Last year, my father went into rehabilitation care and we spent our first Thanksgiving without him. His health’s quick deterioration and his eventual death left me feeling heartbroken and devastated, but it also served as a time of reflection and teaching. With a four month old in my arms, a spunky three year old at my side and a very confused father not understanding his terminal diagnosis, I found the need to embrace each small moment as it was. Annie’s constant need to be close, Mia’s dance routines, my nephew’s Star Wars chatter, and my dad’s gentle chuckles were small moments at the time and now are memories that I hold dearly in my heart to this day.

The generosity of others during those days also filled my heart with love and gratitude. A childhood family friend and her daughter came to sit with my dad and daughters and nephew so my mom, brother, sister-in-law and I could share a dinner out. Another family friend sat with us and shared many stories from “back in the day,” which brought light and joy to all of us. Meals filled my mom’s refrigerator from family members. These kind gestures reminded me of the precious impact of reaching out to others.

All that we have to give at any given moment: the true meaning of the holiday season.

A few months ago, a TOAM board member suggested a December activity for residents at long-term rehabilitation facility. I felt compelled to realize this mission because I knew just how much it could mean to both the residents and their families.

I reached out to Kelcey at Cloud 9 Workshop to help us with this project.  Kelcey can bring out artistic creativity in every child she meets. I know because I’ve seen her do it with my daughter and countless other children. She eagerly partnered with us to create holiday lanterns to share with TOAM’s playgroup friends at St. John’s on the Lake, an assisted living facility in Milwaukee.

Thirteen families joined in Cloud 9 Workshop’s studio space, and the gifts shared in this one hour far surpassed the beautiful lanterns that we will give to our friends at St. John’s. The glowing smile of a daughter looking to her mom for affirmation, the child meticulously painting each space on the jar with glue, the little boy finding just the right piece of tissue paper to add color to the lantern, the sweet baby “squawks” and “coos” in the background, the mom who got very little sleep the night before realizing “I made it out of the house today!” and the grandma who led her granddaughter to her first Cloud 9 experience. The studio space was filled with all that we have to give in that moment.

As our little ones share the finished products next week at St. John’s, I plan to put aside my “to do lists” and my hurried thoughts to simply soak in the gifts that will shine brightly in the resident’s rooms. The full circle of giving and receiving the lanterns will be complete, but the ripples of joy and love will carry on.

Lynn (mom of Mia and Annie)