I have often heard it said by many of my peers in the red suit that the hardest things to do as Santa is visiting the children's hospitals and hospice house. Well, this year was my third visiting the children at our local hospitals and my first to visit a hospice house. Each year, Wells Fargo Third Party Administrators (Santa's Day Job) donates teddy bears to two of our local hospitals, Thomas Memorial Hospital and Charleston Area Medical Center's Women's and Children's Hopsital. These are the two hospitals where 99 % of all children are taken when ill. Of course, Santa and a small band of elves are responsible for delivery of these bears.
It really is the type of personal visit that I like to make, because the children all really appreciate getting to see Santa. I guess too it clicks with my Christian minister side as well. It has afforded me with some smiles and some tears, but each child is precious indeed. This past year, I softly stroked the hair of a 4 year old girl with cancer who couldn't even open her eyes to see me for being so sick. I was given a high five from a young fellow who had suffered another serious illness, but was thrilled to see Santa. I held 4 newborns, only hours old. I hugged a little girl with cancer that could hardly smile for the pain. Then I turned and held the mother of that same girl while she cried and thanked me. See what I mean about smiles and tears.
At Thomas Hospital they also have me to visit with some of the older folks who are there without family and such so the elves and I are tickled to oblige. We visited one woman with Down Syndrome suffering from a lung ailment who was thrilled to have Santa there. After a big hug and a few Christmas carols by the elves, she sat hugging her teddy bear which I had given her. You would have thought it was gold. Several other seniors enjoyed our singing, exchanging hugs and tears at the thoughtfulness of our visit. I reminded them that Santa is for children of all ages.
The came the emotionally draining part, the Hubbard Hospice House in Charleston, West Virginia. This is also the place where my father had passed earlier this Summer. You can imagine the feelings that came over me as I walked in. But all of my feelings of personal sadness and discomfort were soon gone as I went on to the duties at hand. I visited nearly every room. The elves would sing carols and I would speak with the patients and their families. Some were so sick that all I could do was hold their hand. In one room, a lady was watching her husband of 60 years slowly pass away. As I held her in my arms and comforted her tears she told me all about their love. In another room, a mother and father tried to get their son to open his eyes and see Santa. While holding my hand the mother explained that Christmas was her son's favorite time of year. She cried as she told me of how much he loved Santa. In another room, a mother on her death bed was being visited by her son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter. I hugged the young girl and gave her a bear and coloring book with crayons, and as I went toward the bed to say hello I gave the grandmother a bear as well and spoke to her about being a good girl. She smiled as big as Christmas, though she couldn't say anything. Her son had to turn his back on the scene. I went over and placed my hand on his shoulder in comfort. The elves and I went on in our tour. But as I was leaving that day I met the son at the door. He gave me a large hand shake and with tears streaming down his face thanked me for bringing one last smile to his mother's face. As I headed back to the North Pole, the tears flowed.
One of the duties that we have in this red suit is that we are ministers of hope to all the people we meet, no matter how healthy or sick, rich or poor they might be. We are ambassadors of Saint Nicholas, who was given a ministry of God to take care of the needs of those around him. Whether inside the suit or out of it we need to remember to do this. Truly, it was a blessing to me just to know that I was a blessing to others. The toys that I gave out will be forgotten, but the love that this Santa had for those folks I pray will never leave them. It is in things like this that we Santas do the most good. I pray that we all will strive to do more on this end to be blessings in red.
More to come a little later.