Singers of Carols

It’s a big place. Lots of rooms. Beeping medical machines. Doctors with charts. The pediatric oncology ward is decorated with plastic holly and greenery for the season. Loud TVs in the kids’ rooms play various holiday movies.

There are some great kids here.

Like 6-year-old Jessie, who just wants to sing. It’s her mission in life. To sing. Ask her what she wants to be when she grows up. “A singer,” she tells the nurses. Cancer has not robbed this child of her song.

The nurses say that life in this ward has been hard since COVID. The virus adds to everyone’s stress. The new protocols, the extra personal protective gear, the beefed up preventative measures. All these kids have compromised immune systems, and this is a global pandemic.

But nurses and doctors are careful not to talk too much about pandemic-related headlines. Not here. There’s no need.

“These families have enough junk to deal with,” says one medical worker. “Our job is to administer help, and if possible, lots of hope.”

So the nurses have been singing a lot this Christmas season, teaching the kids lyrics to the Yuletide favorites, like “Deck the Halls,” “The First Noel,” and “Away in a Manger,” which happens to be Jessie’s favorite song.

“Can we sing about the little baby with the mange?!” Jessie often shouts.

“It’s not mange!” one of the nurses usually answers with a laugh. “It’s MANGER!”

And the nurses always oblige once they have a minute. At night sometimes, a nurse will stand beside the child’s bed and deliver impromptu concerts for the girl. Jessie usually joins the merriment herself.

Which is one of the things you lose in here, merriment. You also lose a sense of Christmas altogether. Many parents say that when cancer strikes your house, Christmas immediately feels like a big sham.

After all, it’s just another calendar day. What the heck makes Christmas any different than, say, December 26, or April 5? The sun rises; the sun sets. End of story.

Oh sure, the holiday is glorious when life is going great. But when you’re stuck in an oncology ward watching your 5-year-old struggle to find the basic strength to vomit into his emesis basin, Christmas feels like a crock of lies.

When you are the parent of a 9-year-old with a Wilms tumor, or a 14-year-old with neuroblastoma, you have trouble singing “Silent Night” with conviction.

So in a place like this, during this strained season, these nurses are not just important, they are paramount. In this department, these nurses are Christmas. Their cheery faces. Their kind words. Their songs. Their jokes. Their funny stories.

“Please can we sing?” Jessie asks again. “Pleasepleaseplease?

But medical workers are often forced to make Jessie wait during the afternoons because there is too much going on. This is, after all, a hospital. Patients have strict schedules for treatment, endless appointments, and overlapping timelines. There is hardly any time for cutting loose and belting out “Twelve Days of Christmas.”

But the nurses have never let Jessie down yet, they promise they will sing soon.

First they have to help kids like Ian, a fifth grader, who sits in his bed, playing a video game. The game was one of his early presents. Ian has already gotten all his Christmas gifts for this year because his time is short.

And there is Amanda, age 12, she got a new bike this year, but she has only seen a picture of it on her dad’s cell phone. Her first cheerful question upon receiving the bike was, “Do you really think I’ll ever get to actually ride it?”

It was asked genuinely.

And still somehow, the nurses put on wonderful smiles that never quit. They are constantly updating charts, coordinating feedings, bathings, personal care, and sometimes stepping in for parents when life is too much.

This is an exhausting job. But the mental fatigue is worse. The emotional beatings within this line of work are plenty.

“You gotta hold on to the happy moments,” says one nurse. “Otherwise you’ll crack.”

Because sometimes parents and guardians of patients are angry with medical experts. Parents are not always easy to communicate with, they are often tired, drained, upset, bitter, depressed, you name it. It never escapes the nurses that these parents and patients are experiencing a brand new version of hell each morning.

And so it is the medical staffers who stand on the frontlines. They endure friendly fire from parents and disgruntled family members who simply need to vent at somebody in scrubs.

Many nurses will remain angelically silent amidst the abuse. Because no matter how you cut it, cancer sucks.

“Are we ever gonna sing?” says Jessie to one of the nurses. It’s nighttime now. The girl’s eyelids are heavy, she is sitting upright in her bed.

“Sure,” says an older nurse practitioner, checking her wristwatch. Her shift is almost over. “But let’s sing quietly, Jessie. It’s late and you need your rest.”

