"We are instruments of divine love...created in the image of love...and our goal is to grow more fully into that image by loving each other in concrete ways." - Sallie McFague, Ph.D. Professor of Theology
A newly minted mom lay exhausted and exultant. Beside her lay her baby.
Our first caregivers are our mothers.
Present as a CEO working on the front lines with nurses, I witnessed the glorious moment when a little girl rose in the world for the first time. I was also present when the new mom phoned her mom.
"Guess what, it's a girl!" She announced. I only heard her end of a conversation that soon turned to heartbreak. "Well, I'm sorry, mom...mom, i'm sorry. It's a girl. Did I make some kind of mistake?"
The new mom hung up on her mom and glanced over at me. I touched her shoulder, smiled, congratulated her and felt the inadequacy of my gestures.
Caregivers frequently have this kind of intimacy with their patients. Doctors and nurses literally reach into the most intimate parts of our bodies, loving us "in concrete ways."
The best caregivers touch our spirits as well. But, it is the concrete work that often dominates day-to-day caregiving. It is the work behind the scenes that tells us how close caregivers move to patients.
Outside the delivery room, feeling blessed by having been present at both a birth and a grieving, I was confronted by a person who works in housekeeping. "You want to go in now and help me clean up?" she challenged with a smirk. She suspected my views of childbirth were romantic. She wanted me to see another side of caregiver-patient intimacy.
The relationship between caregiver and cared-for is sacred when intimacy is approached with love, respect and selflessness.
During rounds one night at Baptist Hospital, I encountered a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit who was stroking the back of a being who weighed less than two pounds. "How's the baby doing? I asked hopefully."
"He's dying," Lisa told me as she continued to stroke his back. "It was too hard for the parents so the baby will die with me.
When people ask me what Radical Loving Care looks like, this is a story I tell. The baby could not ask the nurse to be with him in his final moments. He could not raise his head to say thank you. The nurse was not required by any rules to accompany this infant in his last moments.
When work is a calling, loving care occurs naturally. "We are divine beings" and our divinity shines forth when we reach out to love another beyond our needs and beyond the expectation of others.
This is when the caregiver-patient relationship becomes sacred. This is when God appears through us to bless both our lives and that of those we seek to heal.