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.