2017-11-10 / Chaplain's News

Give your presence this holiday season

Dwight. D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center

It is that time of the year again. Every store we enter has Christmas and other holiday fare right up front when we walk in the door. Holiday music has already started on the radio.

Parties are being planned, gift lists are being made, leave forms are turned in, and it will be 2018 before we know it.

Anxiety can set in for some because we start to wonder how we can afford to give all those presents to our loved ones, to show them how we feel.

I recall one Christmas Day where I learned the value of presence over presents.

It was 1986, and I was visiting a friend of mine in Montgomery County, Maryland. We opened a few gifts, enjoyed a nice breakfast, and then had the idea to visit the local hospice-level nursing home to try to bring holiday cheer to the residents.

We spent our afternoon there walking around and visiting with as many people as we could. There were actually few holiday decorations and it was hard to distinguish this day from any other day.

We discovered that several residents were unaware that it was Christmas Day, much less what year it was or even where they were.

My friend wished one gentleman a “Merry Christmas” as he shook his hand. The man’s eyes grew wide as he asked with great surprise “Is it really Christmas?” Then tears filled his eyes as he seemed to drift off into a sea of memories.

We entered one resident’s room that looked like she knew what season it was. There were two small Christmas trees, a stocking, and about a dozen cards.

The woman was sitting up in her bed looking sad. We remarked that at least she knew what day it was!

We pointed out the trees, the stocking and the many cards. It was her response that I will never forget as long as I live.

“Cards? Yes, I know what day it is but who cares? I get all of these cards from my family, who live 40 minutes away. But they haven’t come to see me in two years!”

She began to cry and asked us to leave, which we did. I never forgot what she taught me. Presence is more valuable than presents.

If you feel some anxiety this holiday season because you are expected to send cards, give presents, host or attend parties, and somehow still manage to get all your normal duties done, cut yourself some slack and remember to honor loved ones with your presence this holiday season.

Never underestimate the value of time spent with loved ones, or even a stranger at a nursing facility or Veteran’s home. Gift the best gift of all: time.

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