Sacred Moments

A nurse helps a family heal after the premature death of their baby.

By Jude L. Fleming

It was a typical day in the emergency department - busy. We are always busy; in fact, we are the busiest ED in the state. I was assigned the float position, meaning it was my job to circulate and help the nurses assigned to specific stations when needed.

A call came over the radio from emergency medical services saying they were bringing in a nine-week-old female baby in respiratory arrest. The nurse working the trauma assignment received the infant. Tragically, in spite of every effort possible, the baby did not survive.

Not long after, the ED nurse liaison approached me. One of her many jobs was to care for the families of loved ones in critical situations. "I heard you have some experience in art. Do you know anything about casting in plaster?"

I told her I did. She handed me the materials she had gathered and instructed me to go to the trauma room and make a cast of the infant's foot for the family.

I entered the room and instantly felt palpable grief. Dad and Mom stood over the gurney staring at a tiny bundle wrapped in blankets. Grandma was holding their other child, who appeared to be around two years old. They barely spoke and when they did, it was in hushed tones. Everyone seemed stunned, unable to move, not sure of their next step.

I quietly introduced myself and said I had come to help make foot imprints of their baby girl. They all stared at me, eyes red and glazed. I looked at Dad and figured he would be best to invest in the mechanical part of our project. I quickly got him involved in mixing the plaster material and putting it into the molds. He seemed grateful for something to do at a time when he couldn't possibly know what to do next. His voice, hushed at first, became fuller.

"Press her little hand here," I said softly as we made impressions, first of her hands, then of her feet.

It was time to get the women involved. "Here are buttons, bows, glitter, beads, and other decorations for the molds."

They began to pick through these items, each making suggestions, discussing how to decorate the molded impressions. Their voices became stronger as they focused on the project at hand. I stood back watching them and realized the energy of the room had changed from grief and despair to focused creativity.

AS they completed their creation, they began to talk about what they should do next, who they would call, where they would go. They stared at the molds, eyes gleaming, each understanding they had created a treasure that would always be cherished: the remembrance of a life lived, too short but so very sweet.

One after another, they gathered their things. Slowly, each held the precious baby girl one last time, softly saying their good-byes to their beloved bundled in a blanket.

Then Dad handed her to me.

Mom was the last one to exit. She turned with a hit of smile and mouthed, "Thank you."

I held her child; she held their treasured creation.

One of the tasks we nurses are called to do is to assist in the death process. What happened in those shared moments with that young family was something much deeper and richer… a sacred ritual in nursing.

Jude L. Fleming's story is reprinted from Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul: Second Dose, with publisher permission.