The following e-mail was sent to me by Veronica B. who attended the Lambeth Lion's Memory Box fundraiser on Saturday, Nov. 15th , 2009. I believe it is a testament to the evening and all the wonderful people who made it a success. Veronica has very kindly given me permission to reproduce her story.
Yesterday was another gray overcast day just like the last several days. It rained all day and eventually turned into a heavy wet snow that just kept falling. It was an evening that said, ‘Stay home and curl up with a good book.’ But it was not to be for I was heading out to a fundraiser.
Last night the Lambeth Lions Club put on a fundraiser. The fundraiser brought together a group of people who enjoyed a lovely home style meal, who bid on live and silent auction items and who listened to a variety of speakers. The speakers included a Lions’ club member explaining to us their community project, a paediatric nurse, a social worker, a young couple, a ‘smocker’ and a dad. We were all there for the same reason and it all started because a seed was planted. The seed was an idea that the nurse Colleen had. A co-worker described Colleen as a person when given something would take it, multiply it and then give it back. Colleen was honoured for her dedication to her job and for being a lovely and caring human being. Colleen chose to become a nurse and to provide care for very sick children. Sometimes despite all that modern medicine provides, despite the dedication of the doctors and nurses like Colleen, young lives are lost.
The social worker told us a story of a young father in the 1960s who walked through the snow in Montreal and entered a hospital to collect his young son’s personal effects. He walked up to the nurses’ station and was handed a brown paper bag. That young father was the social worker’s father; the son was her brother. Hence, the seed was planted in Colleen’s mind. This is how a paper bag brought a community together. The idea was to provide parents with a memory box to replace that paper bag. That box would hold treasures of their child so that loved ones could look at them, could smell them and hold them. For some new parents, unfortunately the only thing they would bring home from the hospital would be a memory box. But the box is more than just a box. It is a dovetailed oak box, lovingly handcrafted by the Lambeth Lions club members. It is their box that gives dignity to the death of a child. It helps parents, siblings and relatives to grieve and to heal. It is something tangible for loved ones to treasure and to share with others.
Again, the social worker shared another story. A Mennonite farmer was walking around his farm with his 13-month-old son in tow. A horse, trying to get rid of pesky flies, accidentally kicked the child in the head. The child was taken to a local hospital and then transferred to London, a two hour drive from their home. The family had said their goodbyes at the local hospital as the injuries were grave and unfortunately they were not in a position to accompany the child to London. After the child was examined in London and it was determined that there was no longer any brain activity, the family was contacted through a neighbour’s phone. The social worker asked the parents what she could do for their son as life support was disconnected. The mother said she would like her child to be rocked in someone’s arms in a rocking chair. The social worker, having a child of the same age, was given that privilege. A month had passed and the social worker got in touch with the Mennonite family and asked if she could go and visit them to deliver a memory box. She felt a little awkward pulling up on the farm in her big SUV. Once in the driveway she noticed a couple of children walking from behind a tree. Then another two from behind another tree until finally a family of nine children, parents and grandparents had gathered around her in a circle on the driveway as she held the memory box. The social worker was welcomed into their home for a meal where everyone shared their stories of the toddler who was so suddenly taken from them. If at this point, anyone who heard this story had not wiped away a tear or two, then the next speaker certainly made it very difficult to keep the tears from flowing. It was a young mother whose son lived for a short six months, who was cared for all his life at Children’s Hospital of Western Ontario, where Colleen and the other caring staff work. This mother brought with her, her memory box filled with a little jumper, a hospital health card, a footprint, a photo and other treasures. The mother spoke of the kindness shown to her and her husband. She spoke of how the sorrow never goes away but is eased by looking through the memory box.
The smocker, Susan, then told us about the smocking guild she started twenty-five years ago. Initially the guild provided smocked bonnets to keep the wee babe’s head warm but it was not long before christening gowns were added to the bonnets. These were donated to the neonatal intensive care unit at St. Joseph’s Hospital in London. This came about because the preemies, being as small as one pound, were so small that parents had to purchase doll clothes if they wanted to dress them for Christening or burial. Parents are now given the opportunity to dress their little ones in a beautiful hand-smocked gown for a special service. Now the gown can be added to their memory box. A lady approached Susan that evening who said that almost 18 years ago she received a smocked bonnet from the hospital. That bonnet was placed on a stuffed animal that belonged to her child and to this day, she displays that stuffed animal. As the memory box program has only been in place for three years, this is her way of remembering her child.
And the ‘Dad’ who spoke at the fundraiser. He is probably one of the most famous Dads in Canada. A loving and caring father made famous because of the son he raised … Wayne Gretzky. He was an inspiration to us all. He was witty, honest and a great storyteller. Walter spoke of his brush with death. How he is now robbed of his short-term memory as he is unable to remember where or what he did yesterday. It took him years to relearn how to do such simple things as dress himself. He can however, with great detail, recall things that happened before he had his aneurysm. He spoke lovingly of his family, not just of Wayne but he spoke of all his children, his wife and his parents. A true family man who now travels the country giving of himself now to charities, to his extended families. Mr. Gretzky provided many items for the auction, signed autographs for anyone who wanted them and gave back to the Lion’s Club the donation he had just received from them. There is a wine produced here in Canada and it is called No. 99. All proceeds go to charities. I was able to speak to Mr. Gretzky to thank him for the opportunity he and Wayne had given my nephew Neil this past summer. Because of the Gretzky’s, visually impaired children are able to attend a summer camp free of charge to learn and share with other children who are struggling with blindness.
So, from a paper bag comes an idea that eventually fills a room with people. People gathered together from all walks of life who care about others and give of themselves in some small way to improve the lives of others. The Lambeth Lions Club put on a very touching fundraiser. They will now be able to purchase the supplies they need to create their gorgeous wooden memory boxes. I was truly honoured to share the evening with them.
Whether a child is a part of your life for a day, a month, or a few years, losing them must be the most difficult experience a parent must have to go through in their lifetime. With the support of family, friends and even people you may never meet, hopefully their journey through life can be made just a little easier.