This journey has totally taken its toll on me. I have aged, I am out of shape, I am tired, I am scared, I am angry, and I am so sad. When I think of what it has done to me, I realize having a child with a disease that has no cure, takes a toll on the entire family. So for us that family, includes my son Will, someone I don’t say much about, not because there isn’t much to say, but because thinking about being away from Will does something to me that is hard to put into words.
When Will was born he was in the NICU, he couldn’t eat and drink and breathe at the same time. He was there for a couple of weeks and every night when we left the hospital I would cry the entire way home from the hospital. I swore to myself, once he got out of the hospital, I wouldn’t leave him over-night again until he was ready, and I didn’t, not for three years, not until his sister was born. I’m not sure if it was the separation at birth or just some kind of special bond between the two of us, but we stuck together.
There isn’t a bad thing I could tell you about my son. He’s special. Every teacher he’s ever had has told me this, my friends tell me this, Faith tells me this. He is an amazingly selfless little boy. He is kind, and caring, and he loves people in a way that is indescribable. After his father and I divorced he asked me, do you think you will ever get remarried. My honest answer was, if I can find someone who loves me the way you love people, I will.
Will is moments away from tears at every moment of every day. He misses me and he misses the life we used to have. Monday Movie night, Tuesday taco’s, Sunday fun-day. We stuck together. We were a strong little family, really we still are, just in a different way. At night when I tell him good night, he tries hard to hold it together, to be tough, and not cry…and usually he does okay. Little does my boy know I hang up the phone and go into the bathroom and cry, almost every night. One of the moms told me it gets easier, its been many days, its doesn’t.
What is most amazing about Will is he never ever complains, he never asks me to come home, he never gets mad at his sister. He is graceful and accepting. Before Faith got sick, I was working, money wasn’t something we had to worry about, we vacationed all the time. Chicago or Orlando…that’s where we went. Will loved vacationing, and often talks about the great times we had. But he never, ever complains about how much our lives have changed. We used to have a really nice car a new Expedition, now I drive a car that is ten years older than he is, and it has no TV…and it looks like a car a grandma would be driving, one day his friend asked why his mom was driving that old ugly car, Will replied, because I loved it, so she traded our other car for it. When he got in the car he apologized on behalf of his friend, and said, I am just thankful we have a car.
I could not be more proud of him. But I worry. I don’t want Will to remember his childhood as years of being separated from his family. I need him to make happy memories. Last night, is a night that he will remember forever. And it will never, not ever be erased from my memory. It was a night that was supposed to be all about Faith, funny, for me the greatest impact was how my son was effected by the evening.
Faith was asked to represent Mott at the Woodson, Griese, Hutchinson Champs for Children Gala. Charles Woodson has a research fund that raises money for research to find cures for kids like Faith. It was an amazing evening and Faith did a great job. She was the star of the event, even though we were surrounded by celebrity athletes. I was very proud. But, there happened to be another star sitting at our table that night, the quarterback for the Detroit Lions, Matt Stafford.
If you know anything about me, you know I think being a celebrity or an amazing athlete doesn’t make you a star. Being a star is about who you are…not about what you do. Sure, when you look at what Matt Stafford did on the field last year, it would be hard to find someone who wouldn’t call him a super star athlete…but in my eyes, stars are made from the inside out, and rest assured Lions fans your quarterback is as much of a star inside as he is on the outside.
At the beginning of the evening a very beautiful young woman sat down at our table, she introduced herself as Kelly. Faith was immediately in love. After the athletes in attendance were introduced Matt Stafford came and sat next to her at the table. Immediately, Will’s entire disposition changed. Suddenly, there was life in my sons eyes, and a smile, a really excited happy smile that I had not seen for months.
Right away Matt could tell that my son was a fan, he stuck his hand out and introduced himself. The next hour or so Will asked all kinds of questions, who do you like to throw the ball to the most, did you ever play other sports, at one point they were talking about candy. Matt’s girlfriend had Faith just as engaged, they talked about nails, and dresses, she was delightful. Beautiful inside and out.
Part of the Gala included a live auction where there were big ticket items raffled to the highest bidder. I noticed my son pointing out a package that included a trip to Chicago with tickets to a Monday Night football Game to see the Lions and the Bears a package donated by Mike Tirico. Dhani Jones was the auctioneer and asked Stafford to beef the package up by adding some tickets to the game. He agreed and the bidding began. Will was excited to see who won the package and watched intently to see who was going to see his Lions play in Chicago, suddenly, the Lions own quarterback began bidding on the package, Dhani teased about being able to watch and play at the same time, saying I know you were good last year, but man that is talent. I assumed he was driving the price of the package up, all the money goes to Mott, I thought it was incredibly cool of him. As the bidding continued he wasn’t backing off…he was in it, he wanted to win that package, and had I known why, I’m certain, I would have been in tears. Somewhere in the $15k range Matt Stafford was the owner of the MNF package, the crowd laughed, but moments later, that same crowd would be giving the Mott newcomer a standing ovation. As he won the package he turned to Will and said, there you go buddy, you go to Chicago, and take your family. The look on my sons face, I will never forget. His chin began to quiver, he was about to cry. He quickly jumped up and gave Matt a hug, and thanked him over and over again.
Word traveled quickly to Dhani and the great news was shared with the rest of the crowd. Everyone was pretty taken back, an incredibly generous gesture for a young man who clearly understands giving back to his community. But, what I am certain the rest of the room didn’t understand is this… Matt had asked Will to look at the auction items and tell him what thing he would pick if he could pick one. He set out to make a difference for Will, someone who suffers so much loss from Faith illness. Someone who is so often is overlooked in this mess.
That entire night was about Faith, and about children like Faith who deal with illness and fight for their lives everyday. No one could have missed that. What wasn’t as easy to see, and what people who are in my every day life often miss is how Will is no less effected by Faith’s illness.
Quarterbacks are probably the most influential player among all team sports in the success or failure of the team. I think they have to see it all…Detroit Fans, your Quarterback, he see’s it. He was able to give Will a night he will never forget. He was able to heal some of the hurt, and give Will something to look forward to.
I wanted to tell Matt Stafford how touched I was, I wanted him to understand the impact he had on Will. I wanted him to understand his impact on me. There was no way, I wouldn’t be able to, I work really hard not to cry in front of people. And no way could I even begin to tell him now touched I was.
As I said goodnight to Will that night, he was teary. I said, It won’t be much longer we will be home, he said no Mom I just don’t want this night to end, it’s the best night of my life. When we got off the phone, I didn’t need to hide in the bathroom, I didn’t even want to cry. I went to sleep thinking about how happy my son was, it’s been a while since I’ve been able to do that.
So as football season comes along, and you see #9 from the Detroit Lions take the field remember, your looking at a superstar athlete…from the inside out.