This story is different than what I usually write. It was inspired by a sweet little girl who has gone through one of the worst battles a child can have- Cancer. This story is fiction, not her real story; however it is some children’s real story every single day. I hope you stick with me for the three days this story will take to tell and know that there is a happy ending. You can be part of making it a happy ending for those real children who are going through this battle. Consider making a donation to St. Jude Children’s Research Center. You can do that here. If you do Donate consider doing so in Honor of my inspiration: Lanae Davis. Enjoy Part one of Healing Santa.-PG
The week before Christmas, Gerald Daniels sat in the pew listening to the announcements. It had been a tough year since his wife Darlene had passed away from the cancer she had fought for so long. Now he did everything by routine. Nothing seemed to matter since her death. He ate when he always ate. He went to church on Sunday because that was what he was supposed to do. He went to the store when the fridge was bare, and to the laundry when he had no clean clothes. Other than that, he was just waiting for his time to be up so that he could be with Darlene once again.
Something pulled him from his thoughts. “We really need one of you gentlemen to volunteer to be Santa, as our normal Santa is in the hospital with double pneumonia himself. If you are willing to help at all, please see me in the lobby after the service.” The woman who had been speaking went to her seat, and the service continued with the choir singing some Christmas Carol that Gerald didn’t hear. The woman’s request kept rattling around in his head. “We need one of you gentlemen to be Santa.”
Gerald was Santa at the local mall every year – every year, that is, except this one. This year the thought of sitting for hours every day listening to little children tell him how they’d been good and wanted the latest high-tech or popular toy was just too much. When the mall manager had called and asked if he wanted to fill the chair again, Gerald had told him that he was still grieving and didn’t think it was a good idea. “Well, I know the kids will miss you, Mr. Daniels. You have been the only Santa some of them have ever known and the best one we’ve ever had here at the mall. If you decide you want to come back before the season ends just let me know.”
Gerald thanked him and hung up.
That was the last he’d even thought about the holidays until now. He had his own Santa suit. Darlene had ordered it for him for his second year as Santa. She wanted one that fit him correctly and was of higher quality than the one the mall provided him. The fact that he was already a right jolly size and “shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly” and had the white hair and beard had garnered him a great little side business to supplement his retirement. Not only did he work the mall, several local companies also hired him to work their parties. The only place he’d never played Santa was at the church. They had their own resident Santa, who apparently was sick this year.
Gerald couldn’t get out of his head the idea of helping out the church throughout the whole service. He didn’t hear the wonderful singing, the prayers or praises, he couldn’t have told you what the pastor had preached about if it would have won him a million dollars. All he could think about was that Santa suit that Darlene had bought him and how much joy she had gotten from sneaking into the mall and watching him with the town’s children. The one thing they had always wanted and never gotten was children. It was as if she was whispering to him from Heaven itself. “Do this, Gerald. Put away your grief and make the children happy.”
Without even realizing it, Gerald found himself in the lobby looking for the young woman who had made the announcement. He saw here standing by a box into which people were placing donations. Probably to buy the gifts that Santa would hand to the kids. He wondered, what did the church need a Santa for, anyway? Was it a breakfast with Santa thing or a church Christmas party? Were they hosting some of the poor in the community? It didn’t really matter, he knew he’d do it. He approached the young woman and realized that he knew her; she was the youth pastor’s wife and had come by the house often once Darlene had gotten so she couldn’t get out anymore. She’d helped his wife with a bath and other things that she wouldn’t allow him to help with. The woman had spent hours talking to his wife and reading scripture and Christian books to her. What was her name again? Valerie, that was her name. She smiled when she saw him heading her way. “Mr. Daniels. How are you getting along?”
“One day at a time, Valerie, one day at a time.”
“I’ve been praying for you since Darlene’s passing. She was worried about you the most the last time I saw her.”
“I know she was. Look, you said something about needing a Santa?”
“Yes. I know you’ve been the mall Santa forever; I never would have even hoped you’d be willing to help us out. I hear you’re great.”
“Not this year. I just didn’t feel like sitting there pretending to be jolly all day every day.”
“Well, this won’t take more than a couple of hours and it’s on Christmas Eve. We’ll meet here at the church at noon and we’re expected to start at one. I’ll need to have your clothing sizes so I can rent the costume.”
“That won’t be necessary. I have my own.”
“Oh, how wonderful. That’s great, Mr. Daniels, I don’t know how we can ever thank you enough.”
