How One Secret Santa Saved the Day

How One Secret Santa Saved the Day

I was sitting in the parking lot of the grocery store waiting for the hour I could visit my daughter in the hospital when I got the second call. I recognized the number from a voicemail I had received the day before, so I answered the phone. A man said, in a very low, gruff voice, this secret Santa said, “Ho, Ho, Ho! Merry Christmas! You have a package under the Courtyard at Sherman Oaks sign.” Then he abruptly hung up.

I was annoyed. I was angry.

I was in the midst of the most devastating time of my life and this freak was prank calling me.

My eight-year-old daughter was across the street in the inpatient psychiatry unit at UCLA medical center. Yes, my eight-year-old was admitted to the hospital a few days before because she had tried to kill herself. When I took her to the ER, it was not her first attempt at suicide.

The first time was on a Friday night. She had one of her fits on a busy street and decided it would be a good idea to run into traffic. She wanted to die. I grabbed her, got her into our car, and drove her home. As always, once the fit was over she was calm and peaceful. She was a completely different child. I am a single mom and I called her dad right after the incident, telling him I was taking her to the ER. He talked me out of it. He said he didn’t want it to go on her record. I said I would rather it be on her record than have her dead. Regardless, she had calmed down and it seemed pointless to take her to the ER.

We got through the weekend and then we bought our Christmas tree on Tuesday night. We parked on the street because we couldn’t fit our car into the garage with the tree loaded on the roof. I left the car there overnight. The next morning, as was quite often the case, something set my daughter off. I finally got her to the car so that she’d be on time for school when she ran right into the busy street screaming, “I want to die!” My five-year-old and three-year-old stood patiently on the sidewalk as I darted out into traffic and retrieved my daughter, once again. I drove my little ones to preschool and headed directly to the ER with my eldest child. I was terrified, but an angel was watching over all of us.

I felt like an idiot walking into the emergency room with a small child and telling them that she had tried to kill herself.

How many eight-year-olds attempt suicide? The triage nurse took my daughter’s vitals and asked her some questions. As a reward for her answers, a police officer was placed to watch over her as she was put on a 5150 hold, an involuntary hold for anyone suspected of having a mental disorder that makes them a danger to themselves or others. Yep, a 5150 hold for my eight-year-old.

After about 10 hours in the ER, they admitted my baby girl to the child and adolescent neuropsychiatry unit. I was allowed to walk up with them to her room, and they made me leave. My daughter had a massive tantrum and was sedated with a shot. I walked out of the security doors and collapsed on the floor crying. I was in a daze. I was upset, scared, and angry. I could not believe I was walking out of that hospital without my child. I have no idea how my feet managed to take me to my car, or how I drove to collect my other two children, or even how I got home.

Yes, my 8-year-old was admitted to the hospital…When I took her to the ER, it was not her first attempt at suicide.

My pastor and his wife were waiting at my apartment when I arrived. They were there to show their support and offer some words of comfort. They stayed for a short while, and I was left alone again with my other two children. I was upset and crying, but to my surprise, my children were excited and happy that their sister was in the hospital. My five-year-old son said, “Now she won’t hurt us anymore or have fits all the time.” Wow, yes, he reminded me that we were living in a nightmare before she even went to the hospital. We had been living a nightmare her entire life.

And then, on the third day of her hospital stay, I received another phone call from the same ominous voice, leaving the exact same message…

“Ho, Ho, Ho! Merry Christmas! You have a package under the Courtyard at Sherman Oaks sign.”

I shared the eerie voicemails with a friend of mine who was staying with my younger children while I visited my daughter at the hospital. She decided to go out front to check by the sign. She came back with her arms loaded with gifts and a gigantic smile on her face. There were three separately wrapped gifts, one for each of the first three days of Christmas. And each subsequent day over the Twelve Days of Christmas, we received the same phone call and we dashed outside to retrieve our gifts. The gifts were hand-tailored to our family. In the midst of the most awful time of my life, I was receiving the most amazing and thoughtful gifts.

After one week, my daughter was discharged from the hospital with a diagnosis of a mood disorder, severe anxiety, severe depression, and ADHD. After her inpatient stint, she was in outpatient treatment from 8am-3pm for four months. In hindsight, that horrible day was a turning point that changed our lives. We still have struggles and she can be very unpredictable at times, but with medication, therapy, and lots of love and prayers, my daughter is overcoming her obstacles.

To this day, I don’t know who our secret Santa was, but the note cards that accompanied the gifts are put out every year along with our Christmas decorations. That secret Santa was an angel for us that year and serves as a reminder that we are taken care of even in our darkest hour.

In the midst of the most awful time of my life, I was receiving the most amazing and thoughtful gifts.

For more articles on how to deal with difficult times, read How to Enjoy the Holidays, When Heartbreak Tries to Steal Your Joy, The Best Way to Co-Parent During the HolidaysWhen Life Gives You a New Normal, or for ideas on how you can care for perfect strangers, check out How to Love People Who Don’t Have Family During the Holidays and To the People Who Make the Holidays Happen.

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