You can hold your child, but he/she will die there.
You can hold your child, but the process of getting to your arms, the arms of a loving mother or father, will in fact be the finale of your child’s life.
Do you hear the dissonance that a parent heard? I cannot imagine this impossibly agonizing offer from well meaning and compassionate medical teams. Offering to hold a child they know unofficially means accepting the reality of death and accepting the ultimate fate of your child. But to a parent? What an awful offer, even though they rarely turn it down.
It is agonizing because every parent, especially as their child is suffering, wants nothing more than to hold their son and daughter, to speak words of love over them, and cry and will their children to life again. Essentially, holding is a way for a parent to feel they are helping, that their presence matters and that maybe, just maybe, they can make their child right. But to hold means death follows. For many parents I work with, they feel as though saying yes to holding means they are deciding when their child dies. Utter agony indeed.
Utter agony that this basic act, this perfectly beautiful reflection of parenthood, becomes a symbol of the unstoppable force of death.
Utter agony that a parent is offered to hold who looks little like they know them, hooked to tubes, cords, machines, and likely swollen and puffy from all the fluids received.
Utter agony that a parents tears, oft reserved for grieving their child, become used to drip over their child as the parents hold their child into its next life.
And yet. And yet! Somehow, some way…it is not just agony.
It is beautiful and sacred. There may be no more perfect way to transition to life after death than the way a child came, in its parents arms.
It is beautiful because it is the hands and feet and voices of those parents which are the most loving things of this life. They are the place that child always found love before, where comfort and peace emerged.
It is sacred because in those moments, a parent holding their dying child hold their children as though they were Gods presence, hands and voice.
Tonight follows a long couple days and perhaps some long weeks. Often I have heard amazingly brave and courageous parents be asked, “Would you like to hold him/her now?” And every time, those parents did what their dutiful and faithful love demanded of them: hold gently and cry over their baby, remembering them with all the joy and grief they could bear.
It is beautiful because it is sacred. It is beautiful because those parents bravely continue forward doing that which they were made for. Bravely, courageously, lovingly hold the previous child, and in the process defying the tug that death is an end, and instead proclaiming that they not only hold that child, they hold that child’s memory forever and will always carry it forward with love. Sacred indeed.