Rose is 105 years old. It was as if we gave her a leap back in time at last night’s stocking delivery. With the awe-struck face of a child, Rose marveled over Santa being at her bedside. Her granddaughter described the life of this incredible woman; Rose was the oldest of six children who became the mother of all at the tender age of nine, when their mother died suddenly. She’s now outlived them all and going stronger than meets the eye. These are the stories of The Stocking Project. It is more than handing a patient a stocking and singing a song — it is a privileged window in time.
We stepped away from Rose’s bedside and into an incredible conversation with yet another centenarian. “You have my middle name,” I told 100-year-old Margaret, as she gripped my hand with a firmness that surprised and delighted me. “You will make 100 too,” she said with a certainty in her voice. “I like to walk but I need someone with me … will you go walk with me?” She asked, as another one of our volunteers stepped into the room. Sandy’s eyes filled with tears as Margaret reached out to her exclaiming, “I know you!” Like a clip from Driving Miss Daisy, they hugged with knowings of a deeper story.
Turns out, Sandy is Miss Margaret’s driver (for her and other residents in a nearby senior community). Overhearing Margaret’s request to go walking, Sandy’s eyes filled with bittersweet tears. It’s been over a year since Sandy’s mom was overcome by Alzheimer’s, making walking an impossibility. It was then that Sandy saw a need; her mother’s retired rollator (walker) became a gift of mobility and stability for Margaret. Paths cross, lives merge, and gifts of the heart are forever magnified, often leaving us awe-struck and amazed. As dinner trays began arriving I made a promise to return on Christmas Eve, to go strolling “around 11:00 am works best,” as I duly noted from Margaret.
The Stocking Project requires a certain amount of quiet courage. There are decisions made on the fly as we get in tune with the nurses at Fort Walton Beach Medical Center. Extra precautions indicates extra struggles, and an uncanny ability to love them through a privileged moment in time. Dialing it back for some and taking it up a notch for others. Some want the group of carolers while others prefer just one or two merry visitors. My heart melted for the man who took mine and Santa’s hands to relay his burdens and life choices as if we were a vessel for penance. An unmistakable peace filled that hospital room as Santa gave the man a gift of reassurance. Knock after knock, song after song, hope permeates their hearts and ours.
It is often said, Christmas is a magical time. That kind of magic doesn’t come through a store-bought gift. It is experienced, through a loving touch, a listening ear, and in the words of a song. It quietly unfolds before your eyes, like when a patient’s anxiety and difficulty breathing is transformed into steady-paced lyrics calmly emerging from her lips. Such magical moments evidence as painful moans dissipate through prayers said and hugs exchanged. This is the bittersweet of The Stocking Project and of life itself. This is a privileged window in time, experienced since 2011, and amounting to some 30,000 stockings being delivered with Team Music is Love teammates around the nation. This season of giving and easing the cancer journey should not cease in the turning of a calendar page.
With every passing year, we come away more blessed than when we arrived. A generous donation from the Destin Elks Lodge filled the stockings we delivered last night. Every season, the medical team welcomes us with open arms and pure delight. Our volunteers come from seven cities, some having fought and some still fighting cancer, most being military veterans, all having loved others through it, some with musical and photography gifts to share, and all with a voice of hope through song. The Stocking Project will always be more than handing a patient a stocking — it is absolutely a privileged window in time. It is a living legacy of precious hope.