There are times in our lives when angels appear, performing miracles and making a difference in indescribable ways. This happened yesterday for my family. To properly understand the significance of the event, you need to know some important things about us first.
24 years ago my husband and I had our first child and our lives changed forever. Our beautiful boy, who had been oxygen deprived shortly before birth, also suffered a stroke. The two incidents left him with severe brain damage and a seizure disorder that started when he was five months old and froze him in time from that moment forward. I have written Braden’s story before in another location and I will tell that complete story again another day, but for now, the important things to know come way later…about 18 years later.
Because of Braden’s disabilities, he is uncomfortable and in pain a lot of the time. He has cerebral palsy, which strains his muscles in an unnatural way, and scoliosis, which gets worse and worse every year. We never had a vehicle that would accommodate his wheelchair for a couple of reasons– first, it was outside our budget and second, because it just wouldn’t work with the rest of our family if a large part of our family car was dedicated to wheelchair tie downs and the space he would take up. Our method of taking Braden anywhere was to put him in a car seat and then break his wheelchair down to put it in the back of our car. It was a ton of work, hard on Patrick’s back, and meant that every single time we got him out of the car we’d have to reassemble the chair. Not fun at all. As Braden got bigger, the car seat got more and more uncomfortable for him. Imagine sitting in a hard car seat unable to even shift your body weight from one cheek to the other, or in any other way rearrange yourself. We felt sorry for him, but our sympathy didn’t solve any problems. Over the years you could see his ability to tolerate traveling in the car waning and we started to foresee a day when we would not be able to travel with him at all.
That day came about six years ago, one day in July (my birthday, to be exact) we loaded him in the car along with the rest of the family and headed to my parents’ home–one hour away. Up until this day, we’d been able to take him anywhere that was about 45 minutes away before he’d hit his limit and start screaming in protest. On this particular day, those odds changed and suddenly it was the 15 minute period that he was okay, and the 45 minute period that he spent screaming so loud glasses were breaking all across the valley. By the time we got to my parents’ house we were all on the edge of sanity. The worst part about it was that we would need to somehow get home that night and looked forward to that ride with dread.
Our trip home that night was like living a nightmare. Despite all our attempts to make things better, nothing worked and he lasted approximately ten minutes before the horrible screaming and thrashing started. By halfway home the rest of my family was having a collective breakdown. That night, Patrick and I made the determination that this was the last time Braden would travel with us. From that moment on, unless he had a doctor’s appointment, we didn’t take him anywhere. He went to school on the bus, but loading him in the car became a thing of the past.
Not being able to take your family anywhere really puts a damper on things. Suddenly, there was no going to relatives homes for Thanksgiving or Christmas, there were no summer picnics or swimming trips that included the whole family, no going for ice cream or out to eat. We brought food home, we took turns going to our other children’s functions, and when it was time for family vacations we had to arrange for respite care if we wanted to take the whole family. Getting respite care was never easy, required a lot of advanced planning, and many times fell through.
Two years ago, when Braden graduated from school, it was time to find something new for him. We investigated every available day program in the valley for him. There were some very good programs with kind, caring people, but nothing we found was going to meet his needs. One of the largest concerns was transportation. Because of our location, there was no program that would transport him from home. It was too far, and they spoke to us of sending him on a flex bus, something that we would never be willing to do. I started to face the realization that if we couldn’t find a program for him, he was going to be trapped in our house 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with nothing to break up the monotony of his day. And if he was trapped, so was I. No trips to the grocery store, no going to the gym…no going anywhere. Add to this the realization that our other kids, the built in babysitters that we had relied on, were all growing up and moving on. Soon there would be no one left but the two of us.
That is when we had to make the nearly impossible decision to move him into a Care Center to live full-time. It was about the most difficult decision we’d ever made, and it was more difficult for Patrick than it was for me because I am typically the practical one while Patrick thinks with his extremely large heart. We both cried the day we moved him. Since then, Patrick spends every day missing him and feeling guilty, like he has somehow abandoned him (I miss him too, but my practical self tells me that we made the right decision for the entire family) and he likes to bring him home on weekends. This requires him to go through the process of loading him in the car. There is no car seat anymore, so he just straps him in with the seatbelt–extremely less than adequate and probably completely unsafe. He can’t bring his wheelchair home because we no longer have a vehicle big enough for it. and it doesn’t break down like it used to. So it’s back and forth, every weekend, breaking his back, risking his life traveling in unsafe conditions, all because he loves this boy with all his heart and can’t let him stay away.
