A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
It wouldn't be original, but the memories are.
It was Christmas 1975. A single mom working a minimum wage nursing assistant job and volunteering for any extra bit of overtime or holiday pay. Even if it meant spending the day apart from daughter.
Daughter was spending the holiday with other family members. I worked day shift at the nursing home that Christmas Day.
Those days, those months, those years all seem to run all together? The poverty years I call them.
Yes, we lived beneath the poverty level. That contrite income indicator the government decided would represent our life. The government also provided us with “helps” such as subsidized housing, food stamps and medical & dental care. I worked full time and still qualified for assistance. I was grateful for the help, exceedingly, abundantly grateful. I remain grateful still for the assistance during that period of time.
It was the Charles Dickens years. You know, the opening phrase from A Tale of Two Cities…
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”
The day at the nursing home was like any other day, except this was Christmas Day and the case load was larger than normal, since so many were off this day. Many of the patients were expecting family to visit. The usual course of action meant that the person was awakened, assisted to the bathroom, helped to clean up and get dressed then breakfast was served. Some would eat in their room while others assembled in the solarium.
The excitement was palpable. Some of the patients received visits shortly after breakfast and others anticipated their visit later in the day. So it was with the one gentleman I was assisting that day.
He was usually quiet, stoic but this day his excitement overflowed. His family was coming to visit! He hadn't seen them for some time. I assisted him with freshening up, bathroom time, teeth brushing – all the sundry things that go into our every day preparation, that now require assistance for the aged. He had mentally picked out what he would wear this day and I assisted him with dressing.
Because he was unsure of the time the family would arrive, he ate his dinner in his room. I placed the call button within his reach, set his tray up and told him to ring if he needed anything. When lunch was over I removed his tray and provided him with a warm washcloth to clean up a bit. Then checked to make sure his call button was still accessible.
An hour later he rang. With tears in his eyes he said, “I guess they aren’t coming. I might as well take a nap.” I sat on his bedside and held his hand. I explained to him that I too had a child and was not with her this day. We shared tears. I helped him remove some clothing and got him into bed.
Within 30-minutes he rang again. I responded to his room where his family surrounded him. I asked if they would wait in the hallway while I got him up and into his chair. While getting him up, he was as excited as any child on Christmas Day. “They came,” he said, “my family came!” As I exited his room, his family entered.
An hour later my shift ended and I went back to my government subsidized apartment to await my daughter’s return.
I worked again the next day. The gentleman from the day before was not on my schedule for this day. After the morning rush was over, I stopped in to see him. I wanted to know how the visit went. He was still glowing. We sat and talked for a bit and he grabbed my hand to hold it in his. “Thank you,” he said, “thank you for being here for me.”
The moral of this memory is about the hope his family gave to him on that Christmas Day 40 years ago. As hard and as difficult as it was for his son and his family to travel to the rest home on Christmas Day, it more than likely was the greatest gift this older gentleman had received in his life.