Merry Christmas Mr. J

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    Sometimes a special person comes into our lives for a moment and reminds us that what really matters is not how much we have, but how much we care for one another. Mr. J was that special person for me. He showed me that Christmas is not in our wallets, but in our hearts. This happened a long time ago. The story is true but the patient's name is completely fictitious.

    He was a proud war veteran, this man who changed my life. He lived alone in a tiny apartment and had no family left alive, at least none that he knew of. He was alone, yet he was fiercely independent, and now he was dying.

    I was a fledgling hospice home health nurse working in a poor community that was fast becoming a ghost town, falling victim like so many others to the loss of once thriving industry. My husband had recently lost his job, and we had a new home and mortgage. I was now the sole breadwinner and low on the pay scale. Christmas was coming. I was deeply depressed.

    Mr. J came into my life uneventfully, another patient living in gang territory. I was used to the area and knew the necessary safety precautions. We were to visit early in the day and let the patient know when to expect us. We wore standard colors easy to identify as “the nurse”. We moved in and out of the homes quickly, and left the area if there was any sign of trouble. I knew the rules and planned my day accordingly. Mr. J was my second visit of the day.

    When I arrived I had that feeling of anticipation that only a home health nurse can know, the increasing adrenalin as you knock at the door wondering what you will find within. I knew only that he lived alone, was dying of cancer, and was discharged from the hospital the day before. Did he know his prognosis? What kinds of problems was he having? Was he ready for hospice? Thoughts raced through my head.

    Mr. J. opened the door and greeted me with a warm smile. He welcomed me in. The room was sparsely furnished but neat as a pin. As we talked I learned that he had never married and had no one save for a few friends in the neighborhood. They would help him get to appointments and get his food with food stamps. I noticed that the TV was on but had no picture. He saw me looking at it and got up to turn it off, telling me “I listen to it; I don’t need to see it anyway”. I asked about his sleeping arrangements and he pointed to the bedroom. That was when I noticed he had no sheets, just a bare mattress with a blanket on top, stretched tightly with nary a wrinkle. His corners were neater than any I had ever folded, the military training perhaps. As we turned towards to the kitchen I noted his clothes were so threadbare that you could practically see through them. There was no sign of laundry anywhere, no chests or boxes, no hamper, nothing but a bed and a small closet. I peeked inside to see only a few pieces of clothing on hangers in similar condition as those he wore.

    I looked around with dawning awareness as I realized that this man had nothing in the world save for a few items. He had worked all his life, but somehow ended up here, unable to afford any of the things that we think are so important to happiness. He was overwhelmingly poor, yet he was happy and kept his tiny apartment and his ragged clothes clean and neat as though he had a palace and the fine robes of a king.

    He wanted nothing, and denied the need for any assistance or services. He thought that he was doing well the way things were, thank you very much. He would allow the nurse to visit a few times to make his doctor happy, but nothing more. He knew he was dying, and that was ok with him for it was in God’s hands and God had never failed him yet.

    I cried that night. I felt so guilty for worrying about money and presents when in reality I had so much to be thankful for. At the next visit I took him a few pieces of clothing from my husband’s closet, and some sheets, lying and casually telling him that we had things in the office that people had given us for anyone who might be able to use them. If he could use them that would really help us out since there was not much room in the office for storage. He thought that would be just fine.

    I wanted to do something for him for Christmas. I knew he would not want anyone to fuss over him. I thought of him all alone, listening to the TV looking out at the snow and it gave me an idea. My husband and I had combined our furniture when we married, and I still had the small TV from my apartment. It wasn’t much, but it had a picture and his did not. I decided that he would at least have TV to watch at Christmas.

    On Christmas Eve it was snowing heavily. We were headed to the annual family gathering, but I told my husband I needed him to do a favor for me before we went. We drove the dark winding road through the snow to where Mr. J lived. I was so excited, thinking that this is what it must be like to be Santa. I was concerned about going to the rough neighborhood after dark, but I knew that I had to do this.

    When we got to the apartment complex I had my husband take the TV to the door to give to Mr. J. He had recently grown his beard out and I had him wear a red Santa hat for the job. When he opened the door my husband wished him Merry Christmas and said that he heard that Mr. J could use a TV as he took it in, turned and left. I stayed hidden in the car.

