One More Family Christmas

Our stories about meaningful experiences are written as they unfold. Therefore, most stories are in the present tense. Some of the patients in these stories are no longer with us. They, and their families, gave us permission to share their experience with you. For those who have since passed, we share these in their memories with deep appreciation for what they have taught us about life and living.

Rob Riddell, a cancer survivor, had a good life: a job he loved, faith and optimism in spades, and a large, happy family.

In 2016, at the young age of 54, the cancer returned. Rob was undaunted. Despite a poor prognosis, he felt blessed to have lived six years past his last bout with cancer.

We cared for Rob at home. Then, in October, he was admitted to our Compassionate Care Center for symptom management. His large family was a constant presence.

As he thought about how important his family was to him, Rob made a special request: one more Christmas celebration with his wife, children, and grandchildren.

“I want them to have one more Christmas with all of us together,” he told us. “It’s my gift to these grandbabies.”

Our staff started to plan. But, just a few days later, Rob declined rapidly. We realized we had hours, not weeks, to make this happen.

We found donors and volunteers to help. We were able to source a Christmas tree with decorations and place it in his room. A staff member knew someone locally who plays Santa at events, and he agreed to help us. A local non-profit organization donated two toys for each grandchild, which we wrapped and placed under the tree. Rob told us what he hoped to give to each family member, and we found those gifts, too. Staff and volunteers donated decorations and food.

That evening, all 11 grandchildren gathered around Rob’s bed and sang carols with him. The tree cast a warm glow as gifts were exchanged and the family opened the presents Rob requested we find for them. Santa visited with every child and grandchild and treated some of the adult family members to a Christmas waltz. Christmas music played in the background as the family celebrated together.

For Rob’s wife Sandra, this special Christmas is a memory she treasures.

“It meant so much to us, knowing it meant so much to him,” she says. “We hadn’t even thought that far ahead. But, he had. He knew he wouldn’t be with us by late December, so he made sure he had one more Christmas with all of us. It was kind of a closure for him and it was so special for us.”

To watch Rob’s story, visit

How can you honor life during National Hospice & Palliative Care Month? Visit the #WeHonorLife campaign page to learn about all the ways you can help, from volunteering and shopping to helping us increase access to specialized care for the seriously ill and their families. Questions? Contact us at or 859-986-1500 or visit our website.

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