COLUMN: Santa visits rekindle the spirit of the season

Daniel St. Andrews wasn't exactly feeling the spirit of Christmas, but his holiday cheer was revived after visiting hospital patients.

By Daniel St. Andrews, Special to the Peace Arch News

It was the morning of Christmas Eve, and once again it didn’t feel like Christmas.

I was having a coffee and looking at one of those family portraits, and I got homesick – I missed my mom and dad and family, and those magical Christmases we shared together in Ontario. I missed not having that special feeling that I used to get every year.

A couple of years ago, I bought a ton of outdoor Christmas lights and decorated all of the hedges, evergreens and fence. I had just finished my cancer treatments and didn’t know how many more Christmases I would be around for – desperately hoping the lights would bring back that special Christmas feeling.

It didn’t.

So last year I bought a Santa Claus outfit for a visit to BC Cancer Agency’s Fraser Valley Centre – where I was treated and where I have been volunteering every week for the past 16 months – at Surrey Memorial Hospital.

As I made my way through the various clinics, patients’ eyes would light up with excitement. I was hearing voices from all sides – things like: “Hi Santa!” and “Merry Christmas, Santa” and “Hey Santa, can we get a picture of you with us?”

Within five minutes that special feeling returned, and I was a kid again.

I didn’t rush home and decorate the house with lights, though. In fact, within hours of leaving the centre I lost the feeling, which made me really sad.

So, on the morning of Christmas Eve, I decided to get dressed as Santa Claus again, and return to the cancer centre.

As soon as I walked into the lobby, a woman ran up to me, pleading, “Oh Santa, could I get a picture with you and my mom?” I said, “Sure – ho, ho ho!”

The mother slowly walked up to me. She was in her patient gown and was wearing a Christmas hat. I gave her a hug and posed for the picture, when her daughter suddenly said, “Mom, why are you crying?”

I squeezed her closer and she stared up at me, with tears rolling down her cheek: “Because I never thought I would ever meet Santa Claus!”

I kissed her on the cheek and whispered, “I will always be with you.”

I toured the cancer centre and then walked down the hall to the hospital and took the elevator up to 51 North – the oncology floor. I had been a patient there several times during my cancer treatments, when I was at my lowest point.

I walked into each patient’s room and wished them all a happy holiday.

On my way back to the elevator, I noticed a ‘Palliative Care’ sign over the entrance to another wing, where the very sick and/or terminally ill patients are.

I walked into the ward and all of the medical staff were surprised to see Santa. After posing for several photos, I asked if it would be OK to say hello to the patients. They replied in unison:“Of course you can – you’re Santa Claus!”

I made my way around the ward, entering each of the rooms and holding the hand of each of the patients. I didn’t know what to say, but what suddenly burst out of my mouth was “I know that you’ve always believed in me and I just wanted to drop by to say hello.”

One patient – an older man wearing a Christmas hat – said he had awoken that morning excited with the hope that maybe a friend or family member might drop by for a visit.

But none had… until Santa Claus.

He held my hand for the longest time and just stared at me. He then muttered, “Thank you, Santa. Merry Christmas.”

I turned to leave his room – I didn’t want him to see me cry.

After all, he believed in Santa Claus.

And now, so do I.

Daniel St. Andrews is a volunteer in the chemo room at Fraser Valley Centre, an actor and a blogger – www.danielstandrews.net

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