    We went on to the party, filled with happiness. My husband never questioned why I asked him to do this. He knew in his heart that I must have a good reason, and he was excited to be a part of it.

    Mr. J died a few weeks later. We never spoke about the TV, but it was there in the living room during my last few visits. I hope he watched something wonderful on Christmas Eve. I know he had at least one gift for his last Christmas here on earth. I hope he liked it. I hope he knew that someone cared for him and that he was not alone.

    I have never shared this story with anyone before. It was secret moment of joy that I have treasured over the years. I think of it every year as the holidays come around, and I am grateful. I am sharing it now to encourage others to give from the heart to someone who is in need at Christmas. Even if you have little to give there are so many who have less. For as Saint Francis said “It is in giving that we receive”. That is the real magic of Christmas.
    Last edit by Joe V on Dec 7, '10
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    About nursemarion

    RN, BSN, MBA. Home heath and hospice nurse for over 20 years. I have also worked in education, school nursing, telemetry, orthopedics, and LTC.

    Joined: Jun '08; Posts: 931; Likes: 1,225
    from PA , US

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    14 Comments

  3. by   ashley10
    I love this story. I think it is wonderful of you to share it with others. I never realized (before attempting to learn "nursing") just how many "Mr. J's" there are in the world. You truly expressed the spirit of Christmas, and much more than that, not only for him but also for everyone who reads this. Thank you.
  4. by   nursemarion
    Thank you. There are so many invisible people out there who are alone. Home health care is a real eye opener and working in a poor area made me so grateful for what I have. I have had many struggles, but never like some of the people I have cared for. I miss this kind of work terribly.
  5. by   Kookie2412
    lovely story. Thank you for sharing.
  6. by   cherryames1949
    Thank you for sharing your "Christmas Carol". You were someone's Christmas Angel. It is these stories that make a nursing career worth it. Merry Christmas to you and your family.
  7. by   Otessa
    I would love to not give presents to my family and just give to those in need. Might get a little push back from my family. We have toned down from years ago though.

    LOVE this Christmas joy you shared!
  8. by   nanadeb
    What an inspiration to us all!
  9. by   Katie1971
    What a beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing this with us!!! Angels on earth!!
  10. by   NJCheyla
    This story moved me to tears. During these trying times, there are so many people in a similar predicament. I myself have family members with children that can't afford to buy gifts this year. My own parents are struggling to make ends meet and Christmas gifts are not even a topic of conversation in their home. I have a very small budget for Christmas gifts this year but I remind myself and my family that we are blessed to have food, shelter and more importantly, each other. I was once a recipient of a Christmas Angel and have never forgotten it. It was a couple of years ago when I was unemployed. It was a miracle to me. I wish more people would look out for the less fortunate. The world would be a much better place for it.

    -NJ
  11. by   FranEMTnurse
    amen. you touched my heart in a very big way today by posting this message. thank you, and merry christmas!
  12. by   learner1108
    I love this story. Thank you. It warmed my heart and made me feel fortunate for what I have and the profession I chose to practice.
  13. by   runninfool1009
    Thank you for your touching story. I am a nursing student, set to graduate in a few days with hospice nursing as my goal. Stories like these are the reason I know nursing (and hospice in particular) are right for me. Merry Christmas to you.
  14. by   nursemarion
    runninfool I hope that you will find hospice as rewarding as I did. There is definitely a very close nurse-patient bond in hospice. You are very lucky indeed to spend the last time on Earth with someone and to be able to make that precious time a little better.

    I know most of us feel that there is little we can do to help others who are less fortunate at the holidays. Sometimes it is overwhelming and we almost feel paralyzed by the thought of so many suffering at this time of year. Many of us are struggling financially also, with families to feed and bills to pay. I just have one last thought about it. Even if you cannot give money look in your closet and see if there is something you can donate- you would not believe how many do not have coats. My son had his stolen at school last year and I know many people would not have the money to get another one if that happened to them. There is always something we can give, time, money or goods. I promise you will feel better about the holiday if you make a small difference for someone else. I know writing the story down has given me an idea of something that I am going to do to help someone. I can't wait!

    Thanks to all who commented. I wish you all a holiday filled with love.

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