few yards from where a boy named Jesse Helms is buried.

Jesse Helms was 7 years old on Feb. 15, 2007, when his mother shot him and killed him, then killed herself.

The cemetery readied to accept another child, this one even younger. Tiny.

By 3:37, the graveside service was finished. The family members and friends of this child who did not have a chance to dream or celebrate a birthday hugged each other and climbed into the vehicles and left.

The gravediggers, Justin Bivins and the immigrant, were back at the grave at 3:45.

The duo used a small hoe/loader, and shovel and rake, to put the dirt back into the grave that now held a child. They worked with precision, wordlessly almost, because each knows the job.

Yet somehow, these guys worked with gentleness, and care. The dirt was raked smooth. Any clumps, even small, were raked off and taken away.

Then the two men took a floral arrangement from the funeral, and roses, and placed them atop the fresh cut earth on this tiniest of graves.

“We want it to be nice,” said Justin Bivins. “The best we can make it. The family deserves that.”

The eyes of both of those men who had worked so hard on that grave showed that the little girl, Madison Stewart, who died at 11 months old, deserved the best each of these gravediggers had to offer, and she got it.

Andrew Dys * 803-329-4065 * adys@heraldonline.com

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