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Meaningful Reflections: 12 Days of Reflections

As we reflect, it is important to remember the stories of joy, those of challenge, the people who are with us, and those who have left their legacies of love for us to carry forward.

Published Dec 4th, 2023

By Kim Crawford Meeks
Spiritual Care Manager

We began 2023 with the Spiritual Care Department Theme of Love Starts with Me. It only seems appropriate to bring the year to a close by remembering this theme of receiving and giving love.

We have heard it said that “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” as recorded by Don Cornell & The Four Aces, Nat King Cole, Eddie Fisher, and Doris Day. What is love? Some say that love is a choice. Others say that love is an action, and there are also those who say that love is a sacrifice. There are some who believe that love is only a fictional idea in fairytales and Hallmark movies. I believe love is our shared purpose.

I had the privilege of experiencing love in action in two situations during Christmas seasons in the past. The first was a trip to Collierville, Tennessee. I was coming and going through the hotel lobby many times over several days. Each time I walked through, I heard an employee of the hotel greeting guests. She had an infectious smile and stopped what she was doing to speak to each person who walked by her. She would then share with them about the importance of love. I was hoping to speak to her before leaving but couldn’t find her on my last day. I was rolling the luggage cart back to the lobby and finally saw her. I ran over and explained what a blessing she had been to my heart, as I witnessed her sharing love and joy with everyone who crossed her path. She immediately began pouring out love to me, and I learned her name was Janelle. Many people practice excellent customer service, but Janelle had a magical way of making you feel loved within a few seconds of meeting her. She didn’t offer money, or to do anything for you, but it was the way she made you feel. Each holiday season, I think of Janelle – The Collierville Christmas Angel – and how she made me feel.

During another holiday season, a man came to the orthodontic office where I worked and asked for money. He was told that soliciting was not allowed and sent on his way. It was the policy, but we loved people beyond straightening their teeth. We had a bond of love in the office that was internal and external to our community. We quickly dug in our wallets to see how much money we could find. We saw the man cross the highway to go to Waffle House, therefore we soon followed. We told the waitress to please allow the gentleman to order anything on the menu, and to take the payment out of the envelope of donations and give the gentleman the rest of the money. Before we pulled out of the parking lot, the gentleman banged on our window. He asked through tears, “Why did you do that?” We said, “Because we have been given love and wanted to give that same love to you.” The man cried and replied, “I am suicidal. Was thinking of killing myself after this meal…maybe I will go to the hospital.” We then helped him connect to resources. Everyone at a little orthodontic office and a Waffle House in Gardendale, Alabama, experienced love that day. It wasn’t about the money. It was about how we made the man feel.

The lesson in these examples of love is this: Whether the person is family or a stranger, and the act of love seems small or significant to the giver, you never know what the receiver may feel from a gift of your heart. I worked in a funeral home for years and have heard and officiated many funerals. When people speak at funerals, it is never about the house the person lived in, or what car they drove, or how they looked, but what matters to the speaker is how the person made them feel. Love is our legacy. We should all try telling ourselves in the mirror each morning that “Love starts with me.” We spend our lives trying to figure out our purpose, yet the truth is that we share an incredible purpose. So often, we allow a veil to cover our faces and hearts, which causes us fear that stops us from offering love. Under the veil there is courage to be kind when someone else may be rude. Under the veil there is a heart that wants to love and be loved. Under the veil there is you. Under the veil there is me. Love starts with you and me. As we remove the veil and look in the mirror at the end of the day, there is immense joy and blessing in being able to say “Today, love started with me.”

Love Starts with Me

Love starts with me… Love starts outside of ourselves with a greater love than we could possibly comprehend.

To receive love from a higher power.

Love starts with love of self.

To know our individual gifts, strengths, and purposes.

Love starts with love of life.

To awaken each day to the opportunity to allow love more than yesterday.

Love starts with love of others.

To give love to all who have walked this journey before us, will walk beside us, and will walk ahead of us to lead the way.

Love starts with you and me.

I invite you to read the following reflections, which were submitted by employees of USA Health, family of previous patients and employees, and our friends. We appreciate all of those who shared their hearts and gave us permission to share these reflections. As we reflect, it is important to remember the stories of joy, those of challenge, people who are with us, and those who have left their legacies of love for us to carry forward.

