I was startled awake by the urgent tones of my cellphone. No one calls during the predawn hours on the Sunday before Christmas unless its important. As I answered the phone with a hello, my bleary eyes glanced at the bedside clock, the time was 4:45 am.
The voice on the other end was professionally monotone, “Hello, is this the chaplain on call?” “I can be” I responded. It was the local general hospital and their need was pressing. “Sir, we have a newborn infant that has been fighting for its life all night, I have been apprised by the doctor to see if you can be with the family.”
The operators last words were jarring, “The baby is dying, the family is requesting your presence.” It was not my weekend to serve on the chaplain’s staff but preaching on Saturday’s and being Sunday, it made me the likely choice to call. I was the only one available this cold morning.
I hurriedly dressed and made my way to the hospital within minutes. It was God’s design that had me living but a short distance away. The hallways were deserted, as I made my way to the neonatal intensive care unit. The nurse at the outer desk knew I had to be a pastor. Who dresses in a suit and tie at 5 am?
Softly she said, “Follow me, I’ll give you access to the room where the family is gathered.” Trailing behind a few steps, the only noise between us was the clicking of our heels as we made our way to the secure door. Using the proper access code, she ushered me into the room, pronounced to the grieving family who I was, then vanished.
No words were exchanged as I looked at each person in the room other than their somber nods of acknowledgment. The room resembled a dim theater, darkened walls, everyone facing forward. The focal point being a clear oxygenated bassinet with an anxious young mother sitting as close as she dared staring lost in thought at her struggling infant. In her arms she clutched a white pillow as if it was a surrogate for what lay before her. She sat with a light jacket draped upon her slumped shoulders still wrapped in her hospital gown.
A mother’s vigil for a child is most painful to watch. You see in her gaze; she would unselfishly trade places with the object of her undying love; even if she had only known her infant for an hour. I learned from her family that the baby’s given name meant resolute. He was aptly named. For inside his medical cocoon the little infant lay connected to countless cords and leads. Intermittent soft then jarring rhythmic beeping sounds of his life sustaining medical equipment was the only thing that kept track of the waning hours of his life.
I studied the face of this sweet mother. You could see her thoughts taking her down a sorrowful path of what she hoped might have been. She would never see his first steps, see him ride his bicycle, never feel his hugs or kisses on a warm summer day.
Now into the fifth hour of her vigil, the obstetrician who had delivered the child, chose to be with the mother in the final minutes of her son’s life. As if on cue, the machines began their swan song of lessened beeps and alarms until all went silent. All eyes were on the doctor as she drew out her stethoscope, leaned over the bassinet and listened briefly for a heartbeat.
Turning to make her pronouncement, she simply leaned down to speak to the mother and softly stated for all to hear, “I’m so sorry, he is gone.”
She quickly disconnected the infants medical lines, and in a wrapped blanket placed the infant in the mother’s arms. Now clutching her little boy to her breast for the final time, her body became wracked with sobs.
It was another mother’s grief many years ago that had her too slumped in anguish, this time at the foot of a wooden cross. Her tears and sobs were on display for all the heavens to see. It is said of mothers, that no matter the age of their sons, in their eyes, they will always remain their little boys.
As Jesus’ mother Mary gazed on the suffering of her boy, she too experienced an indescribable pain. How could she live life without her firstborn? How could a baby, her baby, be born to die?
Grief is inexplicable. It is in its rawest form, the most emotional test of love…learning how to say goodbye.
These two mothers 2000 years apart shared an inexplicable bond, each child’s identity was connected in the word resolute. Unwavering and determined may have been the name of the second child, but it was the hallmark of the first one. He died long ago that the second child would one day be free. His promise of conquering death for us all, is the greatest hope an anguishing parent and world can hear.
One day soon, this child of Bethlehem who gave His life willingly for each one of us, will one day wipe away all our tears, mother’s especially, and will say, welcome home my child.