David's Gift

It was five days before Christmas and I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. I wasn't even 50 years old yet, but my husband, David, was living in a nursing home full time with a progressive, degenerative neurological illness. My oldest son had married over the summer and the youngest one had started college in the fall; both were fairly self-sufficient and rarely were around. Also, I had not worked since August, so I was missing the day-to-day interaction with co-workers and the daily challenges that made me feel useful.

Although I had decorated and shopped and baked and mailed cards, I felt emptiness as cold as the dropping temperatures outside. The house was large and empty; the memories of happier holiday seasons loomed large.

In tears this particular Thursday morning, I needed a reason to hope. I asked God, "Please send me a sign." Then, as quickly as I prayed, I wiped my tears, put on my makeup, dressed and went about the day's errands. Later that afternoon, I visited the nursing home to be with my husband for the residents' Christmas party. Santa came and brought presents for everyone. Most of the residents were at least 20 years older than my husband and suffered from Alzheimer?s disease. It brought great joy to see their faces light up as Santa delivered their gifts and young child volunteers brought them punch and plates of cookies and goodies. Some focused on the wrapped packages, or played with the bows. Others were intrigued by the stuffed songbirds, house slippers or picture frames inside.

Dave was no different. His voice, usually a faint whisper of one or two words at a time, now loudly belted out 'Jingle Bells' and 'We Wish You a Merry Christmas' as we all caroled together. He smiled as he received his gift and cookies and had his picture taken with Santa.

A few of the residents couldn't handle all the commotion and stayed in a quieter area of the nursing home. One of these, Willis, was the man whose name David had drawn. We left the big party and went back to the living room to find Willis so that David could watch him open the gift.

Looking at Willis, you could tell he had been a remarkably handsome man in his younger days. Now, ravaged by illness, he could barely communicate and I often wondered if he even knew what was happening around him. When the wrapped package was put in his lap, Willis almost recoiled. It was as if he had a fear of the strange object in his hands. Always the encourager, David, said, "Go ahead, Willis, open it. It?s yours."

A caregiver removed the ribbon and bow, and most of the paper to the point where all Willis had to do was open the box. After what seemed like an eternity, Willis pulled out a T-shirt imprinted with the logo of his favorite college team. He clung to it and the gold bow as if they were precious gemstones. David proudly said,"It?s from me." I think I even detected a slight smile from Willis.

A few moments later, the activity director from the center came in with a small gift and handed it to David. He turned to me and, carefully placing the purple fabric gift bag into my hands, said, "From me."

A surge of emotions enveloped me. One thing I knew about my precious husband of 29 years was how much it had meant to him to select my gift each Christmas. In the past several years, he had not been able to drive or leave his care facility, so I usually would buy something that I wanted and wrap it and put it under the tree from him to me.

Taking as much time as Willis did with his gift from Dave, I wanted to savor every aspect of this precious moment. Still holding the bag, I commented to Dave how pretty it was and that he must have known that purple was my favorite color. Looking up to see his response, his big brown eyes welled with tears as he said, "I know." I could see the genuine happiness in his face, the kind of joy that comes from knowing you have made someone feel loved.

Then my attention turned to the contents. As I looked at the bag, I felt that it must contain something that David had made in the center and fully expected a small arts and crafts project to be inside. I carefully opened the small beaded velvet bag in the color of royalty and slowly pulled out a silver necklace. It was not hand-made, nor was it inexpensive. I looked at the charm dangling from the chain. Embossed in silver was one word.

Courage.

Here was my sign. I turned over the charm. On the back side, an embossed cross. Still another sign.

I burst into tears for the second time that day, this time of happiness.

In the midst of feeling sorry for myself, suddenly, David had given me not one gift, but many. As he caroled and enjoyed the party, he showed me the simple joy of being content with your situation. His loving act with Willis taught that there truly is more joy in giving than receiving. And, his precious gift for me made me realize that no matter what tosses and turns life has in store for you, there is no greater reason for being than to feel the complete, unconditional love of even one person, I as have from David. For it is through that kind of love that you can begin to comprehend the immensity of the love God has for you.

I cannot say that I will never host another pity party for myself. I am only human. But now, I can quickly return to the feeling I had that day in the nursing home by simply reaching around my neck to feel the chain and running my fingers along the word on the charm.

Courage.

Renee Underwood