As a house painter, I spend a lot of time in other people’s homes. Although I’m not a sociologist, my years of painting have shown me that the timeless adage is true: the kitchen is the heart of the family. And in my humble opinion, the epicenter is the refrigerator. With just a glance, I can learn a lot about a family. Pictures tell me who they love, what they value, and where they vacation. Magnets indicate which sports team they cheer, what mechanic they deem trustworthy, or who is their orthodontist. Report cards, funny drawings, quirky cartoons…all but a facet of a family’s DNA.
Today’s blog is about a typical day on the job that quickly became extraordinary. I’ve changed the names of the family for anonymity purposes, and the quotes are from memory, but the heart of the story (as well as the organization and band) is spot on. I hope you’ll be as touched as I was…
I stare at the photo. I’ve been in their home now for two days and have seen the picture regularly. You can’t miss it: positioned prominently on the refrigerator and printed on a sheet of computer paper. But despite the colors being a bit grainy, the celebrity in the photo is very recognizable.
“Is that Dave Matthews?” I ask Susan, the homemaker.
“Yes.” She beams with motherly pride.
My eyes sweep across the picture. To the left of Dave is the guitarist and off to the right their drummer. And although Dave is the focal point of the photograph, my eyes zero in on the drummer and more specifically, his beaming smile. It’s then that I notice his arm draped over a teenage boy’s shoulder. He too is smiling, but it appears masked. Eyes are shadowed and his countenance is gray, perhaps even pale. Maybe it’s a result of the computer’s printer. But something deep inside tells me otherwise.
“The Make-A-Wish Foundation contacted us,” Susan offers as if reading my mind, “and asked Shaun what he wished for. He told them that he wanted to go to a Dave Matthews concert. So they flew him to Madison Square Gardens to see the show.”
Silence. Reverence. Questions loom, but all are none of my business.
“What an awesome experience!” I reply, and although I’m sincere, my words are shallow in comparison to the moment. In an effort to offer her a worthier reply, I add: “Meeting the band after the NY show must have been a dream come true.”
“Actually, he didn’t,” Susan corrects, relishing the opportunity to share the story about her son. “That photo was taken upstairs.”
My eyes jump back to the images. Sure enough, I recognize the bonus room pictures in the background. Aghast, and obviously not making the connection, I flash her a bamboozled expression.
“After the NY show, Dave learned we were there and informed Make-A-Wish that had he known, he would have met with us. So when the band was scheduled to perform nearby, Make-A-Wish asked us if Shaun would like to come to the show and meet the band.” She savors the memory, letting its sweetness join her smile before fanning across her face. “Naturally, we said, ‘Yes!’”
She pauses and her expression shifts delicately, like daylight fading at dusk. “But when it came time for the concert, he was too sick to go.”
I find myself studying Shaun. Now I understand his muted smile, noting how the chemo robbed him of his color, and that his fight with cancer landed the dark circles around his eyes.
My heart aches.
Susan continues. “And then his manager called asking if it would be okay if they came by after the show.” Her smile is back, the memory delightful once more. “Sure enough, around midnight, two tour buses pulled up to our front door. They stayed for about an hour.”
“You’re kidding?” I reply, amazed that a rock star would not only make a house call, but would take time to “hang.”
Susan nods, the memory anchoring her to her son. “In fact, Make-A-Wish said in all their years of doing this, they’ve never known a celebrity to actually go to someone’s home.”
No doubt, I muse.
Her expression shifts; shadowy fingers trace dark lines across her face. “Several days later, Dave called personally to see how Shaun was doing.” Her eyes mist. “I told him Shaun had died that morning.”
I feel myself sinking, lost in emotions too deep to traverse. There is nothing left to say. We take in the picture in silence, and then Susan turns to go about her day. But I cannot let go of the photograph. I marvel how it captures Shaun’s dream of just hanging out with his favorite band, being what he is suppose to be…a kid full of hope.
Shaun’s eyes tug at me. Blasting through the darkness of his disease, fighting to be free forever, are prisms of light. And shining within, I see what his family must see, and why the photo is displayed so prominently on their refrigerator.
Elation. Peace. Life.