Note from CM: This week I am attending a Resolve Through Sharing (RTS) conference at a local hospital, focusing on providing bereavement care for families who suffer perinatal death (death in the period before or shortly after birth). The stories I’ve been hearing from nurses and other health professionals, as well as the bereaved parents themselves, have been at times excruciating. Yet they also reinforce my belief that love conquers suffering.
We are the only institution in our city that provides infant hospice care, and I have had the privilege of sharing in many intimate moments with parents and families in their seasons of distress and grief. But ministering to those who have lost children has also been part of my ministry from the very beginning. In fact, the first funeral I officiated was for a family who lost their first son to sudden infant death syndrome when I was at the wise old age of 22.
I have to admit, my greatest fear has been and remains losing one of my children, or now, one of my grandchildren. That’s hard to even say, but it’s true. And I’m reminded of that fear every time I am called to serve another family in this situation. I’m not sure how I could cope without knowing that Jesus loves and welcomes children and that his Kingdom is made up of such as these.
The following post was written in 2013, about one experience I had with a young couple in our infant hospice program.
• • •
Recently, in my role as a hospice chaplain, I baptized a beautiful little three-month old baby girl, as she was being held in the arms of her mother in their home.
The baby was terminally ill. A few days later she died and now rests with God.
When I baptized her, she was hooked up to a feeding tube and oxygen and monitors — wires and tubes everywhere. The warm water flowing from my hand over her little head seemed to calm her. It made her dark hair curl, and when I dried it, it stuck out everywhere. When I moved to the sofa behind her and said, “Little girl, your hair looks like Bozo!” the nurse who had taken her in her arms said the baby smiled.
I told mom and dad that in our church, after we baptize a baby, the pastor takes the child in his arms and parades her down the aisle, saying, “Welcome your new little sister to God’s family,” and we cheer. But the only audience this day was the baby’s two-year old brother, and he was too busy running around to notice the whole affair. Mom and Dad themselves were preoccupied by the fact that their newborn wasn’t faring too well and that the end might be near. Our cluttered “sanctuary” lacked a sense of celebration.
However, I reminded the parents of their act of faith when I led the funeral service a week later. I shared with them why I believe the little baby lying in front of us in her pink dress in the baby casket is safe with God, and why we can have peace that she is now being cared for in her heavenly home.
First, I said, Jesus always welcomed children, took them into his arms, and blessed them. Always. Even when his friends tried to shoo the little ones away so they wouldn’t interrupt the “important” work Jesus was doing, the Savior would have none of that. He was all about the kids. I don’t know of a single instance when he turned them away. I, for one, trust that Jesus welcomed this little girl, embraced her, and that she is living in his blessing today.
Second, I reminded mom and dad, you can have an even deeper sense of peace knowing that you brought her to Jesus in faith and had her baptized. You committed her into God’s care. And it is the Bible that says, “But when the goodness and loving-kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is sure.” (Titus 3:4-8)
I don’t believe, this means, by the way, that without the specific act of baptism, babies are doomed to die without hope. But the act itself can provide deep reassurance of hope, for it carries with it God’s promise of life.
I praised these young parents for loving their baby, for caring for her in difficult circumstances, for giving her a home in which she could live and die surrounded by love and support. I assured them, by the Good News of Jesus, that she is now home with God, safe and sound.
Father, into your hands, we commit her spirit.
• • •
Photo by slgckgc at Flickr. Creative Commons license