Epiphany in the Hospital Corridor
As my father lay dying on Christmas, the wail of a newborn jars me into understanding why I was wrong to feel sorry for myself.Deseret Book.
On the evening of December 23, 1976, my father underwent surgery to relieve the effect of osteoarthritis in the vertebrae of his back. The surgery was successful, but near the conclusion of it he suffered a major heart attack. Eight hours later, he suffered another one. From those two attacks he sustained massive damage to a heart that was already defective from an illness suffered in his youth. By the time we finally got to see him, wired and tubed and gray and unconscious, it was mid-morning on December 24, Christmas Eve.
"Magnificent time," I muttered to no one in particular.
My wife Pat and I stayed at his side all day, as much for my mother's sake as for my father's. He was not going to live, and at age 60 she had never had to confront that possibility in their entire married life. As evening came along, we took her to our home. She needed calming, and our three little children deserved some kind of Christmas Eve.
Pat had created a wonderful world of holiday tradition in our family and tried to do the Christmas Eve portion of them, but it was a pretty joyless exercise. We tried to laugh and sing, but all that these children understood was that their grandmother was crying, their dad was very sad, and their grandfather was somewhere alone in a hospital, not free for the Christmas visit that had been planed. After hanging just a few of their mother's annual Christmas Eve gingerbread men, they uncharacteristically suggested that perhaps they should just go to bed a little early this year, reassuring everyone that this was their choice ad something they really wanted to do. You can imagine how convincing they sounded.
I gave my mother a blessing and convinced her to try to get some sleep. I stayed with Pat for awhile, putting out a Christmas gift or two; then I told her to hold the family together--as she has done all our married life--and I was going back to the hospital.
At the hospital I sat and walked and read and walked and looked in on Dad and walked. He would not, in fact, recover from all this. I suppose everyone knew that, but the nursing staff were kind to me and gave me free access to him and to the entire hospital. A couple of nurses wore Santa Claus hats, and all the nursing stations were decorated for the season. During the course of the evening I think I checked them all out, and sure enough, on every floor it was Christmas.