Szymanski: Visits, gifts from the heart can make a difference during the holidays

It’s that time of year. We’re decorating Christmas trees, wrapping gifts, baking sweet cookies and slathering our homes with the aroma of pine, inside and out. But, in every neighborhood someone is spending Christmas alone.

I recently watched a German Christmas commercial on YouTube that brought me to tears. The commercial has been viewed by nearly 112,000 people, yet I wonder, how many of those who viewed it felt the impact in a manner that called them to action.


In the commercial, an elderly gentleman sits at home, alone at his dinner table, listening to voice messages from his children, who will not make it home for the holidays. Soon after, the family gets the call that he has passed. They drop all their plans and fly home, only to find him alive and well, with a Christmas dinner waiting. “How else could I have brought you all together?” he asks.

It shouldn’t take death to call our loved ones home. Our parents and grandparents sacrificed more for us than anyone else ever will. They raised their children and grandchildren to adulthood, put clothes on their backs, food in their mouths and a roof over their heads, working to give them everything they could.

I admit that my childhood was harsh at times, and sometimes I used that as an excuse to visit my parents less. I regret that now. I never missed a holiday and after my mom passed I made sure to visit my father more often, to take him to his doctor appointments and out to eat and to check on him. But when he had the stroke that eventually took his life he was alone, and that haunts me to this day, because even though my father was hard on us as a child, looking back, I think he raised us as he was taught.

I hear young adults complain from time to time that their childhood was less than storybook. They hold grudges. They say their parents could have done more. Even so, it did not break you. You made it to adulthood just the same. You may not know of the burdens your parents carried from their childhoods into the years that they were raising you. Like us all — they are mere humans, too.

I’ve learned that most parents do the best they can. Sadly, children do not come with instruction booklets, even though they should! We work with the tools we have been given by our parents, and nearly every parent I know says they strove to overcome mistakes from their upbringing. For that, they deserve love and understanding and yes, visits. Many visits, and not just at Christmas. But especially Christmas and other holidays.

Last Saturday, I was asked to cover a story for the Times about a woman who had collected and packed items for our Marines overseas. Imagine my surprise when I arrived, and boxes were coming through the door on a train of carts, each one stacked high.

Dawn Geigan of Finksburg rallied friends and family and together they shipped 148 boxes of goodies to those who deserve it most, the men and women who are serving to keep us safe. The Busy Bee Quilters had baked more than 2,000 cookies to add to the array of collected gifts and needed items. Dawn’s bill for shipping totaled well over $2,000. The VFW and the American Legion helped her with that.

Spending Christmas without family in a place like Afghanistan or Kuwait is a scenario I can’t even imagine. I think, if each-and-every one of us had the strength and will of Dawn Geigan, the world would be a brighter place.

Winter is the season of depression. It may start with falling temperatures, gray skies and the loss of sunshine but seasonal affective disorder (SAD) hits an all-time low at Christmas, especially for those who live alone.

This time of year, I always think about my twin brother and how alone he was after he lost his significant other. They’d been together for 30 years and nothing I could say or do helped. He started to drink and eventually, he gave up. I couldn’t make sense of it when he took his life, but over the past few years I have come to understand how empty and alone his world had become. And I wonder, if I had visited more often, would be still be alive today?

I hope, as the season closes in, you will find time to visit at least one person who is alone, or if you can’t do that, send a gift. There are so many ways to help. The Shepherd’s Staff collects items to fill 800 stockings annually. Many are for children, but they also fill Sacks for Seniors and are accepting items like writing pads, pens, socks, soap, deodorant, tissues and more. Distribution begins at their “Evening by the Fire” event from 5 to 7 p.m. on December 14 at The Shepherd’s Staff office on Carroll Street.

The Carroll County Public Library has Corky’s Mitten tree inside each branch with a place to hang donated mittens and hats for others. Bell ringers in front of many stores collect coins and cash for the needy. Christmas trees in some of the Walmart stores are decorated with tags, each one with the name of a needy child that you could purchase a gift for. The Carroll Nonprofit Center on Clifton Boulevard has a collection box for personal items for those in need. Human Services Programs of Carroll County has a Neighbors in Need Year Round program, where those who can do it may purchase needed items for those who have less. The Community Foundation of Carroll County also has a list of funds on their website, many with holiday needs.

Together, one small step at a time, we can make the holidays brighter for someone else. I believe in the spirit of love here in our own Carroll County. We can make a difference.