If Christmas is about helping people in need, then this is a Christmas story.
On December 11, almost seven months after she was diagnosed with colorectal cancer and only a day short of her 34th birthday, my daughter, Sarah, passed away.
I am not going to write here about our grief, or the devastating loss her absence leaves for all who loved her, especially her husband and five young children.
Instead, I want to write about how my husband and I survived the transition from a peaceful retirement to the 60+ hour a week job of helping to care for her and her children while she was ill, how we were able to sustain the privilege of being able to be with her for her last seven months of life. The short version is that we didn’t do it alone. First, we didn’t come close to the even longer hours and herculean efforts that her husband, Brent, put in. And second, well, we had a village.
There is a meme going around FB that says instead of telling people in crisis that God won’t give them more than they can bear, how about showing up to do a few loads of laundry? We have been surrounded by people who live that meme, by people who have shown us what love looks like.
Her friends organized a fundraising campaign almost immediately after the cancer diagnosis through https://www.youcaring.com/sarah-dunaway-361857. and not only did many friends and family donate, but also people who didn’t know Sarah at all, but who wanted to help a young mother with cancer.
Her friends also created a signup sheet to coordinate service through Volunteer Spot, https://www.volunteerspot.com/. In addition, members of her local church group worked to help us. Here is just a partial list of their constant and ongoing efforts:
A neighbor, who lost her own husband to colon cancer, came over and mowed the lawn every week or ten days all through the summer, and another neighbor raked up all the autumn leaves.
We had meals brought in twice a week (three times a week for awhile) and cleaning crews show up every week. And a group of nine or ten women came for four hours on a Saturday before Thanksgiving and did a thorough deep cleaning of the house.
After the first month here, when my spouse and I discovered we were burning out watching the kids while Brent was at work—not because of the kids, who are wonderful, but because they are kids, with kid energy and we are old and tired–we asked for help. After that, babysitting was added to the sign up list, and we had people show up five days a week for a couple of hours to give us a break and some personal time. In addition, Brent’s and my family members regularly came by to babysit or take the kids on outings. We wouldn’t have made it without them.
Sarah’s friends put up all her Christmas decorations and decorated
two beautiful trees because they knew how much Sarah loved Christmas, and they regularly visited her and brought her lunch and goodies.
Sarah and Brent were able to take the kids to Disneyland because of the generosity of his boss and my niece’s family.
Youth groups weeded the yard and made gift baskets for the kids, as well as frozen casseroles for us to heat up on days we didn’t want to have to cook.
Hospice nurses went above and beyond the call of duty to help make my daughter as comfortable as possible. Their assistance allowed her to die at home surrounded by loving family.
These acts of kindness came from busy people with children of their own, jobs, and lots of reasons that they shouldn’t have time or means to help us. They continued to help us, not just for a week or two, but for seven months, and the help is still ongoing.
They are the face of love, and they have eased the way of our terrible journey.