When I was in high school, my entire group of Horizon Club girls became Candy Striper Hospital Volunteers. Each week we gave a minimum of two hours each as volunteers; some gave many more. On Wednesdays, several of us worked at the Arroyo Grande Convalescent Hospital. We read to residents, helped with feeding, ran errands, filled water pitchers, and too heartbreakingly often were the only visitors since the previous week. At the dinner table I would share the day’s stories with my family, sobbing in frustration and sadness for those whose families had forgotten them. Daddy would say, “If it is so hard, why do you keep going back?” “If I don’t do it, who will?” would always be my answer.
Convalescent hospitals have changed for the better over the past 50 years, but they are still often places for elderly residents whose families cannot or will not care for them. Visitors from outside are an appreciated blessing. Activity program budgets are small or non-existent, and the hours can drag by very slowly.
A couple of weeks ago someone on the “You know you’re from Visalia when…” Facebook group asked what there was to do around here for free, and someone suggested Christmas caroling. The word spread, a small gathering formed, one of my co-workers passed on the information, and I found myself with a group of mostly strangers at the Delta Convalescent Hospital this morning, ready to sing. We were a motley crew, ranging in age from about 6 to mid-60s.
As we sang through our repertoire of upbeat, popular Christmas songs (the Twelve Days of Christmas, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, etc.) the residents in the day room sat in varying degrees of engagement. Some seemed completely unaware of our presence, others beamed and mouthed the words, a couple sang along. I know my heart gained more from them than they did from us. And I hope we made their morning a little less tedious, gave them glimpses of Christmas past. There was a smattering of applause when we finished, along with tentative “Merry Christmas” wishes.
All together, the group sang at four convalescent homes today. Our investment was only in time…time spent thinking about others besides ourselves and our immediate families. I know I came away heartened by the opportunity to brighten the day for these frail, elderly folks and their caregivers.
What about you? To what are you willing to say, “If I don’t do it, who will?” How can you give of your heart (and perhaps your voice) to the needy/elderly/shut-ins in our community this Christmas? The need is great and the rewards are greater.