By Jim McSwain
The following encounter is of an experience I had with a patient in the hospital. This encounter was a significant personal moment in my ministry as a chaplain at CHS-Cleveland.
I was paged to the maternity ward and as I entered the room I saw that the patient was a young mother. Her husband was sitting next to her on her bed. The mother was holding to her chest, underneath a white cover, their stillborn child. As we talked, the mother unexpectedly held the baby out to me and said, “Would you like to hold our baby? Her name is Grace.” I was touched by how appropriate the name seemed for this special child of God.
I took baby Grace in my hands, held her, and anointed her. The young mother then told me, with great strength, confidence and love in her voice, that their daughter was given this name because of her and her husband’s belief and trust in God’s grace in their lives, no matter what their circumstances. As we prayed together, there was this special and tender feeling that God’s loving grace was flowing through this stillborn child to us in that very moment.
I handed baby Grace back to her mother. Even though she and her husband were certainly sad and grieving the loss of their precious baby girl, how meaningful and uplifting it was to hear these parents continue to talk about their faith and their belief that Grace was God’s child, that she was returning to Him and resting in His great love and care. They were at peace in that knowledge and affirmation.
I left that hospital room with tears in my eyes knowing that I had been blessed to stand on “Holy Ground” with that family in those moments.
It was also a powerful moment for me personally in my faith journey. Over the years of my hospital and chaplaincy ministry, I have had the opportunities of families allowing me to be a part of their sad times in the loss of a child. It is always a very difficult and hard experience. There just are no appropriate words to say! Meaningless clichés just don’t cut it! Being there with them is the most important thing I can do.
However, the “backstory” of this situation for me with baby Grace is that several years earlier, Peggy and I had lost our son in a tragic automobile accident. Our friends had taken Josh and our daughter, Stacey, with them as they took their daughter to catch a ride back to college. On the way back home they were involved in a head-on collision with a drunken driver. That driver killed himself, our son, Joshua, and our close friend. Stacey and our friend’s wife survived the accident but were hospitalized for several days.
Josh was just seven months old, and Peggy and I never had the opportunity to hold him after the accident. That realization came to me as I was holding baby Grace! And I felt deeply in my heart that, in His mysterious and wonderful way, God was giving me – all these many years later – an opportunity and a connection to hold in my hands a child who had joined Joshua in heaven.
I cannot tell you strongly enough, church family, what holding baby Grace and praying with her special family meant to me. I had a strong sense of release, peace and closure I had not known before. It was truly an emotional and spiritual experience.
Later, in talking with Peggy about my encounter, we came to one simple faith affirmation. That affirmation was that God’s grace was at work then and always has been in our adjusting to Josh’s loss. His grave marker indicates that Joshua was a “child of joy.” The joy of wonderful memories with him will always be a part of our lives.
One of the lessons I’ve learned in this life’s journey is that, sometimes, God’s grace and mercy come to us in our darkest and saddest moments and when we least expect it. He is always there, loving us and caring for us. So I encourage all of us to live our lives every day in the joyful expectancy of experiencing His “wonderful and marvelous grace.”
I thank God today for the way He had my life intersect with this young family in a very difficult time. I thank Him for baby Grace and her loving parents. I thank Him for His amazing grace which is always at work in our lives.
Thanks be to God!