For Mathilde Riley, the freshly fallen snow on Christmas morning 1976 served only to mock her dreary mood.
It had been more than six weeks since Sister Riley had entered the hospital in Hartford, Conn., where doctors were treating her heart infection prior to performing open heart surgery. Since October she had lounged around her hospital room amusing herself by inspecting the same old pictures and examining the same sterile walls day after day.
Her husband, Donald, had tried to break the monotony by bringing presents for her to wrap and Christmas cards for her to sign. But this Christmas held little promise that it would be any different than the blur of previous days.
At one point during the morning, "Donald suggested I look out the window," Sister Riley said. "I couldn't believe what I was seeing: Parents of a young family, along with their five children, coming into the hospital.
"Each was carrying something. Richard Lindmark, the father, was carrying a Christmas tree. Dorothy, his wife, carried ornaments. The children also had their arms full. R.J. and Natalie carried presents. Wayne had more decorations. Sam had the tree stand and Alison the Christmas treats.
"I was all choked up. They were giving up their Christmas to be with me.
"They were singing Christmas carols as they came out of the elevator. Their music lifted the mood of the whole floor. We decorated the tree in a visitor lobby area. Dorothy had created ornaments by spelling the names of each person with a string of glue and then sprinkling with glitter.
"Others on the floor heard our celebration and joined. The Lindmark children . . . never seemed bored but stayed all day mingling with the patients. We exchanged gifts. I remember I received a pillow case with my name embroidered on it. Donald received a pillow with his name embroidered."
This was the Rileys' first Christmas since joining the Church a few months earlier in July 1976. "My husband had contracted polio when he was 4 years old," she said, "and he felt self-conscious being helped into the font." Still, "it was a glorious occasion." Brother Riley died in 1994. Sister Riley resides in the Bloomfield Ward, Hartford Connecticut Stake.
"This was the Christmas I'll never forget," Sister Riley said. "Never does a Christmas go by without me reflecting on this wonderful family who made such a big difference in our conversion."
Another in a series of "Christmas Moments."
Illustration by John Clark.