Four days before Christmas, the typically quiet geriatric psychiatry unit on the 7th floor underwent an abrupt change. Carolers began a morning of holiday cheer there, performing for a group of patients in the recreation room.
“Love and joy come to you, and to you your wassail, too, and God bless you and send you a happy new year, and God send you a happy new year,” sang Rose Guccione of Chicago’s Lyric Opera. Kate Eakin of Columbia College’s Sherwood Conservatory accompanied her on oboe. As they performed a half dozen volunteer “elves” passed out gifts to patients.
One woman’s face broke into a giant grin of disbelief as an elf handed her a stuffed teddy bear. “Is this really for me?” she asked. The elf nodded. “Oh, thank you! Thank you,” the woman said.
Sue Phelan of Home Instead Senior Care has organized the event at Weiss for the past five years, bringing together carolers and gift givers. During the weeks leading up to the holidays, people donated gifts via trees set up in banks and stores throughout Chicago. Then Phelan and a group of volunteers wrapped the gifts and brought them to Weiss to pass out while the carolers performed.
“This is about reaching out to people who would otherwise have an isolated Christmas,” Phelan explained, tears gathering at the corners of her eyes. This year, volunteer elves passed out more than 50 gifts, including throw blankets and stuffed animals, to Weiss patients.
The carolers provided a spirited soundtrack. They visited the front lobby, the fifth floor and surgery recovery rooms, performing in the corridors outside patient rooms. “God bless your voice—and you!” a patient transporter said, stopping to listen to “Silent Night.”
“It’s so gratifying to see people cheer up,” Guccione said. “And sometimes it’s sad, but it’s still gratifying to see.”
Eakin knows this firsthand. As the carolers proceeded to Seasons Hospice, Eakin shared stories from when her father once spent the holidays in a hospital. The experience was frightening, she said, but showed her and her family what was truly important to them.
That sentiment keeps Phelan coming back every year. “This is what Christmas is about. It’s so great to see the joy you bring,” she said.