Dad’s Coat: A Christmas Story

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ‘ (Matthew 25:40, KJV)

Editor’s Note: Last year, December 2021, I sent this to the faculty at my school. Brother David, who was now serving in Detroit, responded with this note: I will never forget the way that God used me as a tool in this story. Angels are still with us. 


Allen and I are wrapping Christmas presents, enjoying a “Dad moment” as we remember the crazy shapes Ron would wrap presents in so no one could guess the contents. Allen sticks a bow onto a gift–just a plain old shirt box–and whispers to me conspiratorially, “I already knew what I was getting Dad for Christmas.”

“Really?” I say in surprise. “Dad died in July. How could you already know what he needed?”

Allen sighs. I know he is processing the words that will make sense to both him and me. Reconciling himself to his father’s death five months ago has not been an easy process and he is still uncertain of Heaven. 

“Back when I thought Dad might come back…” his voice catches “…I was thinking that Dad needed to be safe and protected. You know, from all the illnesses and stuff.” He looks at me for confirmation and I nod. “So, I wanted to get him a big coat–like the firemen wear–to protect him.”

As always, I am touched by the heart of my autistic son whose concern for his ill father was a focus of most of his life. It is a moment before I can trust my voice to answer. “I am sure Dad would have appreciated that,” I say. “But you know, we gave Dad a new coat last year.“He only wore it once.”

Allen does not reply. He picks up another gift to wrap. “I still wish I could give Dad something.”

So do I, I want to say. But a person who is living in the Heavenly Kingdom has no need of material items. Still, how could we honor Ron and his life? I begin to recall the gifts of years past and the many, many years when we had no money to give anything to each other and scraped together Christmas for our kids. Then, a thought enters my mind.


“You know,” I say casually, “my school is collecting things to give to the homeless population in

Philadelphia. Every Tuesday, Brother David takes a group down to Center City and gives out hats and gloves and scarves.” I take a moment to fight back tears. “How about if we give Dad’s coat away?”

Allen considers it. “We’re sure Dad won’t need it?”

I shake my head. “No. Dad has no need of a coat. You know where he is, Allen. You know he’s not coming back.”

There is a sigh. Allen’s acceptance of his father’s death is still tenuous. “I know,” he whispers.“Sometimes I just like to pretend he is.”

“That’s okay,” I say. “It’s okay to pretend that. So, what do you think? Should we give Dad’s coat away?” I go on wrapping presents as his atypical mind processes the information.

Finally, there is a nod. “Okay. Can I be the one to put it in a bag?”

“Of course,” I say.

The next morning, I pick up the bag Allen has left on the enclosed porch and carry it out to the car. Even though I was the one who suggested it, I am strangely reluctant to give the coat away. It seems so final.

I bought the coat a year ago with hope: hope that Ron’s physical therapy would help him improve to the point where he might be able to leave the house; hope that with assistance  from his nursing aid and the elevator at church he might once again be able to join me at Sunday services; hope that a few small steps taken outside on the sidewalk might lead to a walk around the park, a Saturday in the spring sitting on a park bench watching the boats sail down the Delaware River, a family outing to a Phillies’ game. 

None of which happened. I feel the weight of the lost hopes as I heft the bag into my car and drive to school, my eyes smarting tears, my heart breaking. I carry it into the school and it sits behind my desk, an accusation. Why did I continue to hope? Why did I continue to think things would get better?

Finally, I ask a student to carry the damning bag upstairs to Brother David. I can breathe easier when it is gone. Back home, I only tell Allen I have given the coat to the school.


During the days up to Christmas–my first as a widow– I struggle to maintain some Christmas cheer. I engage with my students and the Christmas traditions of a Catholic high school in the best ways I can: the Ugly Sweater Day, the cookie exchange, the Secret Santa pick. At home I collapse after supper, going to bed early and waking up still tired. I plod along, expending emotional energy at school and with Allen, and helping my two older children as much as I can. I pack away more of Ron’s clothing for the Good Will donations and I order his grave marker at the cemetery. I put up a small tree for Allen and me, I unpack decorations.

