62: Room at the Inn

62: Room at the Inn

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

Room at the Inn

Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.

~Jane Howard

Sitting in the Intensive Care Unit on December 23rd, I began to wonder if the entire world had forgotten about those in the hospital who were sick. It was almost Christmas, yet here we were, my brothers and sisters and I, along with our mom, gathered at the big city hospital in Saskatoon many miles from our home. Our dad was dying, and we’d all put our lives, and Christmas, on hold to be there for him, just as he’d always been for us. We’d been staying across the road in the accommodations that were available for those with family in the hospital. But it was crowded, and my sister and I were sharing a bed. The situation was less than comfortable.

While I was sitting beside Dad in the ICU the lady in the next bed passed away. She was alone. As the nurse pulled the sheet up over her head I took a few minutes to wonder about her loved ones, and to say a prayer for them. A shiver went up my spine as I realized that Dad could be next. We were grown up now, but we still needed him — or perhaps more accurately, we wanted him. We certainly weren’t even close to being ready to let go of our father.

Christmas is such a family time, and I was torn between needing to be there with Dad and Mom, and wanting to be home with my husband and three small children. My sisters and brothers all felt the same. As the day wore on, the problem of how to do both was starting to cause us a lot of anxiety. Tomorrow was Christmas Eve and we were all very stressed. If we could not find room for our families, we all felt we would have to return to our homes for Christmas Eve. But we really did not want to leave Dad and Mom there alone.

My sister Robyn and I then went to the Hospitality Center to see where the nearest place to stay was, and if they might possibly have space for our families.

“There is room for two more, right across the street, for a reasonable fee,” the kind volunteer told us.

“Yes,” I said. “We’ve stayed there for the past few nights, but it is very crowded, and they definitely don’t have room for our families,” I explained. “Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and our husbands and children would like to join us so we can all be together.”

“Well, I don’t know,” she said, shaking her head. Then her face lit up as she was struck by a thought: “Christmas Eve!” she said. “You know what? Some of the hotels in town offer free rooms to anyone with a critically ill family member in the hospital over Christmas.”

I couldn’t believe it. “Really? For free?” I asked incredulously.

“Yes, you just need proof that you have a loved one in the hospital, and I can easily provide you with that document.”

“Wow! What a gift this is!” I said.

“Yes,” exclaimed Robin. “Our families can now come and stay overnight with us so we can all spend Christmas together, but also be here with Dad.”

The woman looked up the number for me, and I called the Saskatoon Inn.

“Do you have any rooms available tomorrow night — for Christmas Eve?” I asked hopefully, explaining the situation.

“We do have two rooms for you, here at the Inn,” confirmed the front desk. “And, because it is Christmas, and your dad is in hospital, there will be no charge.”

Grateful beyond words, we called our families, who immediately began packing up. When they arrived the next day, we all headed over to the Saskatoon Inn to check in.

The hotel had a big Christmas tree, it was beautifully decorated, and the Christmas atmosphere was everywhere. The children simply loved swimming in the pool and going down the waterslide. We noticed other families, who had come prepared, opening gifts. But we didn’t need any gifts — being together and close to Dad was enough.

That year, we all “enjoyed” our Christmas as much as one possibly can when someone you love is dying. The children in particular thought it was a real adventure to stay in a big hotel with a pool, and they really loved the big Christmas tree. The following year, when Robyn’s three-year-old twins heard Christmas was coming, they were quick to ask: “When are we going to the hotel?”

I am so thankful for the blessing that hotel room was to us. Because of our experiences that year, I am much more aware of sick and lonely people who need a little extra loving care at Christmas. And none of us will ever forget that Christmas Eve when the desk clerk said — “Yes, we have room at the Inn.”

~Annie Riess

Unity, Saskatoon

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