“Don’t seem like Christmas if the mummers aren’t here…..’
The folks in the therapeutic recreation program at the Waterford Hospital have taken those words from Simani’s iconic Newfoundland Mummer’s Song to heart. For 10 years, they’ve dressed the part, danced the part, and delivered a lot of fun and nostalgia to patients in the Eastern Health’s Mental Health and Addictions Program.
Every year, just before the holidays, the mummers crew visits all the patient units at the Waterford Hospital – and in more recent years, the mental health unit at Pleasant View Towers in Pleasantville. No one’s left out: if patients can’t come to see them – they go to their rooms to spread a bit of Christmas merriment – Newfoundland style:
Pam Finn is a native of Brighton, in Green Bay. She says mummering in her lace curtain and rubber boots brings back memories for her – and for the patients they visit: “The memories put you in the Christmas spirit,” she adds. “How good it feels to make them feel good – to see their faces light up. It makes them happy, and that, in turn makes us happy.”
Shaelyn Philips agrees. She joined the mummers this year too, while doing an internship with the therapeutic recreation program. “As therapeutic recreation specialists, we’re the ones giving patients a bit of activity – a bit of excitement,’ she adds. But this is something to look forward to – for all of us!”
And along with their guitars, tambourines and traditional Newfoundland ‘ugly sticks’ – these mummers have another familiar figure in tow.
Santa Claus fits right in with the mummers – with the bright red costume and the covered face. For Heather Bishop, who joined the mummers for the first time this year as the jolly old elf, she says the impact of a brief appearance left a lasting impression:
“This 15 minutes out of our day means the world to our patients,” she added. Even those with dementia – you see the spark of memory for that minute, and the music helps them reminisce. It’s very powerful.”
Laurie Ruby agrees. She’s not originally from Newfoundland, so mummering wasn’t part of her Christmas tradition – but she says some of the patients they visit likely did a bit of mummering at some point in their lives. “This unexpected visit from mummers makes for such excitement and such a surprise,” she adds with a smile.
“Everything is on hold in their lives at this point – so it lifts their spirits, just listening to the music. Even those who don’t speak, will start to tap their feet – and eventually they try to sing.”
Terri Lynn Critch has been with Eastern Health’s therapeutic recreation program for 17 years – and patients’ capacity for giving back still amazes her. Last year, the mummers group branched out from the mental health units at the Waterford Hospital – and popped downstairs to the dialysis unit.
“It was Christmas Eve – and all the dialysis beds were full. We came in dancing – and everyone smiled and shook our hands. They were lying back in their beds getting dialysis – and wishing us a Merry Christmas. It spoke volumes to me.”
Charlene Edwards is another of the mummering veterans. She says depression can be all too common around the holiday season, as people try and cope with illness, grief or loss. She sees the mummering tradition as something of an antidote to that – an opportunity to bring cheer into their lives.
Along with the mummering, Eastern Health’s food services staff prepare loot bags or Christmas stockings for the inpatients. For some, it might be the only gift they receive.
“Sometimes, our patients don’t have family or social supports, so we fill that void – especially at Christmas,” Charlene says. “Sometimes, it’s not so much what they say, but the expression on their faces. This tradition shows what recreation therapy is all about: quality of life and joy for people who don’t have families. We give them a bit of normalcy in their lives.
“We give them Christmas.”■
This story was written by Deborah Collins, a communications manager with Eastern Health, in St. John’s.