 I function.

It is the day before school breaks for Christmas and I am getting my classroom ready for the students that arrive before the first bell, students who are still learning English and crave the warm safety of my ESL room. I am humming “O Holy Night” and taking deep breaths whenever I think of my late husband.

 Ron loved Christmas. Everyday, I swim through the thick memories to surface with my students.


I am switching on the lights when Brother David appears at my door. “Merry Christmas,” he says. “I wanted you to know,” he continues, “that your husband’s coat found a home yesterday. We were able to give it to a homeless man who was very appreciative.”

My heart swells even as tears spring to my eyes. I can feel Ron’s warm smile bathing me. My husband had a generous heart.

“But it’s amazing how it happened,” says Brother David. “We’d had the coat a few weeks, you know, but we didn’t meet anyone that needed a 4-X coat. Then, on Tuesday, a large man came by and said he’d been looking for a coat but he could never find one to fit him. He said he didn’t often come down near City Hall, but someone he didn’t know  told him to come see us.  So he came down and there we were. And your husband’s coat fits him perfectly.”

I nod but find I cannot speak.

“He said,” Brother David continued, “that he’d been offered some construction work over the holidays but he knew he needed something warm to wear. He’d just about given up finding a coat. He was wearing a couple of sweat shirts, but that’s all he had. When we gave him the coat, he cried. He said it gave him hope that he could turn his life around.”

I am crying right now, realizing that the hope I held for the coat I’d bought for Ron had been fulfilled after all. Brother David reaches out and hugs me. All day, I hide this gift in my heart, thinking of how my son will react when I tell him his father’s coat is now protecting someone else.

Back home again, Allen has hot tea ready for me and I settle into my chair. “Dad’s coat found a home today,” I tell him. I tell him the story from Brother David. Allen  smiles, then is thoughtful for a moment.

“We should hang up Dad’ stocking,” he says. “Because it feels like Dad is still here.”

“He still is,” I say as Allen dives into the box of Christmas decorations to retrieve the stocking. “And he always will be.”


The Ghosts of Christmas Past

“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

Before my husband’s death in 2019, many of our holidays were spent in hospitals or emergency rooms. Despite the locale, we counted on Jesus to keep our hope alive. This post was originally published in December of 2014.


Who, and what are you?” Scrooge demanded.
“I am the Ghost of Christmas Past.”

“Long Past?” inquired Scrooge: observant of its dwarfish stature.
“No. Your past.”



The Ghost of Christmas Past greets me at the doorway of the Emergency Room. Instantly, I am catapulted back to other holidays spent in hospital, waiting for tests or surgeries or hope. The waiting room is almost vacant, and decorations of pink and purple hang on the artificial pine tree and from the ceiling. They are cheerful colors, but lack the warmth of traditional Christmas red and green. “Happy Holidays,” says the guard who takes my purse and asks me if I am carrying any knives or guns.

“Merry Christmas, ” I respond. “I am sorry you have to be here today.” She shrugs and beckons me through the metal detector while she rifles through my purse for contraband, then nods at me. The Ghost of Christmas Past, not used to such newfangled technology, has waited for me on the other side and joins me in my walk down the corridor I know only too well. Another urinary tract infection has sent Ron to the hospital early this morning and he now awaits a CT scan. Bah, humbug.

Scrooge entered timidly, and hung his head before this Spirit. He was not the dogged Scrooge he had been; and though the Spirit’s eyes were clear and kind, he did not like to meet them.

“I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,” said the Spirit. “Look upon me.

Christmas Present is waiting at the house. The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, and the kids–all grownups–are coming at 3:00 for supper. I could call them and tell them not to come, of course, and they would understand. But life goes on. The lessons learned from the last fifteen years assures us of this: a holiday celebrated in hospital is still a holiday. And my grown-up offspring have not all been in the same place at the same time since October.

