The nursing home felt sad and lonely throughout the holiday season. Christmas carols played over and over sounded tinny, and could barely be heard. Decorations didn't do much to spruce up the building. It was called a nursing home, but it was no home.
I always volunteered to work my seven p.m. to seven a.m. shift on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day so someone who had young children could have the time off. We had been promised food for Christmas Eve, but by the time I arrived, the sandwich makings in the employee kitchen looked unpalatable. The lettuce turned brown. The cheese had a crust. The bread had gone AWOL.
I went about my rounds, as usual. All my patients were settled in bed. We had almost reached midnight when I entered Josie's room. I needed to check the flow of her oxygen and turn her from one side to the other in an attempt to prevent bed sores.
Josie was still awake. She looked sad, as she so often did. As I worked, I chatted and questioned her about the past. I hoped to bring out a happy remembrance of the holiday. Her memory was spotty, but she valiantly sought words so she could talk to me.
I wish the Lord would take me now, Josie moaned. I just want to die.
I remained quiet. She might tell me what troubled her.
When I was young, she said, I had a baby, but my husband wouldn't marry me. He married me later, but he wouldn't marry me then. I lied to all my friends at church and said I was a married woman. I . . . I . . . was embarrassed and scared that people would find out.
I couldn't take it anymore after a while, and I tried to drown myself because I was so ashamed. But it didn't work. My daughter knows about it. She says, Why didn't you leave him? I tell her I didn't have anyplace to go. Where would I go?
A lot of women have that problem, I said.
I've always been so afraid that God won't forgive me for having a baby when I wasn't married and for trying to kill myself.
We talked more. Josie opened her heart to me as she continued the story of abuse by her husband. He came in occasionally for visits. He didn't appear very nice. Josie's daughter was notorious for her nasty attitude toward staff members and her mother. The daughter came in for lunch every day. When she thought no one saw, she ate the food from her mother's meal tray.
When Josie stopped talking, I said, You know, it's Christmas.
It is? she asked, surprised.
Yes, it is, and I can promise you that God forgives you. As soon as you ask his forgiveness, he grants it. You don't have to ask him over and over.
I didn't know that, Josie said. Her eyes grew wider. She seemed more awake and in control of her faculties.
I had to move on to my next patient. Merry Christmas, I told Josie as I kissed her soft cheek.
Merry Christmas, she answered. And don't tell the other girls what I did.
I won't tell anyone, I promised.
I left her room and spotted a handsome young man at the nurses' station. We rarely had a visitor in the middle of the night.
I hurried toward him. May I help you? I asked.
I'm sorry to come in the middle of the night, but it's the only time I can get here. I want to see my grandmother. Her name is Josie W______.
I'll take you to her, I said. She's awake.
I ushered him to the door of her room. I saw a smile--a real smile--cross her face. I had never seen her smile before.
I heard the scrape of a chair as he pulled it over to sit next to her.
Their voices became murmurs.
I thanked God for the gift of the grandson's visit. I had never seen him before, and I never saw him again.
After that night, Josie seemed more at peace. It served her well when she developed a bed sore on her leg that led to the amputation of the limb. She was still alive when I had to quit my job to move away.