The True Spirit of Christmas May Not be Under the Tree

It is that time of year where we suddenly run out of calendar real estate and feel compelled to wrap up the Old and welcome in the New. I am usually reluctant to jump too fast into the New Year, though, because I am still assessing the holiday season just past and wondering, frankly, how on earth I am going to pay for all that wound up beneath the tree.

But for the past 22 years, our family Christmas has always included a trip to the New England Floating Hospital for Children where we have rallied our children (now four) to repay our debt and express our gratitude for the heroic work they did with our son Patrick when he was airlifted to the hospital after a car accident that very nearly claimed his life. He was there in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) for six weeks, hovering between life and death, including the Christmas of 1988. He was finally discharged on or about Valentine’s Day 1989 and spent many more months convalescing at home.

Patrick (far right) and his siblings know the true meaning of Christmas

Now 25, a graduate of Tufts University and a second year graduate student at Penn in architecture, Patrick is my reminder every day – and particularly at Christmas – about the meaning of hope and faith. When we first began going back to the hospital every Christmas, it was to support those PICU nurses who fought for his life every day and tenderly kept him going as he fought bravely. As the years went by, we moved up to the 7th floor where the general children’s ward was sadly filled with children who could not go home for Christmas.

In the past several years, I have stopped going because Patrick has taken over the annual pilgrimage loaded with toys and games for the kids who could not go home. He has not only led the way for his two brothers and sister who join him annually, but over the years has drafted cousins to join him, too. Some years they go room to room while other years the nurses gratefully acknowledge the gifts and then parcel them out over the days ahead when something in bright Christmas paper might bring a smile to a child’s face and help them forget the pain and the loneliness of being at the hospital.

I’d like to thank Doctors Skip and Kristen who tenderly kept our child alive, and the heroic nurses in the 6th floor PICU whose work is more meaningful and permanent than they could even know. And thank you to all of those who visit the hospitals and nursing homes and shelters where Christmas is sometimes just a dim light.  Your visit helps the holiday season glow that much brighter, and shows us all the true meaning of Christmas.

Happy New Year, one and all.

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