As the holidays are a very difficult time for many, we appreciate the thoughtful and helpful ideas for coping submitted by Jakylia Lloyd, USA Health Providence, Main Admitting Patient Access Representative:

Methods of Coping During the Holidays

  • Participate in an event or activity in the community. (Ex. soup kitchen, Christmas caroling, giving out meals, etc.)
  • Share and reflect on the good memories of a person or day around you. (People you have lost or gained and celebrating and decorating.)
  • Get together with friends and family. (Hang out with positive people or people who understand you.)
  • Set new goals and tasks for the following Christmas or year. (Plan a vacation, etc.)
  • Visit church and spiritual gatherings. 
  • Be thankful for the small things.
  • Allow yourself to grieve if you are experiencing a loss. Don't expect to feel happy every moment.
  • Never compare and always plan ahead to prepare yourself physically, mentally and emotionally for the holidays.

Added by Chaplain Kim Crawford Meeks:

  • Have a plan A, plan B and plan C for all events before the event begins.
  • Give yourself permission to take a moment at a time and to do things differently.
  • Seek a safe person with whom you may share your true feelings.
  • Give yourself grace.

Please visit the USA Spiritual Care Page for other stress-reduction exercises and resources.

May we all pause and refresh.

Patients, family members and USA Health associates are encouraged to call the Meaningful Reflections Line at 251-445-9016 for a daily recorded word of encouragement.


12 Days of Reflection 2023

1. The Spirit of Christmas

By Evelyn Monterrosa
Patient Navigator Specialist, Providence Outreach

As a little girl growing up in El Salvador, my parents couldn’t afford to buy a Christmas tree. So, all the kids from the neighborhood used to go up to the hills to look for the most beautiful branch that we could find. The fun part was that we got a carton box to slide down the hill with our trophy, because the branch was much taller than us. My little brother and I got home with a big smile showing what we had found. Then my mom fixed a big pot filled with soil to make the branch stand. We made the garlands from colored magazines and used cotton balls to simulate snow, and my mom helped us to put the lights on to make it look pretty. We had no gifts under the tree because Baby Jesus brought the gifts to children at midnight on Christmas Eve. So, we used to find them under the bed in the morning. Sometimes there were no toys, but we had new clothes instead. We were very happy because we had new clothes to wear for Christmas.

I always loved Christmas, but I really know the meaning of Christmas and what I believe it represents, which is the celebration of Our Savior’s birth, that we need to be humble, assist those in need, love one another, be kind, and understand that we are all God’s Children.

We all have a big responsibility for future generations, and it’s never too late to start showing the Spirit of Christmas throughout the year.

Have a Blessed and Loving Christmas! 


2. MaDear

By Veronica Hudson
Manager, Workforce Development

Up until the age of 18, my mother and my family spent every Christmas at my grandmother's house in Morvin, Alabama, where there was the smell of her cedar chest full of goodies for us grandchildren. Apples, nuts, candy canes, orange slices, and a wood-burning fireplace, Oh my! After my grandmother passed away, my family started spending the next 45+ Christmases at the house of my mother, who was affectionately known to us as MaDear.

The term MaDear comes from the words "Mother Dear," which translates from children as MaDear. Our MaDear was wonderful year-round, and Christmas was always special for our family. Food, hugs, games, music, and love were always prevalent in my family. MaDear would tell us stories about how she only received an apple or an orange along with peppermints and nuts for Christmas as a child. How she once received a homemade doll made from a stalk of corn and dressed up. She would tell us how blessed we were, and how blessed our children were to get so many gifts and have so many things.

MaDear loved God, family and life. She was an excellent cook and made so many special meals during the holidays and throughout the year. She had a high school education, but she was a philosopher, and she could cook like a famous Southern chef! Foods like blackberry cobbler, egg pies, fruit cake, and crackling bread. Her turnip greens and collard greens were the best. Smothered pork chops, baked chicken falling off the bone, crowder peas, and butterbeans along with ham hocks. Cornbread that you could eat like a warm piece of cake. Her house always, and especially during the holidays, smelled of food all the time. There were always pots on the stove and something in the oven baking at her house. She specialized in cakes and pies, and some people called her "The Cake Lady.”

Last year after the loss of my mother, my family gathered at her house at Christmas and we were like the Whos in Whoville that did not have any presents (a mother) but we held each other's hands. The Whos did not have any music in their life (a mother), but they sang anyway. The Whos did not have any food, but they loved and hugged each other anyway. My mother, the “Philosopher” would tell us that you live your funeral and if you have gifts or money give it to the living, if you have something to say, please share it with the living.

