Some years ago on Christmas Eve, by chance, but I believe by design of Providence, I alone visited my dear uncle in the nursing home where he resided for a great number of years after my mother cared for him at least seven years and reluctantly had to place him there. My husband and I offered to visit him on the way to our home in New Jersey after our traditional Russian Christmas Eve supper with most of my siblings and their families. It was a beautiful tradition and the one time we were always together in the house where we grew up.
My mom & dad went every evening and made sure he ate supper, but they were both exhausted that night. My husband had a cold and stayed in the car. I was his only visitor that day and he was still in bed with unopened presents under his small lighted tree. The holidays are often sad in nursing homes, especially Christmas. But his face lit up when He saw me and with the help of an aid we had him sit up. I opened the presents for him and he was pleased with each one. I could have cried when he told me the same jokes I’d heard on every visit, but I laughed instead. Before leaving I asked if he would like to be wheeled down to the nurses’ station and he agreed. He said hello to some of those sitting there and the nurses all smiled at him. It was difficult leaving him.
The ride took about an hour and a half through the Poconos and into New Jersey. I shed some tears at first, then felt glad for the time I had with him. Shortly after returning home the phone rang past midnight and my mother told me he had passed on. She felt bad not seeing him that one night she missed visiting her brother. I must tell you at his funeral a few days later a great many tears were shed by those who cared for him over his years in the facility.
During the time of mourning someone said “to die on Christmas meant you would immediately go to heaven” and I believe he did. And God must be listening to those old jokes forever. My uncle had a gift, a great gift, that no one ever saw him without smiling while he sat in his wheel chair and touched so many lives.
Christmas is the story of a child, the Son of God, being born into the world in a way that it was said not even the angels could have imagined beforehand. Now every Christmas I think of my Uncle Harry and smile for he and his gift are still alive.