Claudia and Bella
Sign-in and registration opens 15 minutes prior to each session. Registration was just wrapping up when Claudia and Bella arrived. Claudia asked the volunteers at the registration table if we had room for Bella to join and the volunteers said yes!
Claudia replied, “Oh good! I’m so glad Bella is going to be able to join you this evening. I saw your flyer on the bulletin board in the hall outside my son’s room…” Claudia couldn’t finish her sentence because she choked with emotion. The volunteers took Bella over to the crafts table, and helped her make a nametag while we took Claudia to the corner of the room and sat down with her away from the other parents and children.
Claudia collected herself and apologized for being so emotional and explained that her 3-year-old son was in the midst of a grave health crisis with a recent leukemia diagnosis and was being admitted from the emergency room to ICU. She was tired and overwhelmed and felt guilty for bringing Bella to the hospital, but she didn’t have anyone to watch her at home on such short notice. She said this is exactly what Bella needed. She was so happy and relieved that Bella had a safe, fun place to go to for refuge for two whole hours from the extremely stressful circumstances developing around her. Claudia said, “The respite you’re offering my daughter, I couldn’t ask anything more for her at this moment. Thank you so much.”
Roland and Joseph
One afternoon, we were in a hospital cafeteria scouting for children for a Star Sibling session that evening. We spotted Roland and his son, Joseph, who was maybe five or six years old. Roland sat with his back toward us. Joseph faced us and we smiled at Joseph as we walked toward their table.
We introduced ourselves, told them about the Star Sibling session, and invited Joseph to attend. Roland said, “Thanks but no thanks. My son is very shy. I don’t know that he would participate. His attention span is limited.” Joseph’s smiling face, which was covered in pudding, encouraged us to gently press on. We told Roland of the special one-on-one attention Joseph would receive from our trained volunteers and the structured activities he would be participating in. Roland finally and reluctantly agreed.
When Roland dropped Joseph off a couple hours later, he reiterated that his son might not make it the whole event because of his shyness and separation anxiety. We assured Roland that Joseph was in good hands.
Joseph had a blast! He jumped right into the session’s project, was a willing participant in all of the activities, and talked the entire time. Roland secretly checked in on him a couple times during the evening to make sure all was well.
When we saw Roland and Joseph the next day at the hospital, Joseph ran toward us and gave us big hugs. Roland’s eyebrows were raised and he had a conciliatory expression on his face when he said, “You were right. I was wrong. He had an amazing time. It’s all he could talk about on the way home last night and again this morning. You made him so happy. I had no idea he was that outgoing. Thank you so much. Thank you for opening my eyes to my son."
Judith and Rudy
We met Judith and her five-year-old son, Rudy, a week after Christmas in the Hematology Oncology pediatric intensive care unit at Kaiser Permanente hospital in Hollywood. Rudy sat in a chair near his eight-year-old sister who was asleep in her hospital bed while he quietly watched a movie on a portable DVD player.
As we were telling Judith about the Shine On Sibling event that was happening that evening, Judith began telling us about Christmas morning. Rudy ran into her bedroom Christmas morning, filled with excitement and saying one of the presents under the tree looked like the present he begged Santa for in his letter that he sent to him at the North Pole. As he was running back into the living room where all the presents were, his dad yelled, “STOP! Wait. We are NOT opening presents!" Rudy stopped in his tracks and turned around to face his parents, asking why as his body stiffened. Judy said she could see on his face that he already knew why. His dad said, “Sister spiked a fever last night. We have to take her to the hospital. Christmas is postponed until she feels better. You have to wait until she gets discharged, and we’ll open the presents together then."
Judy said her heart was broken for Rudy and she felt so guilty, but she had to scramble to get her daughter to the hospital. Rudy said, "This cannot be happening. Not today. Not again. It’s all about Sister. Everything is always about her. What about me?!"
Flash forward a week to the hospital where he sat in a chair next to his sister’s hospital bed, watching a movie on a portable DVD player. Judy said since her daughter had not been released that she and her husband let Rudy open presents a couple days ago.
Lorraine and Marley
Lorraine is a mom that we met at a Star Sibling event who told us about her daughter Marley’s last birthday. A princess themed party had been planned for months. All of Marley’s friends would be there to celebrate her birthday with her. A bouncy castle was to be delivered the morning of the party. A princess cake was ordered. Lorraine said she even made princess dresses for all the little girls with the most ornate dress saved for the birthday girl.
Lorraine’s ten-year-old son, Evan, has cystic fibrosis and the day before the party he developed a high fever and had to be admitted to the hospital. Lorraine had no choice but to cancel the party. There would be no friends in princess dresses, no bouncy castle, no cake, and no celebration. Marley was crushed and despondent. Lorraine said she sank into the depths of guilt for disappointing Marley while rising to the heights of worry if Evan would make it through his health crisis.
Lorraine said, “That year nearly broke me,” but this year’s birthday, she promised, would be different. She’d been putting money aside for a surprise trip to Disneyland for Marley’s ninth birthday. Lorraine said she made her limited budget stretch in ways she never thought possible, so she can see Marley’s face light up when she tells her she’s going to meet real live princesses when they go to Disneyland for her birthday this year!
We received an email from Lorraine shortly after this story. She confirmed they did make it to Disneyland for Marley’s birthday, and Marley was over the moon happy to meet real live princesses and to get dressed up like one too.