Home Opinion Civiletti Denise Civiletti Finding joy in unexpected places

Denise Civiletti
Finding joy in unexpected places

This is a time of year for feeling completely overwhelmed. Presents yet to buy, a house to clean, gifts to wrap, a dinner to plan, shop for and cook.

But this year it seems to be worse than ever. If I could just postpone Christmas about a week…

So last night when Peter suggested I take a couple of hours and visit the skilled nursing facility with him, our daughters and a group of their friends for Christmas caroling, my knee-jerk reaction was an Ebenezer-like “no way.” I heard myself begin to recite the litany of things that needed my immediate — or sooner — attention. But something tugged at me inside. And I heard my grandmother’s voice as she told me long ago to always take time to enjoy my kids.

“Everything else will always be there long after they’re grown up and gone,” she’d said to me wistfully one day, when I was — no doubt — fretting about how much there was to do.

I closed the cover on my Macbook and headed out into the cool evening air.

It was the best decision I’d made in a long time.

For the next couple of hours I tagged along with the traveling choir as they visited patients’ rooms and sang in beautiful harmony the carols of the season. My spirits were lifted, not just by the pride I felt in these kids — who take it upon themselves to do this every year for no reason other than to make people happy — but also by the expressions of joy worn by the people who received their gift of song. Each one lit up like the brightest star on the tree as they listened and nodded and even sang along.

Many of the folks who live in a nursing home have little joy left in their lives. So overwhelmed were they by this expression of caring, many were moved to tears as the kids sang to them. I shed a few myself — especially as we rounded the corner on the south end of the wing, where Room 3135 comes into view and the memories come flooding back.

That was my mother-in-law’s room, where she spent the last three years of her life. It’s very familiar to our kids, who were there just about every day after Peter’s mom suffered a debilitating stroke in August 2000. Katie and Courtney, just 8 and 7 years old at the time, have only fuzzy memories of their Grandma before the hospital. That makes me very sad.

But then I think of the joy those two little girls gave to others then — and the joy they got in return from the love of their Grandma, her roommate Helen Hochheiser, and the other residents, whom they still fondly remember — especially Ralph.

Maybe that’s some of what inspires them to go back there each Christmas and sing.

It’s all about the joy, isn’t it? Joy is what comes from love. And love is the reason for Christmas.

I’m so grateful to have that reminder last night.

I’m writing this in the hope of spreading some of that joy around. No matter how busy you are or how much you have to do, slow down, stop for a bit and let some joy into your life today.

Carolers in 2011, from left: Hannah Keiffert, Katie Blasl, Emil Breitenbach, James Yaiullo, Peter Cybulski, Michael Marangoni, Courtney Blasl and Kayla Lessard.

Editor’s note: 

This column was originally published Dec. 23, 2011. Last night, the carolers returned to Peconic Bay Medical Center’s Skilled Nursing Facility as they do every year at this time, to spread a little holiday cheer.  I tagged along — overcoming the same urge to be diligent about fulfilling other obligations, again at the urging of my wise husband. I was thinking about writing a column about it, and then realized (thanks to Facebook “Memories”) that I already had.  I’m sharing it again today in the hope of spreading that joy around again.

We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


Denise Civiletti is an owner of East End Local Media Corp., publishers of SoutholdLOCAL and RiverheadLOCAL. An award-winning reporter, including a “Writer of the Year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015, she is an attorney, former Riverhead Town councilwoman (1988-1991) and former co-publisher and executive editor of The Suffolk Times.  The views expressed in this column are hers alone.
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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.