19 The blessing of the hands

It was a simple request: “Could someone come to our unit to bless our hands?”

This is National Nurses Week in the US. One week a year to acknowledge the people who accept responsibility for the care of people in really bad times.

During this week, many nurses and chaplains participate in “the blessing of the hands”. It’s a simple moment. A few words of affirmation and encouragement. A prayer:”God, please use these hands to bring help and healing, heal these hearts as they serve and ache and rejoice with others.” A little oil and eye contact and “Bless these hands as they act as the hands of Christ.”

Because chaplains at our hospital show up for every death to talk with nurses and families about details and logistics, I see how nurses have to juggle their own feelings and the feelings of families, their own care and the care of patients who become bodies.

The unit that needed someone to come for blessing was the birthing center. I was glad to go. Most often, our visits there are not joy-filled. People seldom call for a chaplain for a birth. We go to that unit because, as I said above, “chaplains at our hospital show up for every death.” That includes miscarriages and stillbirths.

But here’s the thing: before we arrive to offer care and the necessary paperwork, the nurses and other staff are there. Helping mom. Wrapping bodies. Helping create memories.

I thanked them.We acknowledged their work. We acknowledged together that sometimes their work is crappy, literally and figuratively. And I touched their palms with an oily finger and asked God to help them.

We are all imperfect. We all have brusque nurse stories. But as you are complaining about their style, pray for their hands. Because I know where they’ve been. And though they have been washed before and after, in between they have been providing care in the most difficult times of life. And death.


Before You Walk In Copyright © 2021 by Jon Charles Swanson. All Rights Reserved.

Share This Book


1 Response to The blessing of the hands

  1. Connie on October 11, 2019 at 6:05 pm says:

    I was in the hospital during Nurses’ Week. I tried to remember to thank each one of them. The Blessing of the Hands is a precious rite! In all, I was in the hospital or skilled nursing for 151 days. Five months! I had my favorite nurses, who went above and beyond; and a few I wanted to fire. My nurses and aides were a microcosm of the globe. My 2 favorite nurses at skilled nursing were from Nepal and Kenya. My favorite nurse at the hospital was from here in the Austin area. Kusum, Patricia, and Savannah – May the Lord bless your hands.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *