Over the weekend, Dan and I attended a fundraiser for a local non-profit organization called Jack's Helping Hand that assists special needs and medically fragile children. They couple who started the organization did so after their son lost his three year battle with brain cancer. Since then, they have helped many, many children in our area who are very ill with hospital bills, travel and living assistance (we live far away from a major medical center and the sickest of the sick have to travel at least 200 miles to receive care) and more. The cause was very near and dear to our hearts, as the organization helped us while we were in LA by paying for our stay at the Ronald McDonald House and provided us with a gas card as well as a gift card for food expenses. Since we were both not working and living 200 miles from home for almost two months, this was very beneficial to us both financially and mentally. When your child is dying in a hospital, the least of your worries should be how you are going to pay to stay with them until they pass. This organization allowed us to be there for her and we are very grateful for their support. I wish I could have afford to bid on some of the amazing auction items (one of them went for $25,000!) but we are not quite there yet with our finances (and won't probably ever be unless we win the lotto someday). Can you imagine having the means to spend $25k on one item at a fundraiser? There really are some generous people out there and the world is a better place because of them.
Anyway, like most things in our lives right now, the event was bittersweet. We were very happy to be there but it was definitely emotional for the both of us. Before the live auction, they brought out a few of the kids that they have helped in the past - pretty standard practice at most fundraisers. I, along with the rest of the crowd, shed some tears listening to these kids stories. However, I think my reasons for crying were probably a bit different then most of the other attendees. I was crying not only because of the pain and fear that these poor children had to endure but also because I could really put myself in their family's shoes. I know how helpless it feels to have a sick child. I know how it feels to be watching your child suffer in a hospital and not know whether the next minute would be their last. And I cried because of how lucky these families were because they didn't have to know the pain of watching their child die in their arms and coming home without them. I cried because I wanted Naya to be there with them instead of gone. All of these stories of sick children are not just stories to us - we lived them and unfortunately, ours didn't have a happy ending.
That's one thing that has kind of bothered me with organizations that help sick children and their families - they only ever tell the survivor's stories. I get the reasoning - obviously the stories of death are not as pretty as the ones who survived - but I think it sends the wrong message sometimes. Makes you think that the cases where the child dies are very uncommon when actually, it's the other way around. I've never seen the Ronald McDonald house mention any child other than the survivors on their Facebook page or website but I can tell you that, at least when we were there, half of those families were staying there to be with their children when they died. It's sad and horrible and not at all pretty but it's the truth - believe me, I saw the roses that they put out in their lobby anytime a child passed. They added new ones everyday. But it's never talked about because it's not a pretty subject.
That leads me to my next comment about the fundraiser (and life in general after your child passes away). People get really, really uncomfortable when you tell them you have a child who died. I mean incredibly uncomfortable. Being noticeably pregnant, I deal with this a lot. People always ask me when I'm due then the automatic next question is "is this your first?" Usually, I just say no. Some people leave it at that and others ask how many you have. This is hard and shitty question to answer - do I make them uncomfortable or torture myself by lying? I usually just say I have a 10 year old son and a daughter who would be 1 in July but passed away when she was 7 weeks old. Most people immediately change the subject and I just go with it. Some pretend like they didn't hear me at all. And some react and tell me how sorry they are. But they are all uncomfortable and that makes me uncomfortable. It's really a no-win situation.
We encountered this question a few times at the fundraiser - only this time it was from people asking why were there, along with the typical pregnancy questions. I answered truthfully as I wanted to show them the good that the organization was doing in the community. Yes, our story isn't as pretty as some of the others but this organization helped us in our time of need and we are very grateful. I congratulate them on an incredible fundraiser ($150k in the live auction alone!) and am so happy that they are around to help other families.
If you want more information on Jack's Helping Hand, check out their website. This family is truly inspirational for turning a tragic situation into a positive one and I look up to them as role models.