When we think about Christmas generally speaking, beautiful festive images are conjured up, friends and family gathered together, laughter and joy, Christmas carols, twinkling lights, cinnamon scented candles, warm nights in by a crackling fire, snuggling up on the couch to watch Christmas movies. All things warm and fuzzy.
We tend not to think about, tears of sadness, frustration and desperation. Children too sick to smile, too weak to write a letter to Santa. The fear in their eyes where that magic Christmas sparkle should be as they ask you if they’ll be home in time for Santa, and your heart breaking not knowing how to answer. You definitely don’t ever consider being ripped away from your family, isolated & fighting for your child’s life.
Everyone makes an amazing effort to brighten up the lives of Children and parents in hospital around Christmas time, there are decorations that go up and musicians who come in from the National Concert Hall. RTE come in and film turning on the Christmas lights, advent calendars are donated and lots of amazing gifts are given and it’s all so generous and feel good and so so important. However, from a parents perspective, it just made me even more sad and desperate to get home with my little girl and for all our family to be together.
To our 8 year old son his whole family had been taken away and he was alone. Don’t get me wrong we are beyond grateful that we have lots of family and he was well cared for by his grandparents, but for this little boy, who woke up on November 18th his birthday morning with no family, he was alone. Even today as I watch the video of him opening his birthday present which we had sent him, there was no excitement, all he wanted was his Mammy, Daddy & little sister. It broke my heart not being able to hold him.
As I sit here almost a year later with tears streaming down my face at how difficult this is to write, I can’t help but think how blessed we were that Ronald McDonald House Charities stepped in and took our family into their home, and their hearts. It really changed our story from one of darkness and despair to sweet memories that we hold in our hearts forever fondly. 10 days before Christmas it became blatantly obvious that we were not going to get home in time. I remember sending an email and just breaking down in tears. My heart was broken at the thought of not being together as a family because as some of you will remember, this was not the first Christmas we spent apart, when Jacob was 4 and Poppy only a few months old, I ended up in hospital for the best part of a year including Christmas fighting for my own life and I remember Jacobs little heart breaking then but to witness it all over again only this time my baby girl was the one needing my help and I couldn’t make her better, I felt so helpless to it all again, it was just all too much.
I remember that flooding feeling of relief and hope when we got a call to say Ronald McDonald House had a space for us, Mark got straight in the car and drove down to get Jacob so he could be with us. Even then I couldn’t have imagined just how big a role RMHC would ultimately play in supporting us through what has been our toughest journey to date.
We ended up staying in one of their off site houses which very quickly became our home. Our room was so cosy and welcoming with a little barrog teddy on the bed for Jacob and a care pack with all the essentials and some lovely little bits for me. There was a little garden which was the perfect little zen place for when I needed some room to just breathe and having our own bathroom was a huge plus (in the hospital accommodation there’s only a public bathroom). We had everything we needed to become a family again and that’s just what we did. We knew by now we were going to be there for a longer time than anticipated so we settled in to our new life. Poppy was allowed for ‘’hours out’’ some days if she was well enough and it was so beautiful seeing the two kids reconnect and spend time together. To see her eyes light up again was the best feeling in the world and the fresh air and time out of hospital grounds made her stronger and stronger. We cooked proper dinners and sat together as a family. After months of eating take out at 11pm in the hospital or not eating at all we were finally able to cook healthy food that would nourish us and keep us strong enough to keep fighting for our little girl plus it made me feel less helpless, I knew if I could keep the rest of us healthy, we would have the energy to keep going for Poppy.
We shared the house with other families from time to time and Jacob even made some friends as did I and even though it was hard seeing them all come and go, not knowing when it would be our turn, it was still comforting to see them go home to continue on with their lives.
There is a lovely playroom and outdoor area in the ‘’big house’’ as we call it and this is where most of the families stay. Some days we’d be there at the same time as other families and it acted like a lovely little community of support because every parent staying there has a similar story. We didn’t need to talk about what was going on in order to know what each other was going through and there was a sort of silent comfort in knowing you’re not alone.
People from different companies come in to cook food as team building or goodwill gestures for the families in the house and I don’t think they realise just how impactful it is to us parents. On this particular day, we had just said goodbye to our little girl again as she went for another surgery, this time we did not know what to expect and we were at this stage so numb to our emotions, but so fragile at the same time. As we walked up to the entrance of RMHC the most delicious warm comforting smells were all around us. Someone had made a chicken and broccoli pie, veggie lasagne and something else (I obvs ate the two I remember!) We didn’t even know it was what we needed but as we sat in silence together trying to be strong for each other, eating that warm soothing food was like being hugged and told it was all going to be ok. I suppose for me I felt like my Mum was there ( she’s always healed me through food ) I don’t think people realise the power of a good meal. After all there’s a reason it’s called comfort food.
The beauty of having a space to be a family outside of the hospital meant that we could have visits from Grandparents which really meant a lot to Poppy. They even brought Poppy’s dog Chilli up to visit which was extremely therapeutic for her. As time went by RMHC became the constant in our lives, the staff and volunteers all became so close to us and every time we’d walk through the doors, there was a genuinely caring friendly face, hoping to hear some positive news about Poppy. We celebrated Valentines day in style with an invite to a special dinner in the house complete with nosecco, strawberries and a special little gift bag and although there was not a drop of alcohol in the drink, it still made us giggle and feel loved and cared for. On Mother’s day we were sent flowers and a little gift telling us how special & loved we are. And on 23rd of March we had Poppy’s 5th birthday in the house, there was balloons and cake, her family and grandparents, bubbles and ice lollies in the sun and just the same as when Santa delivers his gifts to the children on Christmas eve there was a very generous special delivery of gifts for her birthday from the house. We've had Birthdays, snow days, book days, and thanks to RMHC Ireland lots of family days.
All these precious moments are the things we will remember forever. Yes, the hard dark times happened and in the moment they were all consuming but the memories we choose to bring forward with us will be the smiles, the laughter, the friends we made along this journey, all those special little moments during our time in Ronald McDonald House that we still got to spend together as a family, through our challenging times.
All of this is the reason we decided to make RMHC Ireland our newest Charity Partner. Everyone in Ronald McDonald House are so close to our hearts because we ourselves have experienced first hand the love, care & support this charity gives to families going through some of the toughest journeys of their lives. The people working and volunteering in this charity have had a huge & lasting impact on our lives and our children will remember their time in the Ronald McDonald House fondly for years to come.
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will go directly to RMHC Ireland to help them continue to support other families like ours.