Ron is relatively cheerful. The morphine infusion helps. There are times I wish I had one. He may or may not be home in time for dinner. In the meantime, plans will go on. I will, as usual, balance it all out. I leave before he comes back from the CT scan. I will check back later to see how he is doing.

There is no parking charge today, a Christmas gift from the good people of Colonial Parking. I have probably paid enough in parking fees over the last fifteen years to warrant my own VIP spot. On the drive back home, alone, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come hovers over my head; is this, then, what my life is doomed to be like? Will I forever be trying to outrun the shadows of Ron’ illnesses?


“I am in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come?” said Scrooge.
The Spirit answered not, but pointed downward with its hand.
“You are about to show me shadows of the things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us,” Scrooge pursued. “Is that so, Spirit?”

The upper portion of the garment was contracted for an instant in its folds, as if the Spirit had inclined its head. That was the only answer he received.

Back home, Allen and I turn on some Christmas music and start dinner, trying to keep our own Christmas spirits alive. Allen wishes for “just a little snow” to make it look more like Christmas, but we agree that Christmas is more a feeling than scenery. “Sometimes,” says my son, “people act more like Scrooge.” And as I prepare the potato casserole for the oven, I think this over.

For those who have never had 9th grade English, let me give you a brief lesson. Ebeneezer Scrooge is the protagonist of Charles Dickens’ 1843 story, “A Christmas Carol,” an essay written for the dual purpose of paying off debts Dickens owed to his publisher and bringing to public attention the plight of the poor in Victorian England. In fact, while Christmas has been celebrated since the fourth century when Pope Julius I chose December 25 as the day to mark the “Feast of the Nativity,” it was Dickens’ story that shaped much of our Christmas traditions of today, such as “goodwill and peace to all men.” Since the publication of  “A Christmas Carol”, the story has never been out of print and has been adapted for 22 stage productions, 2 operas, 4 recordings, at least 10 radio broadcasts, 49 loosely based TV show adaptations and 20 film versions. “Carol” is a story of redemption, of the ability of one man to remake himself with the help of supernatural beings. Dickens himself was not overly religious in the traditional sense and the birth of Jesus as the reason for Christmas is only referred to in Bob Cratchit’s comment about Tiny Tim:

“Somehow he gets thoughtful sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.

The story of redemption is prevalent this time of year; just look to the black and white Hollywood classics to see what I mean. Beginning with “Penny Serenade” in 1941, all the way through 1946’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” and ending with “Miracle on 34th Street” circa 1947, the story of redemption through the elusive Christmas spirit is clear. We may all, as Allen observes, act a little like Scrooge at times, but with a little help from our friends–even supernatural ones–we can change.


And this is what carries me through another Christmas Day, waiting for a call from the hospital, humming Christmas Carols as I spike the punch bowl. (Hey, spirits can help in more ways than one.) Redemption is possible. Change is possible.

“What’s to-day?” cried Scrooge, calling downward to a boy in Sunday clothes, who perhaps had loitered in to look about him.
“Eh?” returned the boy, with all his might of wonder.
“What’s to-day, my fine fellow?” said Scrooge.
“To-day?” replied the boy.  “Why, Christmas Day.”

“It’s Christmas Day!” said Scrooge to himself.  “I haven’t missed it.  The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like.  Of course they can.  Of course they can.  

There is always, then, hope. The Scrooge who exclaimed “Bah, humbug!” to nephew Fred’s invitation to dine is replaced by the man who  “knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.”

Redemption of any kind does not, Ebeneezer reminds me, depend on snow or presents or turkey dinner or the date on the calendar. It depends on how we view and hold Christmas and all its meanings forever in our hearts. It is purposeful; we make the choice to keep it, or not to keep it.

“I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!” Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed.  “The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.  Oh Jacob Marley!  Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this.  I say it on my knees, old Jacob, on my knees!”

May all of you keep Christmas forever in your hearts!
Even in hospital.