Miles away in a different time zone, where snow buries the yards and Old Man Winter takes up residence for a wintry season, the true spirit of Christmas blossomed in the bosoms of total strangers to the benefit of those close to me — my sister, nephew and brother-in-law.
First, I have to give a little back story. I’m the oldest of four siblings. One of my sisters — the second oldest — moved her family to North Carolina in order to send my nephew, Ethan, to a special school for children with Down Syndrome. This was a huge shock to the family as we are all California-born and bred and the thought of uprooting was something we couldn’t understand. But my sister Kristen had become a voracious advocate, not only for Ethan but for every child with special needs and she wanted to do the best by her son, even if it meant selling their home and starting a whole new life away from everyone and everything they’d ever known.
Two weeks after they’d arrived in North Carolina, Ethan was diagnosed with leukemia. Separated from family, alone and scared, my sister did what she always does when faced with adversity — she persevered.
Again and again.
My nephew went through three years of chemotherapy where his hair fell out and caused awful sores to erupt in his mouth that bled constantly, severe reflux, and aspiration. Most recently he was diagnosed with autism, a sensory processing disorder, and Tethered Cord Syndrome.
At 8 years old, Ethan is nonverbal and only recently started to walk, thanks to the discovery of the tethered cord (another instance where “Mama Bear” Kristen went after and found the cause of her son’s issue) so up until now, she has had to carry him on her hip even though he weighs as much as the average second grader. Oh, and did I mention that my sister has rheumatoid arthritis? Yeah. And there’s more.
At one time my sister was in banking. She loved her job and she was good at it. But Ethan’s medical needs swamped her available vacation time, sick and personal days. She could no longer hold a job. Her husband, Scott, became their sole support.
A month ago he lost his job.
Chalk another one up to the tanking economy.
They were barely making it before and now…the outlook is grim.
Kristen broke down in tears. They were going to lose their house.
It’s been years since my sister could afford Christmas. Frankly, with the daily struggle to care for Ethan and juggle his mounting medical bills, it was the least of their worries.
But this Christmas my sister and her family were blessed.
First, their church delivered a fully decorated Christmas tree right to their door.
Second, a friend wrote a compelling blog post about my sister and their plight. Presents started to arrive for the whole family, which were delivered last week to tears of gratitude.
And I realized, this was the true spirit of Christmas. Not the presents specifically, but the outpouring of support and love from strangers who opened their hearts and their wallets to help a family who is being beaten down by life through no fault of their own.
I wish I had the resources to smooth the road my sister is traveling but I don’t. I can only send what I can and offer my shoulder to cry upon. I can listen and share her tears but I can’t take away the pain, frustration and despair.
If only I could.
My sister personifies grace under pressure. She’s kind, generous, and stubbornly loyal. She’s the kind of person who takes what life has given her without complaint and then goes after the positive like the Mama Bear she is. She doesn’t accept defeat. She doesn’t quit. She doesn’t allow anyone else to, either. Yet, when she said in a tear-choked voice, “I can’t take any more…” I nearly lost it for her. There’s only so much one can take. And my sister had reached her limit.
I’m so humbled and grateful a group of strangers did what I could not — and not only gave her a Christmas to remember but buoyed her belief that life is good and there are unseen blessings out there, waiting to add joy to our lives, if even only briefly.
So here’s a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has given selflessly this season. Let us all pay it forward with acts of kindness. It matters and it counts. Sometimes more than we know…
Sidenote: I encourage everyone to read the blog post on my sister and see the pictures. They’ll bring tears to your eyes. Here is the link:
Kim Van Meter is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News, and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 847-3021.