Facility Christmas Memories

I suppose no one looks forward to their first Christmas in a nursing home. I remember on my first Christmas here, I wanted a small Christmas tree for my room. I asked an aide if she would pick one up if I reimbursed her. She agreed, brought me a small tree, and would not let me pay her. I enjoyed that tree because it gave me my personal Christmas. I missed so many things about my Christmases at home. I had no way to shop and no Internet to shop online. I asked staff and friends to pick up small gifts for me and I repaid them. I was very grateful that they helped me, but I remember feeling very needy. It seemed like everyone was doing for me and that I was not doing for anyone.

Twelve years ago the staff decorated the facility. They divided it into sections and had a contest with each department decorating a specific area. I was amazed at what some staff did to transform a hall into candy land. Pictures on the wall were covered with wrapping paper to look like presents. Most staff decorated on their own time. I felt they really cared and wanted to make the facility look special.

Now the facility is decorated but it no longer takes on a fantasy look. That is better though, and more environmentally friendly. There also is less cleaning up to do after the holidays. After watching the decorating for a few years, I thought the residents should get involved. So several years ago I asked the administrator if we residents could make wreaths for Christmas. I had seen a wreath made out of milkweed pods on the Internet. I used to do crafts and thought it would be fun. A family member donated two wreath rings. Staff gathered milkweed pods and brought them in. They decided to clean them in the dining room which I did not think was a good idea. After they were cleaned, there were furry, milkweed pod seeds flying everywhere. The activity aide thanked me sarcastically for suggesting this quite messy craft idea.

A few days later I went to the dining room when the residents were working on their wreath. They were using a wreath ring covered with artificial pine. They were decorating it with goldenrod from around the facility and artificial flowers. Though their wreath was not symmetrical or artsy, they enjoyed doing it so much. I was so glad they were allowed to do it.

Later a nurse’s daughter assisted me with the milkweed pod wreath. I told her what to put where and she manned the glue gun. The resulting wreath turned out beautifully and it was nice to make a Christmas decoration. The wreaths were hung with pride that year.

One Christmas morning I was riding the hallways, missing my family, and looking for a distraction. I rode to the other unit and heard piano music coming from the dining room. I wondered who was playing the piano at 10:30 a.m. on Christmas. I rolled quietly in and hummed along with the Christmas songs he was playing. I did not know the man, but I got a bit bolder and started to sing. I did not think he could hear me. But he did and asked, “Will you continue to sing if I go to my car and get another book?” I said I would. He said he was a church elder and that his father was a resident. He said since his father had serious dementia, it was difficult for him to have a visit with him. So he decided to bring his father to the dining room and play the piano.

I started singing Christmas carols and another resident, a natural alto, joined in. We were harmonizing beautifully. I was thrilled to be singing on Christmas, which I had not done since my church choir days. We sang and sang. Suddenly, I noticed they were passing trays in the dining room. I was shocked because apparently we sang for well over an hour. I was embarrassed and wanted to stop. Though the aides told me not to, I knew we were holding up the meal. When we finished singing, several residents told us how much they had enjoyed it. That was my best Christmas in the nursing home. That Christmas I really felt I did something for the residents and especially for myself. While I was singing I was lifted above and outside to a lovely holiday place where everything was in warm harmony.

In subsequent years I have learned to make Christmas my own. I still have a small tree that I have picked. I now get to shop for a few gifts. The aides get my gifts together in gift bags or wrapping paper. I usually see a Santa Claus twinkle in their eyes when they are doing it. In fact, most staff will help out with my gift wrapping. They just love it.

Right now the sound of carolers fills this hall. This will happen until Christmas. Some singers are good and some are not but they all are appreciated for giving to us. Is Christmas ever sad? Sometimes it is a bit wistful. Most of us have lost someone and our holidays are forever different because of it. But I have learned that Christmas is a feeling … that I can feel wherever I am.

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