I arrived at UMC this morning a few moments before 9 o'clock. A beautiful snow was falling, and I had to stop at the front door of the hospital for a minute. Today is December 24th. Today is exactly four months since my dad's death. Today is the first time I've walked through the doors of the hospital since that day. I called Courtney from the front door and she spoke a word of strength and encouragement to me.
UMC's family room is on the second floor, with the pediatric units. One of the conditions of its being available is that there must always be a volunteer present while it is open. A UMC nurse named Joyce was already in there today, and I got there in time to help her with the final few items on the morning checklist. The room is a really nice space. There's a relaxing sitting area with a television, a quiet room with an internet-connected computer, and a well-stocked kitchen with plenty of snacks, coffee, and instant meals. There's even a washer and dryer (and clean extra clothes), and a bathroom with a shower and toiletries, all there for families who may have had to come in straight from an emergency.
Four rooms, four precious babies. The first one was sleeping peacefully, and his parents were dozing in a chair beside his bed. We gave the stuffed animal to his mother, and then left. In the next room, a beautiful girl was just waking. I waved and smiled to her, but I think the sight of a stranger may have frightened her, because she started to cry. We gave a stuffed bear to her mother, while her father picked her up to comfort her. The third baby's grandmother was sitting with him, and had been there all night. She wept and hugged us, and thanked us for coming to see her. My own emotions were starting to rise.
And then we stepped into the final room, where a young boy slept by himself. For privacy, I've tried to say very little about these children or their conditions, so I will only say that the reason his parents were not there is because they are not currently allowed to be with him. I'm not going to type this well, because I'm starting to get emotional even now, but after I set down a toy on a cabinet in his room, I looked down at him in his crib, and my heart just clenched inside of me. Here was this strong, fantastic boy, a person, another of God's children, with a life still ahead of him, and he was lying there hurt and alone and it was more than I could take.
I've been pretty open with my feelings during this project, and I've told you all about the times when things have been difficult. Today was the first time I've actually had to stop in the middle of a project, bow my head, and pray. I prayed for his healing, and that he would be surrounded with love, and that he would know that he is loved. I prayed for a better 2012 for him. I hope that's what happens. I hope that next Christmas is the happiest day of his life.
Joyce and I left the PICU, talked a while more in the family room, and then it was time for me to go. I had to get back home to spend Christmas Eve with my family, and to be thankful for that opportunity.
Gratitude Project: I'm going to try my best to post a wrap-up for this project tomorrow, but since Christmas will probably be pretty busy, we'll just have to see when I actually get around to it. What I'm grateful for today is each of you who have joined me on this project. Everybody who read this, or who gave me ideas for service projects, and each of you who said kind things to me along the way. Thank you.