The miracle I speak about started to take shape for me about four months ago when a letter arrived. It was from a man named Al Ackerman–a person I had never met but my husband knew well. As a regular guest at the Alta Peruvian Lodge, where Patrick works, he had gotten to know him over the course of the past 19 years and had heard stories of our family and Braden. Al owns a company in New Jersey called Fun Truck ‘n Mobility where he rents, sells and services wheelchair accessible vehicles. The letter told me that he had acquired a van that he wanted to donate to Patrick, that he would be doing all the modifications we would need, and when it was finished he would drive it out from New Jersey to surprise Patrick with it. That began the process and was the biggest secret I’ve ever been able to keep.
Al solicited help from other guests that are regulars at the lodge in the form of donations to help him cover the costs of the modifications. He sent out a letter to about 40 people, who in turn sent it to more people and donations started to come in. When all was said and done, he had more than enough to cover the cost of the work that the van needed. The generosity of people can be so overwhelming!
As for me…keeping that secret was hard. I told only the people that actually needed to know in an effort to keep Patrick from finding out. I was in communication with Al occasionally over the course of time as I had to get the insurance taken care of, and he sent me pictures of the progress. It was sometimes hard to believe it was really happening. The end of August, Al and his wife Cathy left New Jersey on their way here in the finished van.
My real role came in to play yesterday as it was my job to make sure Patrick was home when the van was delivered–a quest that I nearly failed at when he got up in the morning and announced that he had too much to do at work and couldn’t take the day off as planned. This left all of us scrambling as we tried to figure out how to get him home after he’d left and took some serious coordination.
In the end, all it really took was making him think I was mad that he’d ditched me for the day. I don’t like making him feel guilty, but sometimes you do what you have to do. We made plans to go to a movie that started at 3:45 (I picked it strictly for the time–they were planning to arrive with the van shortly after 3:00)
He finally came home shortly after lunch, and all the plans were in place. I called the Care Center where Braden lives to make sure they had him ready to go (and they were so nice and accommodating). We decided that Patrick’s mom would meet Al there to sign Braden out and they would bring him here with them. More people from Fun Truck ‘n Mobility flew in yesterday as well, so arrangements needed to be made to pick them up as well. My parents wanted to be here, so another scheme was concocted to explain their arrival. It was an awful lot of lying on my part, but finally it looked like all the gears were working in the correct fashion.
When Al showed up and rang the doorbell, Patrick opened the door. His response?
“Hey, Al! It’s good to see you. We’re about to leave here in a minute…” to which Al said “no, you’re not” and asked him to follow him outside. Patrick was pretty confused until he saw Braden in the van, and that’s when he knew what was going on. (I still find it really humorous that he opens the door to see someone he knows all the way from New Jersey and his response is “hey, sorry, I’m leaving…catch ya later”… Whaaaaattt?)
It was an incredible experience…so incredible that I walked outside and left my camera sitting on the table. Sometimes I’m lame like that. Luckily my mom had hers out while I went back for mine.
Al had a frame, ready for a picture, with all the names of those that had helped and donated their time and money to this cause. Patrick was overwhelmed and emotional, but he managed to hold back the tears. Since receiving this gift yesterday, Patrick has expressed to me more than once that he feels there are other people more deserving than he. I know that no one deserves it more than he does. Sometimes I am pretty sure Braden requested Patrick as his father before he came to this earth, knowing that he would be the best father in the world for him. Having this vehicle to help him bring his forever little boy home is possibly the best gift Patrick could ever receive. It will change his life forever.
I have spoken often of the challenges and blessings that come from having a disabled child. Sometimes the challenges seem like they outnumber the blessings, but it’s also true that the blessings outweigh the challenges. One of the greatest blessings of all is the people that have come into our lives, performing miracles, committing acts of service and love that we never expected. They are as angels doing the Lord’s work. It is proof to me that the Lord truly is aware of our circumstances, He knows each of us by name. He has a hand in our lives at every turn and He blesses us in monumental and surprising ways. These blessings always come through good, kind-hearted people that see our needs and find a way to meet them. I have met many of them over the last 24 years. Most of them stepped into our lives for a small moment and then moved on to other things, never fully comprehending the ways they have changed us and helped us, but I know there are great blessings awaiting them for the good they have done. At those times in our lives when things seem dark, He sends His angels to lift us. Through these experiences, I more fully understand what the Lord meant when he said:
“And whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.” (D&C 84: 88)
Seeing the actions of Al, his coworkers, and all the friends that donated to help make this happen, I am reminded again that there really are good people in the world. There are no words to express the appreciation I feel for this amazing gesture. My family has been truly blessed.