First Person

May 7, 2024

I wasn’t sure my hands were worthy of a blessing. Then I heard: “Bless these hands and the work they perform,” and I got misty-eyed.

I don’t perform direct patient care; I’m a writer. But I learned that the annual Blessing of Hands is for all of us.

Jessica Pasley's hands receive a blessing. (photo by Susan Urmy)

I’ve been a mom since 1994, making me a caregiver for nearly 30 years.

I’ve held my children’s hands, rubbed their backs, nestled them to provide comfort when sick, bruised and hurt (from injury or ego). I’ve prepared and fed them countless meals, administered medicines, diagnosed common ills (both of the body and heart) and cleaned a myriad of messes from sticky faces and fingers to toys, floors and other.

I don’t often think much about my hands, especially the care they actually provide, outside of my children.

Until recently.

This week is the annual Blessing of Hands, a celebration initially created to honor the nurses at the Medical Center. Introduced by the Rev. Raye Nell Dyer, the longtime chaplain at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, who now serves as the chaplain of LifeFlight, the ritual started in 1999.

Held during Nurses Week, the annual tradition quickly spread beyond the network of nurses to include all employees.

It’s a way of acknowledging all roles that go into making Vanderbilt a success.

It’s not just for the people caring for our patients — it’s a way of thanking all employees.

Like me.

For years people from all areas of the hospital have taken part in the simple ritual of cleansing and blessing hands including environmental services, food services, administrative support, doctors, nurses, social workers, therapists, child life, greeters, plant services, police officers and..well, the list goes on.

It dawned on me. My hands serve a purpose for the good of Vanderbilt.

“What you do here makes a difference”

Twenty years ago, Dyer summed up Blessing of Hands:

“Our hands are symbolic of our lives and who we are,” she said. “They are symbolic of our lives’ work. For many, this blessing is like a cleansing, a renewing. To be appreciated and loved and have it spoken to you is a powerful thing.”

I write for a living. I tell the stories of patients, staff, medical advancements and research happening in the pediatric health care world.

My hands are a conduit to information which in turn benefits patients, families and employees alike, depending on the type of story I am sharing. Were my hands “worthy” of the ceremonial cleansing?

“Bless these hands and the work they perform,” said the Rev. Fred Brown, M.Div., BCC, as he performed my blessing. “May they bring connection when possible, hope when needed and compassion always.

“Your hands inform, connect and inspire. What you do here makes a difference.”

I got a bit misty-eyed hearing the validation that although I don’t have direct patient care contact, what I do for Monroe Carell and for Vanderbilt University Medical Center matters and has value.

According to Brown, 225 hands and two paws (Squid the facility dog) were blessed at Monroe Carell Monday, the first of several opportunities there during the week.

“What’s so meaningful to me about this ritual each year is the unexpected emotion,” Brown said. “I think we all ‘just do it’ every day, right? We do our jobs, and everything becomes so normal in our minds.

“Blessing of Hands lets us stop and be intentional and look at our hands and hear gratitude spoken over us. It’s powerful to be told what you do matters, and to be reminded of what your hands are capable of.”

A schedule of all Blessings of Hands at VUMC this week is here. In addition, a Blessing of Hands Mobile Cart is available at Monroe Carell. Unit leaders can email: to schedule.

The Rev. Raye Nell Dyer, who began the tradition of Blessing of Hands at VUMC, blesses the hands of medical assistant Debbie Bowers, as Meg Rush, MD, looks on in this file photo from 2014. (photo by Susan Urmy)