As our family looks forward to another holiday gathering, I can’t help but reflect on the numerous Christmas experiences we have shared over the past 50 years, starting with my wife Gwen and I as newlyweds all the way to, well, now. Christmas is such a special time for us as family members travel great distances to join together, most recently in Kansas City (from Seoul, South Korea; Vermont and California). It is without a doubt the highlight of our year. So many wonderful memories!
One memory that truly ranks at the top occurred last year. We had to postpone the actual “Christmas Day” due to a variety of travel schedules. Our son Brent, the Californian and retired from the US Navy, came home early, because he wanted to be with me for my December 25th birthday observance.
Knowing that on the morning of December 25th we would not be opening Christmas gifts with the rest of the family, I suggested that Gwen, Brent and I travel to the senior living community where I have been consulting and have breakfast with the residents living in the Assisted Living (AL) section.
This senior living community, the oldest non-profit in Kansas City, is known for its “turn no one away” policy, which means that nearly 45% of its AL residents are Medicaid recipients. Many of those dear souls have meager financial resources, insufficient to pay their monthly fee for living in their residence. No matter, the organization’s Benevolent Care Fund makes up the difference and gladly so.
Whenever I am consulting at the residence, I invariably stop and chat with an AL resident just to see how they are doing in an effort to start my day on a high note and hopefully theirs as well.
Brent and Gwen thought our Christmas morning visit would be a great idea, so off we went. I shared with them on the drive that those we would be breakfasting with would most likely be those who didn’t have much and were likely to be alone on a day our family so cherished for so many, many years. “Just sit down and talk to someone. Ask them how they are doing. Wish them a Merry Christmas, and then sit down with someone else. Keep in mind: your visit just might be the only one they will have on Christmas Day.”
After parking the car, we immediately went to the dining room where a group of about 20 residents were enjoying a special Christmas morning breakfast. We separated and began visiting with folks. Gwen and I each met with several residents and were blessed with the reactions we received, sincere appreciation for someone taking the time to spread a bit of Christmas cheer.
Brent, however, spent the entire time at one table where a fellow was sitting alone. Afterwards, as we were leaving, I noticed that Brent had tears in his eyes and asked him what the matter was. Let me paraphrase his response:
“Dad, that man’s name was Bill. He is 92-years-old and has been living at the residence for 7 years. Like me, he is a Navy veteran and was so pleased to have the opportunity to speak with a kindred spirit about our respective service days. He spoke about being in the Navy during the Korean War and what his life was like after being discharged. Dad, he has had a tough life including losing his wife to cancer several years ago, and he shared how that affected him. I asked if he had family, and he said he had a son, but that they were estranged and that during his time at the residence he had never come for a visit. I just couldn’t pry myself away, Dad. When you motioned for us to leave, I told him how much I enjoyed meeting with him and hoped he would enjoy Christmas Day. I lost it when he replied, “Thank you, son, for coming to see me. This has been one of the nicest Christmas gifts I have received in a long time. God bless you, and Merry Christmas to you too.”
During our drive home we all reflected on our visit, sharing accounts of our various conversations. Brent was quiet, but as we were pulling into the driveway, he said to me, “Thank you, Dad, for suggesting our visit. It means a lot. I will never forget it.” Well, that is certainly the case as Brent called recently to say that he was hoping that we could do the same this year, and we will.
All of us here at JB+A want to wish you and yours the Merriest of Christmases and the most Joyous of New Years. And, on a personal note, let me encourage you to reach out to someone: a shut-in, someone going through a particularly troubling time, perhaps someone in the hospital, and extend a very special Christmas kindness. I believe you will emerge blessed. Just ask my son.