There is perhaps no time where we feel the power of music quite like Christmas. As we enter the festive season, we revisit this beautiful blog post from former Room 217 staff member Jane Twohey. Her first-hand story reminds us that music can carry memories and meaning that transcends words, and that the music of our lives can see us through some of the most poignant moments of our lives.
Dad loved Christmas! Trimming the tree, baking cookies, making rum-soaked Christmas cake, putting up Grandpa’s train, going to midnight mass, Christmas was Dad’s favourite time of year. What I remember most about Christmas past was Dad’s constant singing. Dad never learned how to play an instrument but Dad sure loved to sing. He belted out Christmas carols completely off key but he didn’t care. Dad loved his beloved Christmas music.
His two favourite carols were the Little Drummer Boy and Silent Night. Every year as a family, we watched the animated Christmas classic: The Little Drummer Boy on TV and I remember one night seeing tears in Dad’s eyes as he hummed along with the little drummer boy playing his drum and singing for his saviour. There was something tender about the Little Drummer Boy song that seemed to touch my Dad’s spirit.
On Christmas Eve, we went to Midnight Mass and Dad always nodded off. The combination of the late hour and too much eggnog always put him to sleep but the minute a hymn started, he quickly joined in with the choir, never missing a beat. His voice echoed in our old local church as he sang the sacred hymn, Silent Night. I was sure the entire neighbourhood was waking up to the sound of Dad’s voice at the midnight hour.
The Christmas of 1998, Dad went into the hospital. He developed leukemia in the latter stage of his life and we gathered Christmas Day at his bedside. I handed him my Christmas present. As I wandered the mall that year I had found a little drummer boy tree ornament at Hallmark and with choked back tears, Dad silently hung it on the little hospital TV across his bed.
Dad rallied for the next few months but in Sept of 1999, Dad’s long journey with cancer caught up with him. Dad slipped into a coma overnight and we knew that the end was near. As we gathered around his bedside at the Grand River Hospital in Kitchener, with tears rolling down our cheeks we each said our good-bye. Feeling helpless and not knowing what to do, my younger sister slipped out of the room. About 30 minutes later, she came back with a CD player from home and an armful of his favourite Christmas CDs.
Although in a coma, my sister knew that Dad’s spirit would be lifted with the familiar Christmas music. Later that afternoon, Dad’s breathing slowed down as the CD player began to play the final song.
Accompanied with his favourite sacred hymn: Silent Night, Dad took his final breath. After the doctor made the proclamation, my family joined hands around Dad and triumphantly finished the final chorus of Silent Night.
“Silent Night, Holy Night, all is calm, all is bright…Sleep in heavenly peace.”
The little drummer boy tree ornament now hangs on my family’s tree as my dad sleeps in heavenly peace. The legacy hymn of my Dad continues in my own spirit and each December when I hear, Silent Night, I remember my Dad and our ‘Christmas in September.’