My siblings and extended family members continue to gather each month at MaDear's house, and we will continue to gather at her house for the holidays. MaDear’s house is still warm and cozy but does not have the aroma of food anymore. My memories at my grandmother's house with a cedar chest of fruit and goodies, and my memories of MaDear's house with family gatherings and good food to eat, will always make me smile and cherish family during the holidays.


3. Christmas Trees

By Shellyn Poole
Spiritual Care Extender

I love Christmas trees — little ones, massive ones, skinny ones, fat ones, real ones, fake ones, designer trees, pink Barbie trees, and Charlie Brown trees. When invited into someone’s home during the December holidays, the first thing I do is go to the tree to admire it. There I find clues of what is important to my hosts. Are they dog people or cat people? Grinch people or Santa people? Alabama people or Auburn people? Do they have toddlers or pets, and that’s why the ornaments stop before getting to the bottom of the tree? 

In our home, one of our three trees is called the destination tree.  It was started by collecting ornaments from locations where we had traveled. We have ornaments from schools, universities, historic neighborhoods, rural areas and cities, from anniversary trips, band trips, vacation trips and business trips. Some of these ornaments depict a famous landmark, such as the Smithsonian Institute, the John F. Kennedy Library, or the National Football Hall of Fame, and some show a way of life, such as a log cabin from Gatlinburg. One was made in Fairhope, and another was made in Vienna. 

What I love most about this tree is that each ornament has a story —Who? What? When? and Where it was found. Each time I unwrap and place an ornament on this tree, I’m flooded with vivid memories of a very special time and place — the replica of the cabin on the coast of California from our 25th wedding anniversary, the band kids we chaperoned to the top of the Empire State Building, or the years we lived just down the street from the Missouri state capitol. Each year when putting up this tree, conversation, laughter and debates flow as we remember a special occasion represented by each ornament. 

In the Torah, Moses gave some very detailed instructions regarding reminiscing and establishing traditions that cause people, especially their children, to learn and to remember (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Talking with your children and sharing details about your past and your faith doesn’t prevent them from making their own decisions about what they believe. It demonstrates to them the importance of your experiences and your personal beliefs. What are the symbols and reminders of significant events or belief systems in your life? 

Whether your holiday celebrations include dreidels, wreaths, unity cups, candles, kinaras, bowls of fruit, Menorahs, trees, nativity scenes or homemade crafts, sharing the meanings behind these symbols with those you love is a celebration of who you are, your past, and what is important to you. We know, however, that not all memories are good. Our ornament purchased on the nightmare vacation in Hotlanta is a reminder that no matter how detailed the plans, some situations are beyond our control.  

Happy Holidays! 


4. Be Human with Them

By Kerry Flowers
Director of Organizational Development

I enjoy helping people — so much so that I have staked my professional career on it.

This urge to help started way before I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I can remember as a kid looking out my back door each Saturday, hoping to see our neighbors doing yard work, so I could go help. I was delighted when their garage door lifted, and the family trudged out — each with a garden tool. Weird, I know.

One particular Saturday, we worked all morning mowing, clipping, pruning and raking. As we crammed the last pecan leaves into the bag, I noticed Momma Neighbor slip inside. She came back out brandishing a dollar and offered it to me. (For those of you playing at home, a dollar would buy 50 pieces of gum in 1977.)

I resisted the money. I didn’t really tell anybody this, but I had a secret motive. In my 10-year-old mind, my landscaping labor was simple math. More hands meant greater productivity that shortened work, which led to more play time with Neighbor Children.

As I grew older, my desire to help others never went away. In fact, my family and life experiences only fanned the flame. Whether it was at home, at work, or at church, the more roles I could serve in, the better.

Deep within, however, my secret motive remained. It may not have been to get more play time anymore, but it was still self-centered. This all came clear to me during what most people would consider a beautiful act.

My wife, Christy, heard of a woman who had recently experienced a nasty divorce. The husband just walked right out, leaving his wife and teenage girls. Rumor had it that he even took food out of the fridge before he left. His selfish act ripped the family apart and left gaping holes in their emotions, finances and trust. I thought, this is the perfect situation for the helper in me. We injected some financial aid to right the ship. We used professional skills to help with other decisions, such as housing, budgeting and education, to smooth out the rough waters.

