December has passed at break-neck speed. It is only after midnight when William and a few other night-owls are awake that the hospital calms down a bit. Notice that I did not say quieter. Children cry around the clock here and pumps are always beeping. A 2:00am run to ice up a Diet Coke will give one a sampling of our own glass-breaking 12 year old Ella Fitzgerald.
Will has been on droplet precautions for two weeks; he cannot leave the room at all unless it is for surgery. When I need to compose myself and summon resolve I sometimes go to the tucked away family room with my electronic window to the outside world. Passing the halls I can see darkened rooms and rooms with awake kids watching movies and IV drips. Every so often I see something else.
An empty bed doesn’t last long around here. When someone leaves the room is cleaned and soon occupied again. I’ve seen the transition commence in only twenty minutes. A bed that remains empty overnight is somehow strangely peaceful.
Of course, someone leaving a bed empty can mean the worst. Usually the children are moved to the critical unit before that point but an empty bed stands like a grave, silently reminding us to live life gratefully and fully.
I’ve hugged and celebrated with more than a few strangers as they loaded up the large, white rolling carts full of luggage. It is understood widely that home is a treasured luxury. Whether someone has been here for one night, seven nights or months without leaving, the meaning of a familiar bed is as understood as a smile.
Tonight I walked the hall; 8 children have been discharged for the holiday. A few new children have arrived to fill the beds but three doors open to reveal crisp, white sheets that are turned down to greet new patients. Amid the cold metal, smells of alcohol sanitizers and the sounds of beeping, the beds are a soft place to rest.
After checking repeatedly to see what day it is, I realize that tomorrow is Christmas Eve. “Santa” made his rounds today and presents will be delivered, but there are no chimneys here. What is here are babies who are unexpectedly in beds that parents never anticipated.
Many mothers sit over unexpected beds and wonder why their children lay there. I am sure that while a manger was occupied an empty bed was ready at the house Mary left behind. Empty beds may mean death, but they also mean hope. I’ve discovered that there is great comfort in seeing your child in unexpected beds. The extraordinary ones are there.
This Christmas we are surrounded by people I never expected would be around us. Nurses, doctors, strangers from all over the East Coast are here. Mary didn’t have her family nearby when she wrapped the Son in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger-bed. Shepherds from the field joined her in those first hours, which probably wasn’t as pleasant as we make it look in our pristine Christmas cards. (Oops…forgot about those this year!) Then again, Jesus also had the best birth announcement on record. God knew Mary and Joseph couldn’t send out announcements, so He loaned them a star and a host of angels. Pintrest can’t compete. An empty bed and unexpectedly full manger-bed is what Christmas is about. More than ever I understand that when the right bed is occupied, real peace and healing can come.
Empty beds mean hope. Empty beds mean a short time elsewhere. Empty beds mean victory in a hard-fought battle. Empty beds are a memorial. An empty resting place means “It is Finished” and “Y’all ready for this? It’s going to be amazing.”
Many of you will have beds and couches full this week. My heart rejoices for you; full beds mean great care. Rejoice in that, moms of college kids and empty nesters! Those with empty beds, whether for sorrow or for new, unexpected reasons, take heart. Empty beds can mean something wonderful. Just be sure to look.