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The light was red.
Usually I can zip right through, but this morning the red light caught me.

The stop light is across the street from the hospital where I work. It’s where employees, visitors and occasionally patients cross the road to smoke, since there is a property-wide no smoking policy at the hospital.

As I sit at the red light taking my last few sips of coffee and racing to apply some lipstick before the light changes, I notice the two women and one young man sitting on the steps to my right. I suppose they must be sitting on the steps smoking, but then I realize that is an assumption. I try to not look at them or invite them into my morning. After all, they are strangers only about five feet away from my open passenger door window.

I hear the drift of conversation. The two women sitting a few steps above the young man are sharing common complaints. They converse about things that “just aren’t right” and commiserate jointly. Yet, their comments are interspersed with occasional laughter. The young man sitting on a step a few feet in front of them says nothing. The louder lady who seems very friendly speaks to the young man. He’s probably around thirty years old, looks tired and is dressed in casual shorts and a t-shirt.

“Hey, Buddy, turn around and come join us.”
He turns, waves at them and says, “That’s OK.”
The friendly lady says, “Hey, are you OK?”

That’s when I turn to see the young man face-on. His face is puffy, he looks sleep deprived and somehow lost. The friendly lady must have noticed it too because she says, “Hey, really, are you OK?” Once again the young man waves at her but this time he’s choking back tears. She notices, as do I, the pale blue bracelet on his wrist, the one the hospital assigns to identify the parents of babies in the newborn nursery.

The friendly lady says, “Hey, do you have a new baby?”
He answers, “I did.”
The world stops.

Not skipping a beat, the friendly lady was on her feet. “Oh my, what happened?”
“He was premature.”
The friendly lady was wise beyond any and all expectations.
“What was his name? Tell me about him.”

The light changed green. There was a car behind me. I left this newly heartbroken father. But I believe I left him in good hands. If only he could have known that I understand! I am so familiar with his grief. But would that truly have helped him on this day….most undoubtedly the worst day of his life?

I don’t know the ending to that encounter. I know that I continued on to the parking deck, drove to the third floor and backed into a parking spot. I ambled into my workspace but remained throughout the day….haunted by this stoplight encounter.

Peace be with you, my fellow bereaved parent.