We carried out our mission with surgical precision. We acted quickly and discreetly — no one knew the source of the help or how it happened. Effective and efficient…but hollow.

The real need was not financial — although that was significant. The real need was a broken family that needed mending. Someone to wade deeper into their struggles alongside them. To rebuild trust. To offer hope in the form of friendship. To be human with them.

Life is messy. So is leadership. The common denominator between life and leadership is that both involve human beings. Humans that think differently than us. Or act differently. Or whose marriages have crumbled due to no fault of their own.

Jack Welch, former CEO at General Electric, once gave this advice to one of his young vice presidents struggling to lead people, “You’ve got to wallow in it with them.” In other words, in order to lead people, sometimes you have to be human with them.

Evidently, I missed that memo. My “involvement” with this broken family brought back memories of raking leaves with my neighbors. Did I turn down that dollar to grow the legend of the little boy who worked selflessly? Deep down, helping this family brought back those childhood memories —Who was I doing it for?

That is a good question for every leader — Who are you doing it for?

When we spend time leading through and with people instead of just at them, two things happen:

  1. Leadership becomes genuine.
  2. Life becomes richer.

As we reflect during this time of year, remember that such genuine leadership never disappoints the leader or the follower. Be human.


5. A Letter to My Baby Zaria

By Brittany Dale, Mommy of Zaria
Member, Stepping Stones Grief Support Group

On Friday, April 3, 2015, at 1:23 a.m. you entered into my life and completed me. I literally prayed to GOD asking for you, and GOD loaned me exactly what I asked for, a perfect little Angel. Even at a few minutes on earth you showed that you were my little “Diva” in the making and as you got older you very well lived up to what I thought. You had sickle cell disease, but you didn't let that stop you because you lived life as much as you could. You were my baby that fought hard for the seven years you had here on earth, until one day GOD said he needed you more and departed you from earth. This left me, your dad, your sister, your brother, family, doctors who have become family, and friends to grieve terribly. There is not a day, minute or second that goes by that we don't miss you. I remember Christmas 2021 you had your Jeep, and your sister had hers. She would get stuck in the grass, and you'd say, “Hold on sis, I'm coming to bump you out.” You did just that, but we never would have thought that would be the last Christmas we would be blessed to spend with you. Christmas of 2022 we freshly mourned you because you passed 10 days before Christmas. I was numb and didn't even have a Christmas, but this year we're trying to celebrate you and remember you and the things you loved and liked. This year we're having a JoJo Siwa-themed Christmas, who you absolutely loved, and also have your sister Cookie loving her too. I absolutely miss your dancing, and your “Look mommy watch me do this.” I mostly miss how you praised GOD at seven years old. I've had so many people tell me about you, “That baby is special, and GOD loves her.” Now I see he loved and favored you so much that he didn't want you to suffer, so he took you at seven years old in your sleep. My life will never be the same without you. You were one of a kind, and we miss and love you so much, little girl, that it hurts. I'm so proud and happy to be mother to all three of my kids, but you started me off as being a mommy, and you were my first best friend, and for that I'll always thank you and cherish you FOREVER.

I'll always love you my Twinkie Cake, as your sister Cookie would say, “We love you, Twink, and miss you!”


6. S.M.I.L.E. - See Miracles in Life Everyday

By Kathy Paiml
Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama Board Member

One of the exercises I did as an elementary school principal was to determine my “motto.” As I reflected, a poem I memorized in high school came to mind. It was a version of the poem by Dale Carnegie, "Smile." It began, “A smile costs nothing and creates much. It happens in a flash and the memory of it sometimes lasts forever.” And it ended, “so if in a hurry you see someone in need of a smile, leave one of yours, for no one needs a smile more than he who has none to give.” There must have been a reason I still remembered that poem from 50 years ago. Then I found the acronym for SMILE - See Miracles In Life Everyday! That was it! It then became part of my email signature for work — my philosophy of life or motto.

People who know me, know how much I love a good sunrise or sunset, flowers, butterflies, birds, rainbows, the ocean — basically anything in nature. I can’t remember when I started appreciating these things, but the invention of the iPhone camera helped me to capture these memories — I mean “miracles.”

The definition of miracle is “extraordinary and astonishing happening that is attributed to the presence and action of an ultimate or divine power.” Life is a miracle. Everything and each person around us are miracles. When I see the beauty around us, I often think, how can people not believe? When you start thinking about everything in this way, you can’t help but smile and see those miracles around you.

