I love the John Lewis Christmas adverts.
There I’ve said it.
I was rather fed up in the run up to Christmas and with just Christmas in general but I still stopped what I was doing or saying to watch the John lewis advert while the Northern One pulled a despairing face.
I may or may not have cried every time I saw it the year before but in my defence I was rather hormonal and sporting a bump that came through doors before I did.
It really didn’t take all that much to set me off; I cried when we went to the McDonald’s drive-thru and the McFlurry machine was out of order.
I really wanted a McFlurry.
To be honest love John Lewis in general but I’m getting a wee bit sidetracked from what I’m actually trying to write.
The star of the 2014 advert was a much loved and rather ratty penguin and every time I saw the advert it reminded me of another penguin, also rather old and ratty, that a little girl wanted to give to her baby sister.
The baby had died the previous day, peacefully snuggled in her parents arms. The last things they had been able to do for her had been to dress her and wrap her up warmly with a little teddy in her arms for her to cuddle and to make sure she wasn’t alone.
The same teddy that had kept her company in her incubator throughout her short life.
Her big sister also wanted to do something for the baby; her little sister who she would never cuddle or play with, argue or share her toys with.
So she did one of the few things she could do and gave her one of her own toys.
A little fluffy penguin.
The parents came in the next day with to see the consultant and to bring in the penguin. I was asked to go down to the morgue to exchange the cuddly toys. I popped the penguin in my pocket and it stuck out at a jaunty angle and bounced off my hip as I went down the stairs.
For most people morgue is a frightening word, giving rise to images of cold and sterility and death.
Something tucked away in the bowels of the hospital where few people go.
Our morgue is on the basement floor of the hospital and there aren’t many people working down there but once you go in to the morgue itself it’s like any other room in the hospital.
Its warm and properly lit with pale yellow walls and curtains att the small window.
An angel statue watches down from a shelf.
One wall is taken up with a cupboard full of brightly coloured knitted blankets and baby clothes in all sizes. There are vests and sleep suits, little hats and scratch mittens; everything needed to properly dress a baby to keep them warm and wrap them up to keep them safe.
Everything you’d expect to find in a nursery.
Only the metal fronted fridges give an indication of the true purpose of the room; they alone are cold and clinical.
Next door to the morgue there’s a bereavement room where parents and families can go and spend some time with their baby after they’ve died. It’s nicely decorated with soft lighting, comfy sofas and some tranquil pictures on the wall.
There’s no indication that the morgue is just through the door; they could be sat anywhere in the hospital.
I open one of the silver doors and carefully slide the baby out, cradling her in my arms and making sure not to bump or jostle her; just as I would do with Squidge if he was sleepy and I was taking him to bed.
I unwrap the outer sheet to reveal her tiny, still face and her little white hands clutching her teddy.
She’s clearly not alive anymore but she is also obviously still the same little girl that I’d seen on the unit the day before. She doesn’t look like she’s sleeping exactly, even when people are very deeply asleep they still have some colour to their faces.
They’re never completely silent and unmoving.
She does look comfortable and peaceful though.
I say hello to her and tell her what I’m doing. I do this with all the babies that I look after, even though they don’t understand what I’m saying.
I treat all the babies the same and handle them just as carefully whether they’re living or not, regardless as to whether there’s anyone else around to see or hear me.
They’re babies that need gentle care and that’s all that matters.
I tell this little girl her sister has sent her a very special penguin to be with her and that Mummy and Daddy are going to keep her teddy safe with them.
That teddy will help them to remember her and all the lovely times that they had together.
I look down into her tiny face, pale and unmoving and remember what she looked like when she was alive.
I remember her personality; so big even though she was so tiny. She would screw up her face and wave her little arms around if we did something she didn’t like; the expression she pulled made us and her parents laugh.
I didn’t look after her all that often but everyone knew who she was and would go and have a chat to her parents or just stop by to say hello.
I hold her for a little while and then carefully rewrap the sheet and place her back in the fridge.
I take comfort from the fact that she isn’t alone; that even though for every carefully wrapped little white bundle there are grieving parents, families and friends, the babies and children that they are grieving for aren’t alone in this quiet, peaceful room.
I wish her goodnight.
I wish her peaceful sleep and sweet dreams.
Then I head back up to the noise and bustle of the wards.
The noisy, vibrant life of the hospital.