The baby died.
No one likes to walk into rooms which are that empty of hope, that full of grief.
Earlier, I had been in the room when there was still breath, a little. And there was still imagined hope. And there was prayer for a miracle, fervent desire that this wasn’t actually happening.
But it happened. As a chaplain, I got the call. And now I had to walk into that room.
It’s my job, yes. I walk into rooms of pain and provide some guidance for the logistics after death. But I also know the ache in that room, and I want to stand silently in attendance with the family and the friends and the baby.
When I walked in, everything was silent. Friends and family were gathered in a semicircle against the wall, facing the small bed. The mom and the dad were sitting side-by-side near the bed, about four feet away. A nurse was standing by the bed.
And the nurse was taking care of the baby.
She carefully removed the tubes which no longer sustained life. She rinsed the washcloth, wrung it out, and then gently washed each hand, each foot, his face, his body. She rubbed lotion into a soft cloth and wiped his body. She rewrapped his body in swaddling cloths. She took one last blanket from the mom and wrapped him, carefully tucking the ends of the blanket around him.
She was deliberate. She was thorough. She was loving. She was quiet.
The young parents and their young friends watched. The only sound, muffled sniffles. It was a sacred moment. Like the folding of a flag from a casket. Like the silence after “Taps”.
I think it took the nurse ten minutes. It may have been two weeks. I cannot grasp time at moments like this.
Later, I talked with the nurse. She had been a little surprised when everyone stayed in the room. Usually, she is alone. But for her, it’s the same care, the same deliberateness, whether those keeping watch are human or divine.
There is a ritual in health care called “The Blessing of the Hands”. With a little oil and a little prayer, the hands of nurses are set apart for their work. Some of that work isn’t very pretty. Nurses care for messes. They need blessing. And antibacterial soap.
But at this moment, the hands of the nurse were blessing this baby. And his family. And me.