Back in the 80s or 90s, I gave my mother the bumper sticker “Miracles Happen.” After getting another car, she somehow removed it, saved it, and put it on her next car because she believed it too. Miracles do happen! Change your mindset, smile, and look for the good in everything and everyone.

Everyone in our life is a blessing and a miracle.

Be a blessing to others and S.M.I.L.E.


7. Don’t be Afraid to Say Their Name

By Brady Powers
Chaplain Intern

For my wife Kristina and me, Christmas, like it is for so many, has become a holiday that is no longer one of just joy and happiness. It is also a time of wishing our lives looked a little different. Wishing a loved one wa here with us. The day after Christmas last year, we had our son Eli. Eli was perfect. Chubby cheeks, full head of hair, and absolutely beautiful. We enjoyed every moment we had with him before he went home to Heaven. We had learned in September of that year that he had no kidneys and would not survive long, so we were as prepared as we could be for his birthday. To be honest, it was still the best day of our lives. We got to meet our son, and his short life didn’t make him any less significant. As we continue to walk through grief and approach his first birthday mixed with the holidays, it is certainly a strange combination of emotions. A mix of joy and sorrow. Joy for all that Eli is and means to us. Sorrow in all that we are missing out on not having him here in our arms. Whether you are missing someone this holiday or not, each of you working in a hospital is accustomed to walking this thin line between joy and sorrow.

Everyone’s grief journey is unique, but a seemingly common thread is for the people around you to not quite know what to say. Often, they are so afraid of saying the wrong thing that they say nothing at all. This can leave people feeling like the world has moved on, that their loved one is forgotten, and it is just them left in their grief by themselves. My hope for you this holiday season is to say their name. Don’t be afraid to say their name around the people who are missing them. Reach out to your friends and families and let them know you love them and are thinking of their loved one. Give them a call if something reminded you of their loved one. Shoot them a text to say you are missing their loved one extra today and know they are too. Ask them their favorite holiday memory of their loved one. Don’t be afraid to say their name. Continue to walk this line of joy and sorrow. As people in your life are hurting this holiday season, give them the joy of hearing their loved one’s name and getting to talk about them.


8. Thankful this Thanksgiving, Joyful this Christmas, and Hopeful this New Year

By Phil Hollstein
Chaplain

The holidays are for many a joyous occasion.  Like me, you probably have many memories of happy times spent with family and delicious food, music and football.  If you come from a snowy region, you may have memories of snowball fights and a warm fire in the fireplace. The sights, sounds, and smells of the holidays become indelibly marked in our memories.

For some people, however, these times are incredibly difficult. We can see just here in the hospital people who are spending their days recovering from illness or injury. For them, not only their medical concerns, but the disruption of their lives is sad and distressing. It is especially in these times that people reach for something that can give them hope, and perhaps even joy.  

For me personally, though I have many happy memories of holidays past, the last couple of months have been quite difficult.  Without getting into details, there have been events concerning my family and me that have pushed me to rely on a strength outside myself. This is not entirely strange — as a minister, I preach to others to rely on God, who is bigger than us, and to reach to him for deliverance in difficult times. But, it is one thing to preach to others and another thing to practice it myself! Thankfully, I have been blessed by doing that very thing, and I have experienced in real time the deliverance of a God who is both big and near. His answers were not always what I expected, but in some ways that itself has been a blessing.

This Christmas, Christians celebrate the act of love that God did to save humankind. I believe by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, he opened a way of access for people to live in communion with him. And that is important not just in the good times, but especially in the difficult times. It is then that we truly see that “The Lord is my shepherd….”  Because of this, I have ample reason to be thankful this Thanksgiving, to be joyful this Christmas, and to be hopeful this New Year. May these blessings find you this season as well.


9. It’s Going to Bring Christmas

By Francis A. Lee
Nurse, Mitchell Cancer Institute

I’m not a writer; however, I am going to try and put this on paper, and it may help someone else going through cancer that feels like this is the end.

I love snowmen, and my family gets tired of all the snowmen around the house at Christmas. Snowmen pillows, snowmen blankets, snowmen figurines sitting everywhere — small ones, large ones, funny ones, glass ones, stuffed ones, door-hanging ones, tree-topper ones, tree decorations, and even a snowman-shaped Christmas tree — you get the picture. I love snowmen!

