Pictures from Singing at the VA, Christmas 2015
Sharing our abundance in gratitude.

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"Be the change you wish to see."
Mahatma Gandhi

For 40+ years, people have come to the Palo Alto VA Health Care System on Christmas morning to sing for veterans spending their Christmas in the hospital, often away from family and friends.  This is a magical time, where people of all ages band to gether to bring holiday cheer to those who have fought to maintain our country's freedom. This page chronicles Christmas 2015.

  Note of Thanks

  • Thanks to the VA staff and numerous volunteers for their diligent work that made the event possible.
  • Thanks to over 100 people who gathered at the VA Hosptial to sing for our hospitalized veterans on Christmas Morning 2015.
  • Thanks to all our instrumentalists who helped keep the singing going, including 7+ ukuleles, two guitars, a trumpet, a fiddler, and bells.
  • Thanks to Scott Francis, who coordinated the VA team and Sandy Baran who led the singing in the mental health wards.
  • Thanks to Mariana, Terry, Br. Eckhart, Amy, and Veronica who managed the registration/name tag desk.
  • Thanks to our wonderful elves Sarah, Rachel, and Serena.
  • Thanks to Christine, Donne, Esther, Helen, Helene, Janada, Janice, Katie, Leila, Michael, and Mickey for their contributions of pictures, videos, and stories. Without your help, this page would end here.

  Please let me know if you have other stories, pictures, or videos and I'll include them on this page.

  Blessings, Gail Grant

Click on any small picture to see a full-sized version of that picture.**

Carolers Gather

Leila's Story

    This patient was so happy to sing with us he didn't want to go back to his room and came along to sing with us at all the other units where he'd previously been hospitalized. He had been in bed for 3 weeks post op and said "singing with you all is like therapy and you are healing me." Here he is with Leila, who pushed him the whole time. GG Note: I personally spoke with this veteran and he was delighted at being on the website. We may even see him singing with the VA Choir once he recovers from his foot surgery.


Christmas Miracle

    One veteran had been unresponsive for weeks. When the carolers came to him, he started to perk up and ended up coming along with us caroling. There is much more to this story. Marla shared our initial encounter with this veteran:

    "I was standing right in front of him when two angelic nurses or aides brought him out into the hallway; he was just staring straight ahead and non-communicative. A number of us encircled him and sang to him. By the 2nd song he began to barely smile and the nurses were so happy and surprised to see this. They kissed his cheek and stroked his hair back while we kept singing. When we started to sing Silent Night, tears fell from his eyes and toward the end of the song he began to sing along with us. It was the most incredible thing to witness. I struggled to sing because of my own tears. There was no doubt to any of us that this was a miracle."

    His daughter, Helene, kindly shared her family's story with us:

    "I woke up on Christmas morning filled with sadness. My husband and I, our four children and my mom wanted to spend Christmas with our Papouli. He was very sick and at the VA hospital in Palo Alto and we all spent the night at the Defender's Lodge to be with him on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. After almost 10 years of dementia and terrible recent experience with delirium, he barely spoke, he was in bed for over 4 weeks and he was disconnected from all people and reality. It was painful to see him, a man who had accomplished so much in his life. My dad was a Greek immigrant, diamond cutter, watchmaker and veteran of the Korean War.

    When we arrived at the hospital that morning, he was not in his bed and we were worried. But, worry turned to joy as we found him up in his wheelchair following a group of wonderful Christmas carolers. He was alert, singing the words, crying, smiling and clapping his hands. It was a real Christmas miracle!! It was amazing and we all surrounded him. His 4 grandchildren home from college began to cry with joy and sadness. The music had caused an awakening of his spirit."

    Helene wrote us a note of thanks: "You guys made our sad Christmas become wonderful and spiritual. Thank-You again for all the love you showed our family. I absolutely positively was touched by the love and kindness you all displayed. The music not only perked my father up but it opened his heart up and he cried and smiled again for the first time in weeks! Five weeks to be exact."

    Update: Helene wrote to let us know that her father is now in heaven. She added that our interactions with her father and the impact of our singing gave her family "a beautiful wonderful Christmas memory of him and that we will have forever."

Christine and Lorraine Campbell's Story

    This year was my fifth time caroling after missing two or three years, due to my work schedule. I really appreciate your efforts and how organized the caroling has become. It's especially nice to have so many musicians playing instruments and I also like the name tags with the number of years on them. I'm attaching a picture of me (Christine Campbell) and my mother, Lorraine Campbell taken while we were singing. We didn't try to get veterans in the photo because I was worried about privacy. My mother, Lorraine, was visiting me from Sudbury, Ontario, Canada (it's about 4 hours north of Toronto). This was her third time caroling and when she visits me during the holidays, she insists on going to the VA Hospital on Christmas morning to sing, because it is such a wonderful experience. I imagine she may have been the person who traveled furthest from home to carol!

Veteran Participation Story

    It was gratifying to have several veterans come out and join us. In addition to the vet that went to all the floors with us, we had a vet that accompanied and sang with us on the 4th floor only, another veteran who said he did not sing but followed the songs on the handout, and another who could not follow the songs on the handout because he is visually impaired (I wonder if a sheet magnifier would have helped? $1 at the Dollar store) but sang the words he knew.

Caroling Through the Hospital

Enthusiastic First-Timer

    Absolutely AWESOME day singing with the group for the Vets! I was so charged when I got home I was just floating. What a wonderful, inspiring and AWESOME event. Thank you, thank you for letting me know about this opportunity. I can't wait for next year!

    Video of This Land is Your Land

    Caroling in the Mental Health Wards

      Little Drummer Boy Story (Two Views)

        View 1: When we began to sing Little Drummer Boy's "Pa rum pum pum pum, Rum pum pum pum, Rum pum pum pum" a young vet stood and began to sway to the rhythm. Thoughtfully and peacefully he drew his arms and legs into motion as he closed his eyes. I wondered where he went inside his mind, perhaps to a place of peace and freedom far from the shadows of PTSD. Beautiful, innocent and uninhibited his spirit flowed through the room bringing a feeling of hope and renewal to all those who were graced with his gift to us.

        View 2: I didn't take any photos this time but had a wonderful time and met some new people along with reconnecting with some of the old-timers. We had about 20 singers and ukulele players plus Don's guitar for the mental health ward. It took us awhile to warm up as a group but by the 3rd time of singing we were all in synch and having a good time. The most meaningful moment for me was seeing one of the patients stand up, close his eyes and start doing this beautiful movement that looked almost like tai chi. He did it for 2 songs and when we were leaving, I went over to tell him how much I enjoyed his interpretive movement. He said it helped him to feel the music and experience the joy.

      Registration for Singing at the VA for Christmas 2016 opens in late November.
      Email Gail Grant if you have any questions.

      ** On Safari, some small pictures may appear sideways or upside down but the full-sized version should be correctly oriented.