The lights are dim, many children are asleep. The nurse practitioner calls a few reinforcements into Jessie’s room to form a tiny choir. The ladies all find their pitch.

Soon, they are singing quietly for the child, clad in their personal protective gear. With their hearts they sing:

“Away in a manger,
“No crib for a bed,
“The little Lord Jesus,
“Lay down his sweet head…”

Jessie is now smiling. By the second verse, she has already joined in. Her high-pitched voice is all anyone can hear:

“I love thee, Lord Jesus,
“Look down from the sky,
“And stay by my cradle,
“Till morning is night.”


  1. Sandi. - December 16, 2020 6:45 am

    God Bless all those sick little children you named, and all the other children, too, with an extra dose of hope, strength and determination to face tomorrow.

  2. NancyB. - December 16, 2020 6:45 am

    No words, Sean! Thank you!

  3. Chasity Davis Ritter Jim’s daughter, Debbie’s daughter and Ronnie’s almost daughter - December 16, 2020 6:53 am

    It’s fitting you shared this one about cancer today even though it’s only a part of what it’s about because I said just today I’m sick to death of covid but I (bleeping) hate cancer!!! I have a best friend who’s been such for 47 years… her dad who is almost as much mine is fighting lung cancer they just found last month. Another best friend for 45 years mother (who also loves me as a daughter) was diagnosed with colon cancer this week and today I find out that the boy I chased for years whose parents could have been my own in-laws if he would have ever caught me.. well his dads has Kidney cancer… they found a tumor this month the size of a FOOTBALL!!! I know these aren’t little children these are older people who although are from ready to go have at least lived their lives. I think about these precious little angels you wrote about who just want a chance to ride a bike, to at least play with the Christmas presents a little while and my heart breaks more and I hate cancer even more than I did just hours ago even. I pray with all my heart the little girl you wrote about will get cured and be able to sing Christmas carols for many many many more Christmas times before her voice is added to that heavenly choir above and before she meets that little baby with the mange. Oh Sean of ever Christmas wish and birthday wish and shooting star wish I could ever make would come true they’d find a cure for cancer and maybe my heart would heal too. Thanks for listening tonight or this morning or whenever you get to read this.

  4. stephenpe - December 16, 2020 10:12 am

    YOu’re killing me with this story. I know there are children in hospital wards dying all over America. From those unspeakable diseases and/or from organs that are failing or never worked right. The stark reality of childhood deaths and disease is crushing. I NOW have a new prayer to say at night along with my others. Let us sing.

  5. Pat Thibodeau - December 16, 2020 10:44 am

    Been there. Four year old grandson with neuroblastoma who sings with the angels. We never forget.

  6. Ann - December 16, 2020 11:09 am

    Joy…sadness…love…reality and earth’s many angels who are everywhere!! THIS reminds us of the REAL reason for this very special season 🙏🏻❤️

  7. Jan - December 16, 2020 11:51 am

    The true meaning of Christmas!

  8. Marilyn - December 16, 2020 12:17 pm

    Any problems, disappointments or worries seem insignificant compared to what sick children and their parents are going through. Peace and comfort to you all this day. Sing, Jessie, sing loud and clear

  9. Edwin G Staples - December 16, 2020 1:05 pm

    Thanks for eminding us Sean. I’ve been there and done that.

  10. Suzanne Miller - December 16, 2020 1:51 pm

    I was a Pediatric Oncology nurse for 20 some years. It was my biggest joy. Kids are amazing~only wanting to be kids regardless of how lousy they are feeling. I learned so much from these children and am forever grateful. The laughter usually was in abundance although there were frequent tears & having ones breath taken away. The continuing optimism was what helped to pull us through as caregivers. Happy Holidays to all. Thank You Sean for this piece ~ reminded me of how fortunate I was to be there with so many smiling hopeful faces & their families.

  11. Joan Burke - December 16, 2020 1:53 pm

    My daughter Mindy is a nurse practitioner in a children’s hospital in Phoenix. Because of covid, only one parent can be with the child at a time. The medical staff are so masked up, the children cannot see their faces very well. This is all so sad.

  12. Margaret Cade - December 16, 2020 1:58 pm

    What a beautiful story to remind us to take our eyes off the chaos in the world today, and focus on spreading hope, joy, love and peace. Be near me Lord Jesus……..

