To the Beesley family on the passing of your amazing father, husband, grandfather, uncle, brother, friend:
I am sure that you will be inundated with hundreds of stories of the amazing man that many knew only as “Santa.” I had to add my story to the mix. Please bear with me as I try to pay tribute to someone who had a major impact on my life. I am not sure that I can add anything to your memories or ease your pain at all, but I would love to share my memories of Santa. He was the real deal. He was loving, kind, generous, and all around amazing.
The first time one of my children sat on Santa’s lap was in 1988. My son, Michael was only 2 months old when my sister took him to the West Belt Mall (aka Wayne Towne Center). While that polaroid picture has long since been lost (probably sticking in one of my hundreds of photo albums), the memories are clear.
Over the years, I brought my children to see different Santas, but there was only one true Santa, and we have faithfully seen him every year since 1998, with one exception.
In 1998, when Michael (age 10), Derek (age 9), Kellina (age 4), Ryan (age 4), and Sean (almost age 2), wanted to see Santa, my ex husband and I brought the children to Wayne Towne. My ex insisted that we take our own picture and not pay for one of the packages. I was beyond embarrassed, but there was nothing I could do. He refused to allow me to pay. I apologized to Santa, and he just smiled warmly at me and told me, “It’s okay.”
In December 1999, one month after my ex terminated his rights to visit with my five young children, I brought them to see Santa. When he looked up and saw me, he asked, “Hubby not with you this year?” I guess my ex really made more of an impression on Santa than I thought.
I whispered in his ear so the children couldn’t hear that their father had walked out and terminated his rights to see them. Michael was 11, Derek was 10, Kellina and Ryan were 5, and Sean would be 3 in January. Santa hugged me and refused to allow me to pay for the package. He not only gave it to me for free, he slipped money into my pocket and told me to get the children something from him for Christmas.
We continued to see him in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006, with him periodically giving me the package for free, and him giving the children free chocolate or an ornament.
Not only did we get an annual photo with Santa, he was part of our family Christmas card each year.
In 2007, I held a photo of Michael because he was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia with the US Navy. Santa told me he was very proud of him.
In 2008, Santa looked up at us when we were next in line, and I burst into tears. He came to me and hugged me. I told him that my mother had died that past June, Michael was away on his first deployment, and Derek was visiting his father out of state. My ex had not seen the children since 1999, but Derek wanted to connect with him, so he went to visit. My heart was broken with three missing that Christmas, and I was feeling lost. He asked me to meet him at K-Mart where he purchased presents for my three youngest children, who were then Kellina and Ryan, 14, and Sean who would be 12 in January.
In 2009, Michael was once again at Naval Station Norfolk and could not be home before Christmas. I dragged my other four to see Santa along with Derek’s girlfriend. Derek had signed a contract with the US Army and was set to leave for basic training in January 2010. Santa had a long conversation with Derek about his time as an Army Ranger. That conversation meant so much to my Derek.
In 2010, Michael was on his second deployment, so I held his photo, but Derek got to come home for a weekend so we could go see Santa. Derek and Santa talked about Derek’s upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.
In August 2011, I called Santa to tell him that Derek had been injured by a PPIED in the Zhari District of Afghanistan. At that point, we did not know if Derek would live or die. He told me he would try to come down and visit, and I was told later that he really tried, but just could not swing a trip to Maryland in the middle of a busy holiday season. It meant the world to me that he tried. Santa told me later that soon after receiving my phone call, he hung a large American flag in his area at Fairfield Home and Gardens in Derek’s honor that remained for the years to follow.
Derek lost both of his legs – his right leg high above the knee, and his left leg at the hip. He lost the use of his right hand, knocked out several teeth, had a traumatic brain injury (TBI), and experienced PTSD. But he was a fighter. He spent 7 months as an inpatient before he was released on March 1, 2012. Santa often checked in with me to follow Derek’s progress.
In December 2012, Derek was in a wheelchair, but he was able to walk short distances on his prosthetics. Because of his extensive injuries, he could not be in his wheelchair for long, so I stood in line and called the kids to join me when I got close to the end.
Derek rode his wheelchair to the exit, and then walked on his prosthetics to Santa, who met him half way, tears running down his face. The people who were waiting in the long line cheered after Santa told them Derek’s story.
That was my favorite year with Santa. Those pictures are the ones I cherish the most. That was my last Christmas with Derek. Derek deployed to Heaven on March 18, 2013. Santa attended Derek’s wake and funeral, even though he himself was not well.
But that was not our last year with Santa.
In 2013, after losing Derek, we took a photo while Santa held on to Derek’s picture. He did the same in 2014 and 2015.
Santa even purchased a gold brick in the Ice Caverns in honor of Derek:
Sadly, our annual Christmas photo with Santa will end as of 2015. We were going to see him next weekend, but it was not meant to be. Santa will be celebrating Christmas in Heaven this year.
When I signed on to Facebook on the afternoon of December 2, 2016, I found it flooded with photos of Santa and heartbroken messages from hundreds of people who loved him.
Even though his lines were always long, he took the time that was needed with each and every family. We knew that when we finally reached the front of the line, that he would not rush us. There will never be another Santa like him. Ever.
Just as Derek walked to Santa on his prosthetics in 2012, I picture Derek, waiting at the Gates of Heaven with open arms as Santa approached.
Two wonderful men.
Gone too soon.
Missed by so many.
I will miss the periodic texts that he sent to me simply saying, “God bless you. I love you.” I will forever regret not getting to see him over the last few months.
I will miss you, Santa. Mr. Beesley, you were one of a kind. Christmas will never be the same.
With all my love,
For information on how you can keep Santa Ray alive in the hearts of so many, please go to the link below: