"I believed that I knew why he had remembered me and thought of us. At that time, Kevin was 32 years old and needed a hospital bed. Alina was 6 and her daddy was terminally and I was trying to keep a ventilator running and a mattress from deflating."
“Where did summer go?” was the question that I had as Labor Day neared. I thought of summer nights, cool and starlit. I thought of the corn, crisp and sweet, available only blocks away, but not for long. I thought of all of the caring children I had met at our Hope Loves Company camps throughout the summer. In May, at our NJ camp, I had the chance to bond again with familiar faces. In both June and August, I had met many new children and their families from ten different states. Young children, teens, parents and more united in Indiana in June and then in Massachusetts in August, to meet other children who also know about ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). I thought about each one of their families, their situations, and their gifts. I missed them.
Soon, they would be beginning another school year and I wished that I could do more for them. Many of them would have to balance school, activities and possibly caregiving.
As I brushed my hair, I remembered the days when my (now) adult children were preparing for school. It was one of the two times a year when they got me to the mall (the other was holiday shopping) and kept me and my wallet hostage for hours. It was a time of new teachers and new possibilities. I would be excited for what my children would learn, who they would meet and the fun they would have throughout the year. I remembered how hard it was to get one of them up (we will keep his identity sacred!) and how, on tough days, I would grant mental health days home from school. Those cherished days included an exception to our healthy food rule (we’d bring out the chips, Doritos, candy and ice-cream!), a silly movie, snuggling and hot chocolate. Those were the days when our losses felt like living in molasses.
I thought about how quickly summer had faded and how soon fall would surround me. I made a mental note to send care packages to some of the Hope Loves Company teens who left for college and continued to get ready for my meeting. One week before, my colleague Nancy informed me of a MidJersey Chamber of Commerce gathering. She registered us to attend and little did I know what that meeting would bring shortly.
I almost didn’t go: I was tired and my to-do list for the day was long.
Nancy and I arrived at the Residence Inn, Hamilton, New Jersey ready to meet and greet. The conference room was crowded and diverse. Gathered were executives, founders, athletes, and clinicians. We went around the room and introduced ourselves. For the last four years, my introductions have been a constant. I typically state my name of course and that I am the Founder of Hope Loves Company before giving the quick elevator pitch of our mission and services.
It took the entire meeting, one corn muffin, two cups of coffee and one apple juice to get through the many greetings.
After a while, I stood and noticed a man standing to my right. He looked at me. It was curious and I thought perhaps that I knew him but he didn’t look familiar. There must be some affiliation, I thought to myself. I racked my brain but came up short.
The meeting adjourned and members were gathering their belongings and getting on their way. The man also remained and was chatting with other members. When I turned to go, he introduced himself.
“Hi, my name is Bryan and I can’t help to think that you look familiar. I think that I was in your home. I think that I delivered a hospital bed and an air mattress to you.”
My eyes started to well.
“Your husband had a hospital bed and an air mattress, right? I worked in the area and remember your family.”
He saw my tears begin to flow and he choked up.
“I remember your daughter. I have thought about your family a lot over the years. She was so young.”
I covered my eyes and face.
My mind returned to our bedroom in Burlington, N.J., then to my late husband Kevin’s hospital bed. My twin bed snuggled against his hospital bed. The air mattress that once deflated at 2 a.m. when the power went out. The panic. My run to the garage to start the generator. The scary return to find my speechless and paralyzed husband engulfed by a deflated mattress.
“Wow, I can’t believe you recognized me,” I heard myself say. “That was 18 years ago. Kevin, unfortunately, passed in 2001. He was such a wonderful man and father. I now run a nonprofit in his memory.”
Bryan had recognized me.
My family had impacted his life.
I believed that I knew why he had remembered me and thought of us. At that time, Kevin was 32 years old and needed a hospital bed. Alina was 6 and her daddy was terminally and I was trying to keep a ventilator running and a mattress from deflating.
We chatted a little.
Bryan wiped his eyes.
We hugged and headed our separate ways.
I sat in my car, silent- moved by the brief moment that had taken place and the power it occupied.
Fifteen minutes later, I called Bryan and left a message. “Are you ok?”
He called right back.
“I am fine,” he said. “I apologize for upsetting you. I knew that I recognized you. What a testament to you and what you are doing. You were in the fight then with Kevin and you’re still in the fight today by helping children.”
Bryan’s words softened an emotional day. It truly is a small world.