The influence of Kami

The third installment of this series by Patrick Riecke, director, Chaplaincy and Volunteer Services, where he explores the five people who’ve most influenced his career.

Some of you reading this are familiar with the hurt of losing a baby.  

These precious, tiny lives make a huge impact in our world. I have written before about my own heartbreak when my wife’s first pregnancy ended all too soon. And now, a decade and a half later, she helps lead a support group for couples dealing with a similar loss (Healing Hearts).

Standing in an emergency room, family birthing center, NICU, or prep/recovery room with a parent as they ache over the realization that their baby won’t be coming home with them is something my compassionate chaplains do multiple times every week. Sometimes, the parents would like a religious rite for their child who is dying or has died; baptism, prayer, dedication, etc. Because of this, we have to ask our Chaplaincy applicants the painful, but vital question of whether they would be comfortable performing these religious rites in such heartbreaking situations.

It’s a heavy, emotional start to a blog post, I know. Why, you ask, am I bringing this up in a series about people who have helped shape my career? I can tell you. But first, let’s rewind to a few years ago when I was the one sitting in the interview being asked that difficult question.

“Would you baptize a dead baby?” they asked.

I paused. For a long time.

I tried to breathe, but all I could see was me, wearing a Parkview badge, in a room with a baby who had just passed away. (An image that has become painfully real many times since then.) Tears filled my eyes, as they do now as I write these lines. The interviewers were sympathetic, but needed me to answer.

Why did my eyes fill with tears? Because of Kami.

Kami is my niece — my wife’s niece, to be more specific. My sister-in-law, after having a house full of boys, was expecting a perfect baby girl. Unfortunately, her arrival would not be the joyous event they were hoping for. Near the third trimester of her pregnancy, Kami suddenly and tragically passed away. My wife and our little girl (who has three older brothers) drove across the state to be with them in the hospital.

While my wife and sister-in-law were grieving, their loving elderly grandmother asked if the baby was going to be baptized. And so, they called their pastor.

And he came.

And he cried.

And he prayed.

And he performed the ceremony for Kami as the family huddled in that hospital room.

Before Kami, I am not sure I would have been able to declare my answer for that interviewer. But after observing Pastor Jim exude compassion to that sweet baby girl and our family, I had a rock solid, heart-felt answer to that question.

“Of course I would be willing, as a clergy person, to perform religious rites for babies when they die.”

“Of course.”

 Of course.

Of course.

If Baby Kami hadn’t lived, and hadn’t died, that spot in my heart would not have been the same.

So, just like Martin Luther King Jr., who died before I was born, Kami’s death before she was born set my roller coaster on the track that has led me, in part, to be who I am today. If I hadn’t been able to offer a compassionate answer in that interview years ago, I would not be doing what I am doing today.

A tiny life can have a huge impact.

If you or someone you know is facing the tragic loss of a baby, these resources might offer some comfort:

Community Grief Center
Erin’s House for Grieving Children
Kerith Brook Retreats for Grieving Adults
Healing Hearts Support Group

 

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