Living in three nursing homes for more than 21 years has allowed me to see how different facilities decorate for and celebrate Christmas. My first Christmas at my first facility, I was amazed how much time the staff put into transforming one unit hallway into Candy Land by using ordinary household items. Over the years, I saw that same artistic talent utilized by one nurse and several other aides to transform other holidays.
I remember spending time with the director of nursing and other managers on Christmas Eve in those first years. I realize now how important management staff felt it was to spend part of their Christmas Eve afternoon singing carols with residents.
Several years later, an activity assistant began making confectioners' sugar fudge on Christmas Eve. She loved making batches of peanut butter and chocolate fudge so the residents could observe and then sample the freshly made fudge.
One year featured a creative tree decorating contest. There was a Smurf tree in the dining room and a full, brightly lit tree with a female face carved into a gourd on the top in a lounge. Other trees were differently and sometimes strangely decorated in an effort to win. Unfortunately, I cannot remember which department won.
My second facility had many behavior prone residents. Most wanted to be anywhere but there. They were not like older residents, who with most of their lives behind them, would welcome eternity's peace. Instead, the younger residents longed for some joy in the here and now. Some found it in the special Christmas the facility workers conjured up.
I always wanted to spruce up that second facility's decorations that to me looked hand-me-down. I now miss their shabby charm. Many of the reused wreaths were decorated in my least favorite holiday color – blue. While living there, I longed for the red, green and gold wreaths of my childhood. But, looking back I realize those blue bowed wreaths added a different sort of holiday cheer.
I tried to fit in and tried to celebrate but without a choir to sing with, I spent December nights singing myself to sleep with my favorite carols.
Some years it was difficult for me to find Christmas joy there. Nor was it easy for the staff to stir it up. Still, each year nursing and activities staff gave their best.
This year, I am at a different facility where I am still working at fitting in. I am again getting familiar with the journey of older residents who can weaken quickly and then pass away.
The decorations here are well displayed and tidy. Here, no wandering resident will ever turn them topsy-turvy before Christmas Eve, as I have observed at my two previous facilities.
This time of year can be difficult for some residents. Joy can elude them as they get lost in their thoughts of what once was and is no longer.
Striving to feel Christmas warms the soul. For only in endeavoring to feel its warmth, can we share that with those nearest and farthest from us.