Bearing Gifts from Afar

Bearing Gifts from Afar

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Tribute to Moms

Bearing Gifts from Afar

Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.

James Barrie

It was nearly midnight when I pulled into a parking space at the rear of the hospital. We entered the emergency room, and a feeling of déjà vu washed over me. The ER was sadly crowded to standing room only. Eyes filled with pain and exhaustion swung in our direction as we stepped up to the security window.

“We’re going to the NICU,” I said, which stands for Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I pronounced it “nick-you.”

The security guard looked at me askance, perhaps wondering what a mother with two preteen boys was doing up at this ungodly hour.

“My boys here used to be residents of the NICU,” I said, chuckling over his puzzled expression. “A long, long time ago.”

Striding through the maze of hallways in search of an elevator, I felt the warm embrace of memories. Eleven years ago my husband and I had walked these gleaming linoleum corridors at all hours of the day and night to visit Cody, the first of our three preemies. Cody was born at twenty-four weeks during the week of Christmas and could fit in a velvet-lined stocking. Ten months later, we welcomed Ethan, whose premature arrival meant premature lungs. He stayed in the NICU for ten days until he could breathe on his own. The same happened to Matthew, our eight-year-old, whose premature lungs required a seventeen-day stay in the NICU.

Being a NICU momma, I witnessed my share of traumatic episodes, but even more so the brilliant rays of hope among noisy machines, oxygen tubes, crash carts, loud mail chutes, and donated rocking chairs. As tired, anxious parents in thin, cotton gowns, we did everything we could to ease the pain of our little miracles. We draped baby blankets over incubators to shield them from harsh lighting. We kangarooed our babies to bring their blood pressure down. We learned to cup their heads with our hands to mimic the snugness of the womb. We softly sang lullabies and whispered prayers.

Our most cherished keepsakes from our time in the NICU were from anonymous Samaritans. Church ladies sewed tiny blankets and teeny one-piece gowns that could fit Cody. Others made plastic ball ornaments, inside of which floated a photo of my son in a cushion of brightly colored confetti. Still others left holiday notes, cards, and mementos at the stations where each of my sons recuperated.

I snapped back to the present. We stood in the foyer outside the NICU. I pointed to the deep sink with the soap pump. Metal shelves next to the sink held stacks of neatly folded, colorful hospital gowns. “Dad and I would wash up and pick out a gown to wear before going into the NICU to visit you guys.”

“Wow!” my boys said in their hushed library voices.

I stepped in front of the camera to the right of the door and pressed the buzzer.

“Yes?” a female voice called from inside.

I told her the Oliver family was here to drop off the gifts.

“Oh, yes! I’ll be out in a sec.”

As the door swung open, a nurse stepped out along with a smiling gown-clad couple. The couple huddled over one of those cell phones that took photos.

They were obviously admiring a picture they had just captured of their little one. Back in “my day” we had no such new-fangled technology.

I introduced my NICU veterans to the nurse. “This is my oldest, Cody. He was here in 1994 and weighed 1 pound, 6 ounces. Then his brother here, Ethan, was born a month early. I wanted to show them where their first home was.”

Cody and Ethan peeked with wide eyes through the crack of the door as I handed the plastic bags to the nurse.

“Oh, these look beautiful!” she said. “I know the mothers will really be surprised. Thank you so much!”

Earlier that evening at our kitchen table, Cody and Ethan had worked diligently on their “Good Turn” project. As part of meeting their Webelos requirements in Cub Scouts, they assembled angel necklaces. They strung satin ribbons through large Ideal Clamps (a metal paperclip resembling the body of an angel) and on each one threaded a bead onto the ribbon until the bead resembled the angel’s head between the “wings” of the paperclip. They tied a knot at the other end, and voila . . . an angel necklace.

After they assembled thirty-plus necklaces—some in navy blue, others in polka-dotted pink, still others in lavender, white, and forest green—I folded them carefully inside gallon-sized plastic bags, and together the three of us made the forty-five-minute commute to the hospital.

“I hope the mothers like our necklaces!” Ethan said as we walked back to our car behind the hospital. The pale moon was our witness at this witching hour.

“Oh, I know they will, sweetie,” I answered, my eyes misting. “More than you’ll ever know.”

The following day would be Mother’s Day. While the NICU mothers will be surprised by angel necklaces lovingly created by NICU veterans, this mother will be thanking God for all the nameless Samaritans and their day-brightening treasures left at each of my sons’ stations.

Jennifer Oliver

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