I am writing this week’s post from my room at The Ronald McDonald House in Dallas Sadly, we had to admit my 7 year old son, Evan, into Children’s Medical Center last Monday. After years of trying, we have been unable to find solutions that would help him. I am praying we will find them here. He will be here at least another month, which means we will celebrating the holidays in a much different way than I’d imagined.
Until now, my first thought associated with McDonald’s was, “Do you want fries with that?” I will never think of McDonald’s the same way again.
The Ronald McDonald House is something I’ve heard of but not a place I ever thought I would stay. After a few nights in a hotel and a very large bill, we knew we couldn’t sustain the cost. So, we took a tour of the house and for all intents and purposes, we moved in.
This place is absolutely incredible. I used to work at a resort, and it didn’t hold a candle to this place. The rooms are on par with a 4-star hotel, there are three free warm meals served by volunteers each day. There is a shuttle to take you to and from the hospital, a chapel, library, kids play area, teen play area, laundry facilities, a game room and gorgeous living areas on each floor. Everything is brand new because it was just rebuilt. It is also only $15 a day, unless you cannot afford it, in which case you stay for free. There are 60 rooms, and right now, they are full. All of the families staying here have someone under the age of 18 who is seriously ill and in a nearby hospital.
I’m blown away by the kindness of everyone from the hospital staff to the dozens of volunteers that are at The Ronald McDonald House. The families that I have met are amazing. Some have children with cancer or other diseases, others have been here for months waiting for a transplant, and many are here for the same reason we are.
As you can imagine, this has been incredibly difficult, but it has also given me a different perspective and an opportunity to practice what I preach. Here are the biggest lessons I’ve learned so far:
1. Be grateful. Even though this situation totally stinks, I am eternally grateful for a nice place to stay, a great team of doctors, and the ability to tuck Evan in, read him a book, and snuggle with him every night. I’m grateful that my family and friends are so supportive, and I’m grateful they had an opening for Evan, as most of the programs similar to this have a waiting list.
2. Don’t Judge. A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post that centered on being kind to people because you never know what they are going through. I have a new appreciation for that now. I can’t begin to stress it enough. If you are blessed enough not to be going through a difficult time, consider it your responsibility to be kinder than necessary because there are many people who aren’t so blessed.
3. Find ways to laugh. This has been the most difficult experience of my entire life, but each day, there have been things to laugh about. You have to or you will fall apart. Look for humor in any situation. Laughing might not take away the sadness, but it certainly helps you cope.
4. Take care of yourself. I have had to learn to not only focus on Evan’s care, but my own as well. I am making an effort to eat well, exercise, and get plenty of rest. Evan needs me to be strong more than ever. I also have to remember to give myself a break when I’m not getting as much work done as I’d like or feeling down. All you can do is all you can do.
5. Have faith. That is what everyone keeps telling me, and I’ve come to the conclusion they are right. I have prayed so long and hard for Evan’s recovery. I have begged God to help him get better. It might not be in the way I had hoped, but I have to believe that this is for some greater reason. Sometimes, you have to throw up your hands, open your heart and have faith that things will work out.
6. People are amazing. There are only a few staff at the Ronald McDonald House. The other dozens of people who keep it running are all volunteers. People volunteer their time, their energy, and their kindness. It warms my heart. If you’ve ever started to question humanity, here’s your proof that people are inherently good.
7. Speak Up. While I certainly don’t like sharing that my son is mentally ill, I also know that there are hundreds of other families struggling with similar situations in silence because they are too embarrassed to ask for help. Mental illness is like any other illness. You wouldn’t attach a stigma to someone getting treated for another disease. I learned recently that more money goes into dental education for children than for treating all mental illnesses combined. There is a study that could potentially help Evan, but they can’t get the funding. If people don’t speak up, mental illness will stay in the shadows. Visit www.nami.org to learn more.
Please take a moment to appreciate how lucky and blessed you are, and if you’re open to it, say a prayer for my little boy. I will continue to keep you posted.