Christmas came early. It happened a few weeks ago. His family didn’t know how long he had left. So, they welcomed in the holiday from a hospital room.
They made it a good one.
They decorated his walls. There were poinsettias, pinery, wrapped gifts, cheese balls, chicken salad, fudge.
The visitors came and went. First, members from the Methodist men’s group—the same group he met with for thirty-some years. Rumor has it, they even sang through a handful of holiday tunes.
The rehab nurses sang along. He never moved a muscle.
A traumatic brain injury is what landed him here. He’d been standing in his kitchen, late night. Nobody knows how he fell. He hit his head on the counter. He went downhill fast.
But this isn’t about that.
His friends and family came from all parts. His grandkids. His old classmates. People gave gifts: a pair of buck antlers, camouflage suspenders, a T-shirt, get-well cards.
His brothers and sisters visited. His youngest brother brought a photo album. The black-and-white image of a boy with dead ducks in one hand, a rifle in the other.
“God he was a good brother,” he said. “Always looked out for me, always.”
A woman visited. Mid-forties. When she was a girl, he would deliver gifts to her family on holidays. Deliveries started in the 70’s, when her father went to prison.
That holiday season, he’d drawn her name out of a hat in Sunday school class.
But he gave a lot more than holiday gifts. Once, he bought a car for a man who’d been down on his luck. A union steelworker who needed transportation.
He bought a bicycle for a young man on probation. Then, he arranged for the kid to get a job at the local supermarket. He invited the kid to suppers, and family events.
That kid is a grown man with a family of four today.
There’s the eighteen-year-old who showed up to the hospital room. Tall and lanky.
They were hunting buddies. When the boy was eleven, he lived with his single-mother and two sisters. After service one day, our hero approached the boy.
His first words to the kid were: “You like the taste of duck, son?”
“Never had it,” the fatherless boy said.
Wrong answer. They became fast friends, and together reduced the local mallard population considerably.
The boy brought a candle shaped like a red shotgun shell and set it beside the medical bed. He hugged the unmoving body of an old man. He cried.
People filtered in and out of the room all day. There was laughter. There were tears. I understand it was something to see.
And, while I write this, I am looking at a headstone in a small cemetery.
There are white flowers on the gravesite, a photograph of a man holding a little girl. There is a candle, shaped like a shotgun shell.
His daughter is the one who brought me here. It’s a pretty place. She misses him—especially this Christmas. She misses a man who taught her how to give to those who need. To smile at those who can’t.
She comes here to remember. She comes here to cry. But she knows he’s not here.
He’s gone back to where he came from.