Last Rites

The NICU had strict visitation rules. Only two people by the bedside. The unit was small and the isolettes were packed in like sardines. There was only enough room for the necessary machines and one rocking chair near your baby. It was an old NICU in need of revonations, but for the time, we were all in each other’s business. Aidan was a full term baby in a NICU full of premies.

One day the staff made an exception to the two visitors only rule. A couple brought their two young children, older siblings to our tiny neighbor baby. There were also two other adults, possibly an aunt and uncle. And then in came the priest. I presume he was there to give last rites, though I never heard the hushed words that were shared over controlled tears. The baby remained in his isolette and each person took turns putting their hands through the small plastic holes to touch the infant.

It was strange to be so close to such an intimate event. Could I just hold Aidan closer and protect him from a similar fate? Every baby looked frail compared to mine, but was that enough? I rocked my child, trying to project compassion while ignoring the solemn nature of our collective circumstances.

It was maybe two days later that I came back to visit Aidan and noticed our neighbor baby was gone. Not wanting to face that grim reality, I tried to be grateful this family had the comfort of their ceremony and that brief moment together as a family, but honestly I didn’t have the emotional reserves to think about it too much.

I ran into the mother in the hallway about a week later. She came to collect her breatmilk from the NICU fridge. I asked her how she was doing, mostly to be polite, not because I wanted to know. She told me she was great and her baby was home and healthy. It was a miracle, she said.

Thirteen years have passed since then and I wonder how that family is doing. She would be part of my tribe now, having done hard time in a hospital. All those years ago we gave each other space, protecting ourselves fiercly against the seeming contagion of tragedy the way we would now huddle together to collectively bargain for miracles.

Unified instead of isolated.  That drive to find people who have gone before us down a hard road. Is this what time and shared experience does?

I would like to go back to that moment and touch her baby, hold her hand in that painful moment, not in an intrusive way but in an I see you and your pain is my pain way.

The journey is different now.


2 thoughts on “Last Rites

  1. Yes. I can only speak from my cultural experience which is of the “Keep Calm and Carry On” and dare I add, “Don’t mention it” mode. I wonder if we were from a different culture – what would this scenerio have looked and felt like? Are we stronger for our stonding seperate yet together?

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