They carefully pressed his tiny toes first onto the ink pad, then onto the birth certificate. Next came his tiny hands. Hands that would hold my finger while he nursed, hold my hand while we walked and my heart, forever.
I have experienced those holy moments with 3 sons.
It’s a memory and memento moms share. Our hearts still skip beats at the sight of those tiny toes and fingers. Even moreso as they become bigger than the sheets of paper originally printed on. Life and growth is an amazing thing.
A few weeks ago, I bore witness to a different set of prints. A final set of prints. A family was in the process of losing their young teenaged son. Far from home and unexpectedly.
When I saw the Facebook post to pray, I wanted to click away to avoid the pain. The pain of seeing a family face every moms biggest fear. Everything in me wanted to run the other way. Except, they were mediflighted just minutes from my home. To the hospital where my husband is being treated.
I know what it’s like to spend days on end in that place. With fear, hopefulness and doubt as your companions while you tend a loved one and try not to go insane. Torn between being there, and home, with your others…Lots of us have been there in thousands of hospitals all over. But with a child? Hundreds of miles from your “people” I couldn’t imagine.
I chose not to run away. I chose to go. I didn’t want to, but I wanted a mom to face this pain alone, even less.
I didn’t say much. (Although probably too much, I’m like that.) I didn’t do much. I just showed up. I prayed. I Asked about their son. I talked to him. All the time wishing I could run home and hug my kids. And maybe eat chocolate and sleep for a few days.
And then, one of the caregivers came in to take foot prints, hand prints and thumbprints as mementos for the family.
My heart broke. They gently pressed his hand, foot and thumb into clay. So much like what we all do with joy and tiny toes. These, however, were to be baked later and last forever. Life had come full circle. From first prints, to last.
It was a holy and horrible moment. One I was honored to be present for.
I left in tears. I called my kids and told them how much I love them. I called a few friends on the way home… Just to get through my own emotional response. I cried some more.
Then, I took my youngest, aka: captain puberty and his noisy friend out to the cottage. I savored the stinky noise of them. We played games. I managed to be present. We were together when I got the message that the young boy we’d been praying for had died.
I hugged my boy. He hugged me.
There are choices we’re each faced with, to go or run? To be present in someone’s pain? Or avoid it. To be present with our loved ones, or distracted by “stuff.”
The next morning I caught my youngest out on the deck. In shorts. In a snow storm. Shoeless. I briefly considered threatening his life. I also considered locking him out.
Then, I noticed this:
It’s scary. Horrifying. And wonderful.
Here’s what I know: we must choose to notice the footprints and handprints of our loved ones. We must treasure them while we can. We must be careful what prints we leave behind. Someday they may be all that’s left.
We also have a choice, will we walk bravely in the darkness of someone else’s experience? When we have no words, when we have no answers, only our presence to drive away the alone-ness?
I hope so. Because someday I may need you. Or you may need someone else.
Let’s be those people. Even when we want to run away. It’s worth it. Love always is.