First day really visiting patients, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
I had meaningful visits with six families in our Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (mostly just called PICU). But one stood out.
A family had requested baptism, and I informed them of the priest’s coming at a certain time and met them at that time in the afternoon. While waiting for their arrival I got to visit with the Catholic father from India for around 20 minutes or so. He shared about his experience in America, his training for a couple years, his pleasure and rich blessing of being a priest, shared stories of training in CPE (residency), traumatic blunders, and laughed about my being single and having a number of years before children (always an interesting conversation with a man choosing lifelong celibacy!).
And then the family arrived, and while the mother filled out the paperwork for godparents and such, the father shared with me the story of their child again, and this time he broke down.
“From just a small stick to this,” he said, gesturing towards his comatose daughter. “It just hit me like a smack in the face.” Silence for a short moment. “It’s hard. It’s so hard…………..if I could take her place I would…(tears)” What a brutal time for this father. Literally days ago at a normal checkup when an attempt for blood didn’t work and they were directed to a hospital for a good bloodwork, and then less than 12 hours later they were told to go straight to Texas Children’s. Cancer of the blood. Fast acting. And shortly before their arrival her health began falling apart. “It’s hard. It’s so hard. If I could take her place I would…” If only he could. If only he could.
Shortly following this the priest began the baptism. I have performed these before but the priest was available and they were Catholic. This little baby was to blessed and brought into the kingdom of God’s grace- only as joyful though as the the baby’s body would allow. But as I prepared to remove myself as I had taken care of their need, I received a gift. They asked me to stay and be a participant, if only to share in the prayers and the lifting of holy hands and reciting the Lord’s Prayer. It was a gift, an opportunity to be a participant in and supporter of this baby and its baptism. It was probably more ritual than I would prefer, but it was a beautiful baptism. Anointing, baptism with a touch of water on the forehead, and anointing again, followed by reciting the Lord’s prayer, a Hail Mary, sharing a communal prayer, and a final blessing. Touching, beautiful language throughout of welcoming this child to the world in love and peace while powerful words like kingdom and grace and presence of God abounded. This family probably doesn’t understand all the words or even remember the entire thing, but it was loaded with the theology of community and love, and invited the presence of God to surround that baby, in better and worse. And so it went, a breath of comfort and security in the midst of uncertainty and despair. A moment for the parents to share their tears as they poured their hearts to God in their love for that little child. A truly sacred moment as it were, for them and for me.
Keep that child in your prayers. Keep those parents in your prayers. Thank you Lord for gifts like a baptism, but ultimately thanks for the gift of that child.