Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Fields of Heaven

A cold, blustery day in December of 1972 changed my Labor Day weekends forever....

It was December 28, 1972, to be exact. How do I remember that? Because it was the day of President Harry S Truman's funeral...and that was what I was watching on T.V. when my 10-year old view of the world changed. Do you ever have those moments in life - that you know EXACTLY where you were, what you were doing - when you got bad news?

My mom had a best friend, named Janice. I've blogged about Janice before...she was a red-headed firecracker that always scared the beejeezus out of me as a child. Janice had two kids, Jennifer and Tad, who we spent many days, nights and weekends with - playing tag, hide 'n seek, teasing, poking, annoying - the normal things that children do with each other.

On that day - December 28th - Janice showed up at our door, hysterical. Distraught. Devastated. Her world had changed forever that day, as she had just received the horrible news that her 3-year old son, Tad, had been diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy.

We had noticed that Tad was running funny lately in our games...he would stumble, fall...for no apparent reason...and he couldn't keep up with all of us. We'd laugh, and we'd tease him...never knowing that it wasn't his fault. Kids can be cruel sometimes.

I remember Janice and my mom, both sobbing in each other's arms, wondering what this meant for the future...and I remember being worried, as a 10-year old child would be, as how this affected me....

Would Tad look different next time I saw him? What WAS this disease I was hearing for the first time - muscular dystrophy? Was it contagious? Was it fatal?

I learned a lot about MD as the years progressed...and after that moment, our family would spend every Labor Day volunteering at our local Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon. The MDA Telethon has been in existence since 1966 - and to date, has raised billions of dollars for MDA research and treatment.

As a family, we'd show up to man the telephones, or run errands, or count pledge money - whatever was needed. It was always a challenge - especially as a kid - to stay up for 21 hours straight...but somehow, with adrenaline, excitement, or just knowing we were doing something good - I'd manage to keep my sleepy eyelids from closing.

It really was my first taste of volunteer work, and it felt good. Every year, I would think, "THIS is the year we finally find the cure... when MD is gone forever..." Such high hopes...praying for a cure as I watched Tad, over the years, get weaker and weaker and move from crutches, then to a wheelchair, and then finally - a hospital bed. He never got out of that hospital bed.

We lost Tad when he was only 19 years old - which is considered a LONG life for someone with Duchenne's Muscular Dystrophy. But such a short life for family and friends. Too short.

I got older...went off to college...had a family and kids...and unfortunately, became too busy with life to volunteer anymore at the Telethon.

But each Labor Day, wherever I'm at - or whatever I'm doing - I think of Tad...hoping he's running fast and furious through the fields of Heaven.



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