As Christmas is almost upon us, we can have many expectations, especially from friends and family. With this in mind, I thought I would share my personal story from Christmas two years ago. The subject matter may seem a little heavy and I can hear myself saying, “Yeah, keep it light, Sara, it's Christmas!” But I gained a valuable lesson that day...
As I turned into the busy car park, there was a single parking space. A rarity! It was usually difficult to find a space for hospice visitors.
I turned off the engine and sat for a moment. It has been a few months since I had been here. My husband had been poorly for so long, after being diagnosed with a brain tumour, and the nurses at the hospice had been a great support – to both of us. Even now, just over two months after he had passed, they extended their welcome and had invited me to the day hospice Christmas lunch. I kindly accepted their invitation as this was to be my first Christmas with out him.
Earlier that morning, a Christmas card had landed on my doormat. It was from family. I had mixed emotions. At times I had needed more support to care for a disabled husband over those difficult years but had often felt I had been left to it. Even so, the previous week I had purchased a number of individual Christmas cards for each of the family. I had taken my time, and money, over choosing them and posted them off to them all. As I opened the small envelope, the card's bland greeting read “Best Wishes for Christmas”. I stood, alone in the house, after years of feeling again like a shmuck. I had gone out of my way for them only to be disappointed. I told myself I should be grateful they had sent me a card. So why did it still make me feel so low?
I locked the car door and entered the hospice day centre. I was then greeted by Jenny, the head nurse. We hugged and I gave her the bag of champagne truffles to give to all the staff – another reason why I had wanted to come and see them all – to say thank you for everything.
Jenny led me over to sit next to one of the patients, a lady in a wheelchair. After I was brought a cup of tea. I glanced to my left at the disabled lady. She looked to be about my age, in her early 40’s, with a middle eastern complexion. I noticed she wore a pink head scarf, possibly due to her culture or due to the side effects chemotherapy I pondered. Either way, I felt a little glum and I didn’t feel particularly social so I kept to myself. After about 10 minutes I decided I needed to change this and stop thinking about myself. I struck up a conversation with her and as we started to chat, she pulled out of her bag some home made sweets her mother had made her and offered one to me. She told me they were an Iranian speciality and made of dates. She only had a few so I told her I couldn’t possibly accept and that they were hers, but she persuaded me to take one. As I ate it, warm sweetness filled my mouth and I smiled, thanking her. We introduced ourselves and she told me her name was Sabina. Her husband was nearby and she told me she had two children. Moments later her husband brought her over a large bag full of Christmas presents. Sabina took them onto her lap smiling and started to retrieve each present, reading aloud the name on the tag which was for one of the other patients sat nearby. I gave her a helping hand by walking the gifts over to each person, as many of them were immobile due to their health condition.
There was one final gift at the bottom of the bag but as she looked, she couldn’t find a tag anywhere on it. I offered to help and checked the present over but I also couldn’t find a name anywhere. “ You have it,” she said smiling.
“I couldn’t!” I exclaimed, laughing, “You don’t even know me! You’ve wrapped this for somebody,” but as we looked around, everyone appeared to have a present.
Sabina implored me to have it and I finally kindly accepted, not feeling overtly comfortable with accepting a gift from quite possibly a terminally ill stranger. Then a low voice came from a few seats away.
“You’ll feel guilty when you get home and find a name on it!” called out Peggy, one of the long-term elderly patients at the hospice I had known for years.
“Yeah, thanks for that, Peggy!” I laughed and grinned back at her.
The nurses called us all in for Christmas lunch and we headed towards the dining room…
Before heading home, I chatted to Sabina’s husband. He told me his wife, like my husband, had a brain tumour and had only been unable to walk in the last week. Things were not good. I offered him advice on some great supplements which I know had helped keep my husband healthy for longer and he was pleased with the new information as we said our goodbyes.
When I returned home, I sat with Sabina’s present in my lap and decided to open it there and then. As I unwrapped the surprise gift, a cubed box revealed a small pretty bone china mug with dainty Christmas decorations all over it. As I held it in my hands, I smiled to myself and contemplated all that had happened that day. From feeling low earlier that morning because I had been expecting more from family, I had then received a gift from a lovely lady in very poor health, who I didn’t even know. I realised then, gifts can appear in our lives when we least expect it and to be thankful when they arise – because they do!
A few weeks after Christmas I called the hospice and spoke to Jenny. As I asked after Sabina, she sadly informed me she had already passed. My heart sank as I thought of her and of her husband and children.
The pretty Christmas china mug still sits up on my kitchen shelf a few years on and whenever I notice it, I always remember Sabina’s kindness that day and that gifts in our lives can appear from anywhere when we least expect it.