The lady with the oxygen tank somehow willed herself to the piano at White Oak Manor nursing home. Christmas held her heart together.
Frances Addis, 79, battling heart disease, under hospice care, near death not long before, had no music. She had more.
She had love.
She closed her eyes and thought of her husband of 58 years, Clarence. Clarence Addis, a handsome airman snatched from the grasp of her friend – because love is fate, not choice. They knew at first glance that love was not a choice, but the march of an army that could not lose.
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“He was so handsome,” Frances said.
“She was beautiful,” said Clarence. “Still is.”
Frances had watched Clarence go home like Clarence did every day, after hours and hours by her side, from the nursing home. Clarence went home to an empty house and a heart that was cracked but refused to break.
“I was here all alone for six months and I thought about my wife,” Clarence Addis said. “I prayed she would be strong enough to come home and we would be together.”
At 89 years old, Clarence Addis still had a crush on his wife. The feeling was mutual. Love traveled miles in an instant.
Back at the nursing home, Frances started to play the Christmas carols from memory. The roof jumped off the building.
“It just came out – it was festive,” Addis said. “People were singing and they were holding hands. It was beautiful.”
From her heart, and the music and the words flowed out. Other residents and staff joined in because people become as close as friends and even family at these places of life and, often, death.
“I thought as I played about going home for Christmas,” Frances Addis said. “If I could get home to my husband, my world would be complete.”
She sang the carols rejoicing Christ the savior and why there is a holiday called Christmas, because faith and Frances Addis – who grew up poor, as all did on the mill hills of Chester – are one and the same. One popular Christmas song, “I’ll be home for Christmas,” that she first heard as a child just 8 years old, was not played.
The Bing Crosby song came out during World War II when Clarence was joining the Navy so he could help save the world.
That was the song playing among others one time a few years years later when Clarence was stationed in Japan and his wife and their tiny son, Tom, were in America. It was the only Christmas in six decades the couple ever were apart.
The song ends with the soldier saying he would be home for Christmas “if only in my dreams.”
Frances Addis had those dreams, too. But Frances Addis was not going anywhere. She had oxygen tanks and enough medications to start a drug store in the nursing home. She had nurses’ and doctor’s orders and Hospice and Community Care because she once had been so close to death the flowers were ordered.
The miracle of Christmas was the birth of Jesus, anybody will tell you. Not a miracle of an old lady who clings to her faith and her husband with all the strength of a lion grabbing a gazelle by the throat.
Turns out everybody was wrong.
Frances Addis rallied. She prayed and she held Clarence’s hand and the two looked into each others’ eyes like young lovers staring over a malt with two straws at a drug store, just as they did when they were courting so long ago.
It didn’t matter then or now that Clarence had the name “Ruth” tattooed on his arm while in the service as military guys did back then, from a long ago girl. He sat with his wife and helped will her back.
A dual program at the nursing home, coupled with hospice, was not a death watch. It was a race to meet Christmas.
“The professionalism, the faith, all of it together, helped me,” Frances Addis said. “Race, creed, color, it mattered not. So many people helped me get better.”
Frances had gotten better after her health was precarious at best only weeks before, said Megan Dyer, a hospice nurse who has helped the Addis family from the beginning. But she was doing better so plans were made.
Not for Christmas at the nursing home, or the Wayne T. Patrick Hospice House. But at home. What Frances Addis calls “our little house.”
Days of planning turned into Monday, a long day of walkers and oxygen tubes and medications and getting Frances delivered to the house.
Frances walked in and Clarence was so happy his feet barely touched the floor as he walked. The couple had decided to go to Christmas services at their home church, Newkirk Baptist, even if it took a string of bearers to get Frances in.
Hopsice has worked out a nine-day home visit – as long as Frances is strong enough to make it.
“I will make it,” Frances said. “Christmas is a celebration of the miracle of Jesus, and peace and goodwill toward men. That is not some saying. It is real.”
Frances Addis, who looked death in the eye and death blinked first, ought to know.
Frances hopes that her health improves to the point where she becomes a volunteer at the nursing home and hospice, not a patient.
“I want to share all that I have received – love and care and faith,” Frances said. “It helped me. There is no doubt.”
Clarence Addis was asked what he wanted for Christmas.
“I want her to feel good, I want her to feel better and be happy,” Clarence said. “I want us to be with each other.”
He said that as he held hands with his wife of six decades.
Frances Addis was asked what she wanted for Christmas. She did not hesitate. She held her hand on top of her husband’s hand, and she looked him deep in the eyes and said: “I already have what I wanted for Christmas.”
Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065