Tales and Yarns

Joey and the Christmas Smile

Author:  Bonnie Jarvis-Lowe

Christmas Eve had arrived once again, how quickly the years go by we remarked to each other! Once again Christmas Eve found Mr.and Mrs. Santa Claus making their special visits, saying a goodnight to the children of friends and neighbors. Frank and Dolores were good friends of my husband and me, and we had weathered many a storm together, as well as enjoyed many interesting excursions.

The Christmas Eve visiting of Mr.& Mrs.Claus was expected by many of our neighbors and various friends around town. Frank, with his blue eyes and gold framed glasses made a divine Santa, and Dolores had made a skirt for a Mrs.Santa Claus and I had the most lovely red wool hat, trimmed with white fur that blew in the wind and gathered sparkly snow crystals, dangling Christmas earrings and rosy red cheeks, with a red ankle high boots and black leotards, and we put it all together, and there she was, Mrs.Claus! And Mr.& Mrs. Claus liked children, theirs were grown up by now, and Dolores and my husband drove the sleigh for the visiting. We did this for years, Dolores taking my OR call while I was dressed, and we frolicked about in Franks' big car, spreading our cheer, Frank ringing his bells and doing his 'HOHOHO', it was fun but it was also a very gratifying mission especially to one household, the one Santa really loved to visit and he usually saved until last so he could spend more time.

Yes, it was a special household, and a special family, a family that had more than its' share of heartache but kept going, holding each other together tightly through the sad illness of their son.

Joey was a patient at our hospital. I met him when I started work there, first when he had been diagnosed with a disease of the central nervous system that slowly and destructively invaded his body. The picture on his little bedside table was of a smiling blond haired tyke, holding a wedding ring cushion, the photo having been taken shortly before his first seizure, the first shocking sign to his family that something was dreadfully wrong.

All the investigations were done, he seizured frequently but his Mom took time off work and cared for him at home. He had an older brother and an older sister who cherished him. But no amount of love, hugs, or kisses could make Joey better. His health gradually declined, his mother and father exhausted, and he was brought to the hospital. From time to time at the beginning his family would take him home but as his illness progressed the home visits became less and less, and the pattern reversed, his family let him be hospitalized, but they were there, night and day sometimes. His father, an engineer was always trying new things, some way for Joey to have his tube feeding more efficiently. His Mom was a smart, bright a petite woman with tremendous spirit and energy, and faith. The years passed, Joey slid away from the real world surely and slowly, unresponsive most of the time.

I have a memory of helping Joeys' nurse one evening, and of his Dad sitting there talking to us as we worked around his son, and when I looked at him more closely I noticed he was making little nurses caps out of Styrofoam drinking glasses and drawing black bands on them with a marker. Yellow bands for the LPNs' were there too. And he was putting names on the little caps and decorating Joeys' room which was as much like a room at home as it could be after seven years in the hospital. The image of that father making those little caps, sitting in the big chair with an air of resignation, was an image I have never forgotten.

By now, after all those years, his Mom had returned to work, but came to visit every lunch hour, his father came in the evening, his sister was at University but she brought her big smile into his room when she came home on break, his brother visited but not as often, he was too heartbroken to watch this happen to his younger brother. And the years just passed for Joey as he fell deeper and deeper into the coma.

The nurses loved him. He was special. Our hospital staff from the cook in our kitchen to the Administrator would drop in and say hello. He had music playing most of the time, his parents had found he was less agitated if he had certain types of music. He was a baby again, and he received the Tender Loving Care babies deserve. But he was a very sick boy.

Joeys' parents were friends of Frank and Dolores, and Joeys' brother was a friend of their son. So Santa knew Joey too, and so did Mrs.Claus. And every Christmas Eve, regardless of weather, regardless of commitments to any other event, Joeys' parents took him home. Feeding pumps, a suction machine, medications, everything making the corner next to the Christmas tree a mini-hospital. His family was sure he knew he was home, that he knew Christmas, and remembered, and maybe he did. They took turns, all the family members of staying awake all night to care for him, and thethey loved having him home.

So Christmas Eve became a special time for a very sick and very special boy and his family, because not only was Joey home, but Mr.& Mrs. Claus always dropped by. They did it every year, even after Joeys' sister married and was home for Christmas with her husband, the tradition carried on.

We would turn the car-sleigh into the long driveway, bounce out of the car into the frosty air, and run toward the house that was so beautifully decked out for the season. And we go right in and right to Joeys' bedside, Santa would talk a little while, then he would ring his bells, and it never failed, JOEY WOULD SMILE! He knew the sound of the bells, he knew Santas' voice, a memory somewhere deep inside from long ago still remained and he would smile. That made Christmas perfect for everybody, that smile was magic! And as the years passed and the Christmas seasons came and went Joey deteriorated, but he still smiled at the Christmas bells. It was truly amazing, and truly a gift to everyone who loved him.


At age twenty-one , after all those years of illness, Joey passed away. His Mom and Dad were grief stricken, now, but he was really gone forever. But time healed, and his mother smiled again, his father carried on with his work, and they remembered the long years of illness, never bitter, but longed for things to have not been that way. They were parents who went above and beyond the call of duty for their sick son. They had no regrets.

And Santa and Mrs. Claus had no regrets either. I remember the tiny nurses caps strung around the hospital room, the Christmas Santa bells ringing, a very sick boy smiling, and a Mr.& Mrs. Santa standing beside a mother and father watching the smile, and tears running down their faces.

It was indeed Christmas then, you could feel it in the air, with the Christmas music playing softly, and Joeys' sister standing next to her brother holding her own baby boy. Joey had a life of eighteen years, even though he was ill, he had a life. And he had a smile that enriched others' lives, and made others appreciate the things we take so for granted I think Joey has Christmas bells whenever he wants them now, and all his favorite nurses, and he can enjoy his gifts. But the best gift of all he left for us, the memory of that CHRISTMAS SMILE!


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