“Don’t worry about it. When I heard you say you needed a Santa, it was like Darlene was right there saying I needed to do this.”
“Well, it sure is an answer to prayer. Those kids need all the love and hope they can get, and what is more loving and hopeful at Christmas than Santa?”
“Not much, I figure.”
“Will you be okay with the sharing of the love of Jesus as the reason for the season part of our program?”
“Not a bit. I reckon if it weren’t for him we wouldn’t have a Santa since the real Saint Nicholas just wanted to remind kids that God loved them enough to send them Jesus.”
“That’s great, then we’ll see you Friday at noon. We’ll travel there together in the church van.”
Gerald was confused; he’d thought this was something happening here at the church. He’d missed something, he knew, but wasn’t about to admit it.
“That’s fine, I’ll see you at noon.”
The young woman grabbed him and hugged him. “This is so brave of you, Mr. Daniels. Thank you again.”
Now Gerald was really confused – how could playing Santa for a couple of hours be something brave? “Sure, don’t mention it.”
He extracted himself from the embrace and hurried out to his car and home. He wanted to get the suit out and take it to the cleaners. It wouldn’t do for Santa to smell like mothballs. The shoes and belt would need a good cleaning and polishing, too. The velvet bag that had come with the suit would be a nice touch. As much as he hated to admit it, he was looking forward to donning the suit and making someone smile, even if it was for a few hours.
Gerald had just come back from picking up the Santa Suit from the cleaners. His whole mood had changed since Sunday. Where before he had simply existed, he now stopped by the barbers and had them trim his hair and beard. On the way home from the cleaners, he’d stopped at the beauty supply store and bought a couple of bottles of white dye to make sure his hair and beard was the perfect snowy white. But the newfound desire to take care of himself wasn’t just about being Santa. He’d cleaned up the house and even started thinking of going out to eat somewhere instead of sitting all alone and wallowing in his loss. Things were getting better and easier to start at least thinking about slipping back into the world.
Gerald was thinking about where to go for dinner when the phone rang. “Hello?”
“Hello, Gerald its Pastor Hank from the church. I heard you’d volunteered to help Valerie and the gang out by being Santa for us. I wanted to thank you and make sure you’re all right with the whole situation.”
“I did, Hank. I think Darlene would have wanted me to help. She loved Valerie and she loved seeing me play Santa.”
“I know she did, but are you going to be okay going to the cancer hospital so soon after her passing?”
Gerald’s breath caught in his throat. “The cancer hospital? Why would I go to the cancer hospital?”
“You didn’t realize that you volunteered to play Santa for the children’s ward at the cancer center?”
“No, I uh, well, I guess I missed that part of the announcement.”
“Gerald, if you can’t do it, I’m sure Valerie would understand. Worst case scenario is we dress me up and stuff the costume with one of those fake bellies.”
Gerald wanted to say, “okay, do that”, but he’d never backed out of a commitment and Darlene wouldn’t have wanted him to turn down sick children anyway. But walking into that place again… That place where death won. Where his beloved had finally lost her battle, and to see kids who were fighting the same beast. He just didn’t know if he could do it. On the other hand, how could he not? Those kids, as Valerie had said Sunday, needed love and hope more than any kid he’d ever seen at the mall. “No, don’t do that. I said I’d do it and I’ll do it.”
Hank was silent for a minute. “Are you sure, Gerald? We do understand if you can’t do it.”
Gerald swiped at the tears running down his face. “I’m sure. It’s what Darlene would have wanted. I may not like it but I’m a big boy and it’s the right thing to do.”
“If you’re sure, then I guess we’ll see you Friday.”
“Yep, I’ll be there.” Gerald hung up the phone. Well, wasn’t that a twist of the knife? Cancer kids – of course, it would be cancer kids. Oh, how he wanted to run screaming as far away as he could, but he’d given his word. A man was only as good as his word, so he’d find the strength somehow, someway.
He found himself on his knees praying for the first time since Darlene’s last breath. “Okay, God, you got me into this, so you better help me get through it. I’m still not happy with you taking Darlene from me, but I am glad that she is beyond the pain now. I guess I need you to give me the strength to spend two hours with little kids going through what she did. I know I won’t make it on my own so you’ll have to do it for me.”
The rest of the night Gerald spent on his knees, wiping his face from the tears of fear and emotional pain. He prayed till his voice gave out and cried till he had no tears left. Finally, he drifted off to sleep and awoke on the floor with just one more day till he would put on his suit and be a right jolly old elf.
To be continued tomorrow.