Many years ago, in 2001, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I was devastated. I was very sad for a long time and cried just about every day. My dear sister, who I lost to Covid, was my go-to when I would get the “Heebie Jeebies.”

My wonderful husband, children, grandchildren, siblings, and entire family were there for me and helped me through the surgery, chemotherapy and radiation every step of the way.

Now back to the snowmen, the first Christmas after my diagnosis I saw some snowmen Christmas dishes that I really wanted but would not buy. My husband asked why I would not buy them. I told him I did not know what next Christmas would bring. He looked at me and said, “It’s going to bring Christmas just like always.” Well, last Saturday I got my snowmen dishes and put them in the cabinet, and this is the 22nd Christmas we will be using them, and I am so glad I got them.

Live life one day at a time, because tomorrow is never promised. Love your family and be kind to everyone you meet.


10. Magic Happens in the Small Things

By Sherry Fryman
Chief Nursing Officer, University Hospital

They said it would snow on Christmas Day, and my 10-year-old self kept running to the window looking...expecting...believing. When the first flake arrived, you would have thought Alabama had just won the national championship, as I was screaming and jumping up and down in excitement. The snow didn't stick, but that didn't stop me from running outside just to catch a few snowflakes on my tongue, convinced that this was the best Christmas ever. Children tend to celebrate the magic and wonder of Christmas, but sadly as we become adults, we tend to leave the magic behind, and Christmas becomes a chore we just must push through. We overspend and stress ourselves out trying to capture, either in ourselves or in our children, that same sense of wonder from times way past. 

I have learned over the years that the magic happens in the small things, during the quiet times. Like watching a small child's face when they see Santa at the mall. Or quietly paying for a newly engaged couple's dinner at a restaurant. They were so excited, and the ring was so tiny, and yet the magic and wonder of the moment was so pure you couldn't help but revel in their joy for just a moment. This season, I would encourage you to slow down, eyes open, looking around you as if searching for that first snowflake. Remember that the magic is often found in very ordinary places. The Christmas Star shone bright over the manger as people were just going about their day — only those who looked up saw the magic of the moment. And it is in the very stillness His voice whispers all is calm, all is bright, I am with you, and it is Christmas.


11. The Toilet Paper Roll Santa

By Jill Elliott
Manager, Human Resources

I saw an ad from Waterford crystal recently for a $20,000 gingerbread house. I collect crystal and china and thought how lucky someone would be to have it. It was stunning.

I started thinking about Christmas decorations and how some people treasure different ones. Don’t get me wrong, I would love that crystal gingerbread house. I have collected many vintage Christmas ornaments over the years that I love. However, my most treasured Christmas decoration is one made from a toilet paper roll.

This ornament was made by my husband, Billy Elliott, 50-something years ago when he was in elementary school at Fonde Elementary School. It was a gift he made for his parents. It’s the kind of thing many children create and still do, using a toilet paper roll, felt, yarn and one red ornament for Santa’s nose. Several years ago, his now-late mother gave it to us to put on our tree, and it always held a place of pride at the center of the tree. I was amazed each year as it was in such good shape — I don’t have anything like that left from my childhood — a testament to how much his mother treasured the ornament.

I’m sure a lot of you can relate to these types of ornaments made of common items like Popsicle sticks, paper plates, macaroni, and construction paper. You may be overloaded with them and dream of the day when you can do a sophisticated themed tree, perhaps, with something like all Waterford crystal ornaments, but I implore you not to get rid of these handmade treasures.

My husband passed away last November, at the relatively young age of 59. When he was a little boy making the ornament, I’m positive he never thought it would outlive him, that his widow would hang it on her tree after he was gone, but there it is, still in the same center spot. Who knows…maybe it will one day be surrounded by Waterford crystal…but there the toilet paper roll Santa will remain, reminding me of the thoughtful, creative boy that labored to make it for the people he loved.


12. Remembering John

By Candace Harsany, Wife and Soulmate of Dr. John Harsany
Member, Stepping Stones Grief Support Group

As this Christmas season approaches, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the inspiring life and career of my husband, John Harsany, Jr., Oct. 13, 1938 - Jan. 5, 2023. He entered USA Hospital on Dec. 4, 2022, and in spite of a month of medical care, he died on Jan. 5. He was my husband for 62 years, and I miss him terribly and have been deeply grieving all year.

