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On Christmas Day a 20-something with a brunette ponytail and big smile came in carrying a basket of soft, squishy plush dogs – each with a red ribbon around its neck embroidered 2016.

Merry Christmas! We were gifted these and we’re giving them to the patients, she said as she came in. I smiled and stood.

She looked at the woman lying in bed. Oh, she’s sleeping. I’ll give this to you. I reached for the toy.

Thank you… and Merry Christmas, I told her.

She said something else – I don’t remember what. I told her how much our mom loves dogs and how pleased she would be with this one…

Then those awful words slipped out of my mouth before I could stop them…

But she won’t be waking up.

The girl’s face fell.

And I hated myself for making her smile disappear.

Her hand grasped my arm. I’m so sorry.

It’s okay. This is so sweet, I told her, clinging to the puppy. Thank you.

My heart pounded with regret. It’s not that I wanted her to be sad… or intended to ruin her day… or wished to drag her into our sorrow…

But I felt sorry for my mom… how she didn’t get to see this gift and the beautiful, joyful giver… how she missed the one moment when clouds broke through to let the sunlight of human kindness pour into that hospital room.

My brother and sister voiced their thanks before she left.

I handed the puppy to Becky, who clutched it, claiming it as her own.

And there I sat, wishing to take back my words, still regretting the dampening of her joy.

Two or three minutes later she peeked around the door again, smiling. I smiled back. She made her way toward my chair, leaned down, looked me in the eyes and asked Can I give you a hug?

I stood and we hugged.

Thank you so much. It’s okay, because she’s going to Heaven, I said.

Still hugging she whispered, I’m praying for your family.

Thank you… I said, still hugging.

She walked over and hugged Becky and Scott, and smiled again as she turned to leave.

The words I so regretted brought her return.

Maybe I shouldn’t have spoken them.

Oh, but I’m glad I did.