It’s a Wonderful Life! A Christmas-Time Story that could have Happened in Greensboro

Christmas anticipation could be felt throughout Greensboro. Holiday cheer and generosity filled the air, with traditional holiday sights on display to be enjoyed by all….

Thousands of multi-colored lighted tree balls in the Sunset Hills neighborhood created a magical nighttime display high into the trees. Seemingly hung from the sky itself, the decorations attracted streams of visitors walking or driving through the neighborhood. Many sight-seers donated to local charities, by leaving food or money in collection boxes along the streets.

Further down Market Street the nativity story unfolded across the hillside in front of Greensboro College. First displayed by Pilot Life in the 1930s, the floodlit, panoramic scene had been enjoyed by generations of families. When vandals destroyed the original artwork in 2007, Greensboro College restored the treasured biblical scenes for new generations to appreciate.

Passersby looked for the 20-foot-tall mechanical Santa Claus with rosy cheeks, as he waved his arm steadily from his usual spot in front of Friendly Shopping Center. While Santa would be leaving soon, children (and their parents) counted on him being there again next year about Thanksgiving time.

And many of the good people of Greensboro shared gladly during that season of giving, helping those less fortunate in our community. Sounds of bells ringing for the Salvation Army’s red kettles reminded folks of their blessings and how they could help others.

Yes, Christmas-time felt great in Greensboro!

That’s exactly what Tom Bailey thought as he stepped back to admire his newly added Christmas decorations above the front door. “It’s a wonderful life, Tommy my boy,” Tom murmured to himself. He and his wife Betty were getting ready for a special family Christmas. In case you don’t know Tom and Betty, Tom was from Bedford Falls, where his father George ran the family’s Building and Loan. Betty was born in Greensboro and attended UNC-Greensboro, where she first met Tom. The rest as they say was history.

Now retired and their two children grown with their own families, Tom and Betty had a special Christmas planned. Both children and all five grandchildren were coming home this year. “Why,” Tom thought, “this is the first time we’ve had everyone together since our summer vacation at the beach.” Through the window Tom saw Betty finishing holiday preparations and getting ready for the grandchildren. The scent of freshly baked Christmas cookies made Tom decide he’d best go in to taste one while it was still warm.

Then Tom noticed a flickering Christmas light above the front door. Steadying the ladder he climbed up to adjust the troublesome bulb when all of a sudden…everything went dark for Tom. You see, the lightbulb Tom was adjusting shorted out with a loud “POP!” It startled Tom and he lost his balance. Down he went, bumping his head just hard enough to knock himself out. Tom was okay but definitely out for the count.

Slowly Tom got up and looked around. Everything looked different and he wondered why. His house stood empty, cold and dark with no Christmas decorations. Pounding on his front door Tom called for Betty but heard no answer. Tom ran to the neighbor’s house and rang the bell several times.

A woman answered, “Hello, can I help you?” “Cindy, you know me,” replied Tom. “I’m Tom, your neighbor. It’s me, Tom Bailey. Do you know where Betty is? Why is my house dark? And what happened to all of my Christmas decorations?”

Cindy stepped back and looked cautiously at Tom. “I’m not sure what you mean,” she said. “Yes, I know Betty Bailey. But you’re not her husband, that I’m sure. Betty lived next door until recently. You see Tom, or who whoever you are, Betty was her husband’s care giver. And yes, his name was Tom, too. He’d had a series of mini strokes and then was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Betty cared for him for years and ruined her own health from the physical and emotional stress.”

Tom listened, finding it hard to breathe. He thought, “Just like my dear sweet Betty, thinking of others before herself. But where is she now and what’s happening? This must be a nightmare and I want to wake up!”

Cindy continued, “After Tom needed more care, Betty hired home health aides and even mortgaged their home to pay the bills. She went to court for guardianship over Tom because he couldn’t make decisions for himself. Finally, for Tom’s own safety and nearly broke, Betty moved Tom to a nursing home where he died. Now the bank is foreclosing the house. It’s so sad. Betty moved in with her daughter and son-in-law, who’d added on to their home but they’re pretty financially strapped, too. Betty’s in poor health so her daughter quit her job to provide care at home. But who knows what will happen if Betty gets worse because the money is pretty much gone. Funny thing is, Betty never complained. But Betty said more than once that she’d always thought that Tom had things better planned for them.”

It was too much for Tom. He yelled a loud “NOOO!!!” from deep inside. Startling himself, Tom opened his eyes to see Betty burst through the front door. She spotted Tom on the ground as he propped himself up and realized he’d been out cold briefly. Dazed, Tom reached out and hugged Betty, saying he loved her. Betty hugged him back. Tom started chuckling, softly.

After a few moments Betty looked at Tom, concerned. Tom wouldn’t stop hugging her and he kept chuckling. He laughed louder and louder and wouldn’t stop. Forcefully Betty pushed him away, held him by the shoulders and said, “Thomas Bailey, you have given me a terrible scare. Now all you can do is laugh like a crazy person? What in the world is going on and you tell me right this minute before we head over to the Wesley Long emergency room!”

Tom stopped laughing and grinned. “Betty,” he said, “I must have fallen and hit my head. I had a terrible vision where I needed long-term care. You used all of your savings and ruined your own health to take care of me.”

Betty said, “Why that’s awful! But are you sure you’re okay now? Because why in the world are you laughing about such a terrible thing?”

Tom smiled wider and replied, “Yes, that was terrible and downright scary. But now that I’m awake again, I’m laughing because I know that could never happen to us.” He continued:

Remember Betty, a few years ago we went to The Elderlaw Firm and we did elder law estate planning to protect ourselves and our family? We deeded our home into a protector trust and signed “powerful” powers of attorney for financial and health care decisions. Plus we put into place the right financial plan to cover the costs of home health care if we ever have a stroke or get Alzheimer’s.

We’ve taken important steps to make sure that we’ll never go broke paying for long-term care, and we can stay at home as long as possible.

You and I never are going to be out of money and out of options. And you won’t have to ruin your health while spending your last dime taking care of me. We’ll never be a burden to our children, and we’re going to have a wonderful Christmas knowing we have the peace of mind that we’ve planned ahead.

Tom kissed Betty again and smiled. “That’s why I’m laughing. Because I know that things are going to turn out just fine for us and our family.”

Betty smiled back, saying, “Tommy, I always knew you’d have the right plan in place for us. Now aren’t you glad that you called The Elderlaw Firm like I told you to?”

Tom nodded as Betty helped him stand. Tom and Betty walked into the house holding hands, ready for a joy-filled Christmas…that year and for many years more.

The End

 Merry Christmas from The Elderlaw Firm