I love the way that Christmas brings families and friends together to honor the traditions and memories that tie us to one another.
The sight of decorations that we’ve hauled out of storage year after year. The aromas as we prepare recipes handed down from generation to generation. Stories that get told again and again about when old people were young or young people were babies.
All of it can be so comforting, reminding us that we are part of something larger than ourselves, something that we can depend on.
But there are also years when difficulties shake that sense of continuity, and perhaps our faith that we can handle a challenge ahead. When I think about those kinds of challenges, I think about the Stout family and their final Christmas Eve with Hope.
Almost 12 years have passed since my family and I stood among more than 150 other well-wishers, holding candles outside the home of our neighbors Stuart and Shelby Stout, near Charlotte, N.C. Their 12-year-old daughter, Hope, lay inside, too ill to join us. But the front door was ajar, so she could hear as we sang “Silent Night” and prayed for a miracle.
Less than two weeks later – on Jan. 4, 2004 -- Hope died of a rare form of bone cancer.
If you pause a moment, you might remember her – her bright eyes, red hair and a wish she made that inspired countless people.
The Make-a-Wish Foundation had approached Hope, expecting to give her a trip to Disney World or some other bit of fun to lift her spirits. To date, the organization has granted more than 250,000 such wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses.
But Hope’s wish was unusual. What she wanted was for the wishes of the 155 other kids on the waiting list behind her to come true.
It was a tall order, but the foundation got busy. News articles and radio and television broadcasts spread the word. Businesses started signing checks. Children emptied their piggy banks. And Hope herself helped to plan a black-tie fundraiser for Jan. 16, 2004.
At the event, it was announced: More than $1.1 million had been raised – plenty to fulfill Hope’s wish.
The triumph helped to comfort members of the Stout family as they grappled with Hope’s death. But they still faced the immense challenge of moving on.
Hope’s desire for a positive legacy has been a wonderful guide, leading the Stouts to start the March Forth With Hope Foundation. The organization raises money to help families with children facing a life-threatening illness or injury.
“Grief is a weird thing; it comes and goes,” Stuart Stout said as we reminisced during a recent phone conversation. “Sometimes it is suffocating, especially when we think about all of the life experiences we missed as a father and mother. But the grieving process has taught me to be patient, to wait and let God work it out because He has a plan.”
Mary Buchan RN has over 30 years of health and wellness experience. After helping a wide range of people over the years, she recently repurposed her Nurse's Cap as a Life Reinvention Coach, Speaker, and Author of the new book Over It – How to Live Above Your Circumstances and Beyond Yourself. As a mid-lifer with an empty nest, she blogs about self-discovery, relationships, reinvention, and healthy living. Visit www.MaryBuchan.com.