by Marion McNaught via Karen Careless from Gibsons, BC
Dec 17, 11
It was Christmas Eve on the Children's Ward and the few small lights on the equally small tree in the centre of the room reflected softly on the rows of white metal cribs and small, white beds that lined both sides of the ward. Although it was only seven thirty in the evening, all of the parents had left reluctantly an hour before and the children had been settled for the night. Each had received the necessary bedtime treatments and medications. It was time to sleep, but only the very young and the very ill had done so; all the other children sat quietly and despondently in their beds, their eyes wide open in their small somber faces.
Everyone--staff as well as children--longed to be home with families and friends on this special night. Each child's face showed the anxiety and fear: would Santa know they were not at home in their own beds and, if he did know, would he be able to find them in that frightening maze of corridors and connecting doors that led to this place where they must be on Christmas Eve? Oh yes, there had been a Santa come to visit the ward that afternoon. He wore a red suit and had a long white beard. He jingled his bells constantly and called out frequently in a loud voice, "ho, ho, ho!" He even left each of them a small gift. But, sadly, he had left no joy. As the lights in the big ward were dimmed for the night, the staff became aware of a tall figure standing in the doorway. He spoke to no one and, although visiting hours were over, none of us spoke to him, for our visitor was a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in his full dress uniform. He stood for several minutes surveying the ward, thus enabling the children to get their first glimpse of his Stetson hat, scarlet tunic, breeks and shining brown leather boots. A chorus of small gasps filled the room as the young patients registered their delight. To the staff, our visitor represented the law but, to the children, he was a symbol of mystery and adventure. He walked quickly to the first small bed, pulled up the nearest chair and began an earnest and private conversation with its young occupant. We could not hear what he was saying and he obviously did not intend us to hear, for his words were only for that child. He stayed for a few minutes and then moved quietly to the next bed.
Later he stood silently by the crib of a very ill baby, holding the small hand in his for several minutes and then leaning over to place a gentle kiss on the forehead of the sleeping child. His conversations varied with each little person. Some were somber and soft, some were very private whispers; others became quite animated and jolly. He stayed approximately the same length of time with each child as he moved steadily around the ward, not missing a single bed. Our visitor left as silently as he had come. There were no "Ho, ho, ho" cries, no calls of "Merry Christmas" and no parcels, but each child had received a priceless gift—that of a few minutes of someone's undivided attention, a few minutes of being a very special person. Two hours later when the evening supervisor made her routine rounds, I mentioned the visitor and she said, "Oh I'm sorry, I should have told you. He comes each Christmas Eve to visit the children. You see he lost his own son on this ward several years ago. It was at this time of year and, every year since, he has made a visit in his memory."