  13. Marc Beaver - December 16, 2020 2:13 pm

    Incredibly heartwarming

  14. E. Ann Padgett - December 16, 2020 2:22 pm

    And I thought I had problems, as I write between sobs. Thanks, Sean; we all need an emotional gut punch now and then to remind us currently better off folks of such stark realities. We need moments when our own personal woes are shown to be ridiculously small by comparison — my God, please not the children! With few words in your wee essay today, you delivered several big and powerful messages and then some for the rest of us. Yes, we may have sick loved ones and be caregivers, likely we may be doing poorly ourselves. None of ours are deathly sick children, though. But, there are those too many who are currently very sick children. God Bless all those children, their caregivers, and their families! Thank you, Lord, for sending certain human angels to the frontline who also sing with and comfort the Singers and the sorrowful there. Thank you too, oh Lord, for Sean of the South.

  15. Nel Ducomb - December 16, 2020 2:24 pm

    Thank you, Sean, thank you.

  16. Bob Brenner - December 16, 2020 2:29 pm

    Bless these children Lord 😇❤️

  17. Christine - December 16, 2020 3:06 pm

    Yes, Lord, be near those children who are learning to live with cancer. Help us to take our eyes off our petty stuff and pray for these precious ones and their families.

  18. Scott - December 16, 2020 3:19 pm

    Thanks Sean! I just found that my local hospital has an amazon wishlist for the children’s care and I was able to donate some items.

  19. Kathleen Kyles - December 16, 2020 3:48 pm

    God Bless and Keep YOU, Sean. You have painted a perfect picture with words. Thank you. Nurses deserve our Thanks and Praise always.

  20. Amy - December 16, 2020 4:22 pm

    Oh Sean, I can’t imagine what these folks are going through. I am reminded, as are these precious ones, that there is a world just on the other side that is beautiful and peaceful and worth all the suffering. That’s a promise made by the very one they’re singing about. That doesn’t ease their suffering, but rather mine. I know that each of those babies has something besides this life to look forward to. Bless their sweet hearts and yours.

  21. Sandi. - December 16, 2020 4:32 pm

    Bless you, Ann, for your beautful thoughts and prayer within your Comment.

  22. Linda Moon - December 16, 2020 5:55 pm

    Childhood Cancer – the worst kind. Cancer can’t rob our adult hearts if we don’t allow it to. We’re all grown up. Cancer should NEVER rob a child of the chance to grow into adulthood and sing. Amanda’s question was wise. Time cut short for children seems so unfair, and I understand the Christmas crock their parents might feel. As for the Frontline Fighters…well, I have no adequate words to describe them, so thank you, compassionate Writer, for telling their stories.

  23. Darlene Fuehring - December 16, 2020 6:01 pm

    Why am I often crying when I get to the end of you latest post? Wow!!

  24. billllly - December 16, 2020 6:33 pm

    Wow! Take a hickory switch to me if I dare complain about anything in my life!

  25. Suzanne Moore - December 16, 2020 7:35 pm

    Those nurses and other staff are angels. As anyone who has had cancer or had a loved one dying from cancer can tell you, medical staff make all the difference. I know that they lose precious patients all the time, yet they manage to treat every patient as if he or she is the most important person in the world. I will never forget them, and will continue to call down blessings for them and for all that they do.

  26. Ellie Galko - December 16, 2020 9:12 pm

    merry Christmas❣️

  27. Patricia Gibson - December 16, 2020 10:48 pm

    So many hurting and sick. Prayers for them all🙏🙏❤️

  28. Bill - December 16, 2020 10:53 pm

    “I love the Lord Jesus” we sing. A song of hope…In HIs Name…

  29. Tim House - December 16, 2020 11:05 pm

    Touching. <3

  30. Melanie Johnston Levy - December 17, 2020 6:13 am

    Thank you, Sean, for another beautiful read…truly, you are a gift

  31. Christina - December 17, 2020 8:22 am

    Sending love and prayers to these precious ones and grace for their Angel nurses!

  32. judisprayberryJudi - December 21, 2020 1:52 am

    Precious! You have such a BIG heart!

  33. Julie - January 6, 2021 3:15 pm

    An inside look into a Pediatric Oncology Ward, especially at Christmastime, is humbling for anybody. Thank you, Sean, for giving us a Beautiful example of Hope.


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