We are gathered in the spacious great room of a home, and the mountains are right there through the large windows, peeking in and out as the clouds lift after a night and morning of heavy rain. It is a somber gathering; the sadness another guest in the room, milling around the standing bodies. This is a young community, and their open faces reveal various levels of grief, discomfort and pain. For all of that, I sense the strength and length of deep, sincere hugs, this is close community. I feel slightly dizzy as I make my way through the room to begin my welcome.
We are gathered for a service of remembrance for a small baby, and the fireplace mantel behind me holds precious photos and a teddy bear, a vase of roses and candles. I read from the words I’ve been preparing all week. The words I choose speak of unconditional love and a sweet, peaceful presence.
I am working to keep my emotions in check, so others don’t have to. I want this to be a container, a place of support and comfort for the family. These things I also say. I’m trying my best, with all the skills I have, and I’m just hoping it is enough.
I’ve prepared a ritual for the service that involves beading hand-painted glass beads on to a braided ribbon. It is to be our gift to the baby, to help her cross to wherever her journey is taking her next. Everyone has a bead, and the braid is to be passed around the room from one person to the next.
I signal for the music to begin, and prepare for a time of quiet reflection.
I offer the braid to her parents, and they oh so slowly and tenderly thread each bead. Then they rather reluctantly pass it on. And so it goes, the braid passes to the grandparents, and the aunts and uncles, all of them young, and some of them brand new parents themselves. On to the next the braid moves unhurriedly, gently. It is lovely.
The gathering is even larger than we had anticipated, and although there are enough beads, I see that it is taking much longer for the braid to pass through the room than I had prepared for. As more beads are added, the braid gets heavy, and I notice people reaching out to support the beaded end while another does the threading.
I see we are barely through a quarter of the room, and I think about what there is left to do within the ceremony. I begin to think I have made a critical error in planning. There have already been tears. A little sobbing, even, when we listened to the exquisitely tender rendition of the baby’s last hour, courageously offered to us by a warm-hearted NICU nurse.
I sense fatigue, and I am worried for the parents, who have been wrung out by all of this. I think I need to move things along. I motion to the young woman in charge of the music to turn the volume down a bit, and I read a poem that had been planned for after the beading ritual. I finish, and look up as the friends continue to string the beads. I can see that it is becoming more difficult as it passes through the crowd, the ends fraying a bit. I squirm a little and I try to think what I could do to help this along. The braid is barely through a third of crowd. I skip ahead and read the note of thanks, it feels out of place.
I am definitely out of sync, and I realize I am afraid of the sacred space I have worked so hard to create.
But evidently I am the only one. As I scan the group, I can see that somehow, everybody has already figured it out. They are taking the offer to put their silent blessings into a single glass bead seriously, and as they stand shoulder to shoulder they seem willing to bear this quiet.
The music plays softly, sun floods the room. The windows, which are open, waft in a clean, fresh breeze. All the snuffling has stopped, the tears dry on our cheeks, and it seems another visitor has stepped into the room. The barest breath, a whisper of peace.
I see one couple struggle with the bead and the braid, and I pay attention. He keeps at it. It is hard. He tries again, and again. His partner holds his arm and watches and doesn’t offer to take over, to do his job for him. She just waits at his side. It is hard, but it is his job to do. As my eyes pan the room, I realize we are all doing the same thing. Being in patient, present silence.
No one is restless. No one is giving off signals that they’ve had enough, that they want out, that they wish this difficult service would be over. They stand, they wait, they breathe.
At that point, I settle down, and I put my hands in my lap. I, too, am helpless to change or alter or make any easier this situation. I rest, finally, with the others, in sun-filled room.
Finally the last bead is added. The nurse who had been with the wee one after her last breath, the one who had so lovingly told us her story, slipped on the final bead, and handed what had become a gorgeous necklace to me.
I tied it together and we all admired it collectively. It was heavy. It was white and gold and pink, and it glittered a little in the sun. The gift we were offering to the small one, lovingly, patiently, slowly assembled, was now complete.
The room had become a tranquil oasis. I set the necklace on a table that was spread with rose petals. In that moment I understood that the spirit of that calm, sweet baby had transformed our space and our hearts.
It was an extraordinary gift. And I mean the one that was given to us.