By finding the grief class led by Chaplain Kim a few months ago, I’ve gotten lots of help in dealing with my grief. Kim has given me lots of opportunity and ways to deal with the terrible loss of the most important person in my life for the last 65 years. One of the ways that has helped me is to reflect and share things about him.

These are some of my memories and thoughts about him, the fruitful life he lived, and the legacy he left behind:

John Harsany, Jr., was born and raised in a coal camp in West Virginia. He didn’t live in poverty, but it was a “hard scrabble life,” and he had to work hard for everything that he had. As a child he always talked about and dreamed of leaving West Virginia and of becoming a medical doctor. He had to walk a hard road to accomplishing his dreams — but he “Never, Never, Never, gave up!”

The dream of leaving West Virginia turned out to be the easy part because his dad got a job in Gorgas, Alabama, the same year that he graduated from high school, so he packed up and moved the day he graduated. He had to walk a long, hard road to accomplish the second part of his dream, but he kept pursuing it and “Never, Never, Never gave up!” He was not a great student in high school and was told by his teachers that he was not smart enough to go to college; therefore, he never applied to any colleges and was being recruited to go into the Navy in the fall. As a job for that summer in Alabama, he worked as a brush cutter for Alabama Power Company. Miraculously the boss of that crew saw that John was meant for better things and arranged an interview for John at the University of Alabama. Even though he had no money or family support, he went for the interview and was accepted on probation for the first semester. After the first semester, he had made the Dean’s List with his grades and was given a full scholarship for the rest of the four years if he maintained his grade point average. This is where I met him in 1958 as he was my chemistry lab instructor, and we were married in 1961.

Graduating in 1959, he had applied to medical school but was refused acceptance, so instead he accepted his ROTC commission and served three years as a lieutenant in the United States Air Force. Afterward, he applied to medical school again and was again refused acceptance. He returned to graduate school at the University of Alabama, and after one year of graduate school, was finally accepted to medical school at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. He graduated from medical school in 1968 and completed his two years of residency at Gorgas Hospital in the Panama Canal zone. In 1971, he did his last year of residency at the University of South Alabama here in Mobile as chief resident in Internal Medicine.

In 1972, he moved his family with him to Hemet, California, where he had a successful internal medical practice for the following 50 years. He was a truly caring and compassionate doctor — making house calls for patients that couldn’t get to the office and sometimes accepting payments of things or services if the patient could not pay the bills! He loved helping people and always would invite many people to share our holiday dinners and gatherings. He was also a great cook and especially excelled at grilling and smoking meats.

In the 1980s, he became a certified addictions family specialist. He was named as a fellow in the American Society of Addiction Medicine. This led to him serving as Director of Riverside County Substance Abuse. He also became qualified as a pain management specialist, and he was medical director of several hospice offices. During those years, he was also medical director of five different nursing homes and was qualified in geriatric medicine.

I think that the crowning glory of his career was being appointed to the faculty of the new medical school being built for the University of California at Riverside. He was able to pass on his knowledge of Addiction Medicine to all the medical students that rotated through his program in the Department of Psychiatry and Neuroscience for 10 years.

John retired from many of these jobs when he had his 80th birthday in 2018. He and I decided to come full circle back to Mobile for retirement which is where four of our five children were living. He never really retired after our move to Mobile, even though he was beginning to have many health problems of his own. He was still medical director of one nursing home and one hospice in California and doing whatever consulting he could do with the phone. In fact, when he was admitted to USA Health University Hospital on Dec. 4, 2022, with pneumonia, he was still taking calls that day! Here he was as a patient at the hospital where he had been chief resident of Internal Medicine all those years ago.

Aside from the tremendous legacy of all the people who loved and admired him because of his medical career, he left a tremendous legacy for our family. We have five children, 10 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren who all adored and admired him.

One of my saddest, but most favorite memories, is of the day we were going to take him off the ventilator. It was that all five of our children were in the room and all 10 of our grandchildren called him and told him how much they loved him and also told him one small thing they would always remember about him. He seemed to be hearing each one as he was squeezing my hand and opening his eyes; therefore, I’m convinced he heard all of the love that surrounded him!

We all have our favorite Grandpa Doc stories, favorite sayings of his, and all remember different ways that he helped or encouraged us, but I think that the one that stands out as his one most-used quote is Winston Churchill’s, “Never, Never, Never give up!” Dr. John Harsany never, never, never gave up, and left his legacy of love.

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