63: One More Life to Love

63: One More Life to Love

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

One More Life to Love

There is a very real relationship, both quantitatively and qualitatively, between what you contribute and what you get out of this world.

~Oscar Hammerstein II

My mother had seen her Yugoslavian homeland torn apart by war, but it gave her an incredibly open heart. At no time was this more evident than when, some years ago, she sponsored a Jamaican child in need of open-heart surgery to come live with us in Canada for two years.

Escorted by her father, Nirene arrived at our suburban Canadian home in late October. She was the size of an average three-year-old though she had just turned five. My brother and I were typical teenagers, naïve about Jamaica and its culture. Upon meeting Nirene and her charming dad, we all felt an instant connection and made friends quickly.

Nirene was an adorable little girl with an infectious personality. She was outgoing, smart and loved to laugh. Her smile lit up the room and one could not help but watch her with joy.

Once her dad returned to Jamaica, we decided as a family to focus entirely on Nirene for her first Christmas in Canada. We each carefully selected the gifts we thought would most thrill her. Every present was elegantly wrapped and placed under the tree on Christmas Eve while she slept.

Christmas morning, Nirene woke everyone up with enthusiasm, announcing that Santa had come. She’d already seen “a whole heap of gifts under the tree!” It was her excitement that fuelled us to get up so early. Bleary eyed, we headed downstairs.

When we were all in place in the family room, Mom gave Nirene a nod to start opening her gifts. They were, after all, mostly hers. In the blink of an eye, the first present was literally ripped open. Then the second and a third! She did not stop to ponder each gift. No, this little one was just having a ripping good time in which she pretty much disappeared after all her twenty-plus gifts had been opened!

Then, from inside the pile of torn gift-wrap, Nirene popped up, and to our astonishment asked, “Is there any more?”

“No,” I said. We all started to laugh hysterically at that, so she dove into her pile to find something new to entertain herself with. It was the best Christmas ever for all of us as a family, and also for Nirene.

The following spring, Nirene was scheduled for surgery at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto to correct the “aortic stenosis” she’d had from birth, which was not allowing her enough oxygen. Not being from Canada, Nirene’s medical expenses were not covered by OHIP, so my mother had set up the Herbie Fund to cover them. To this day that fund is dedicated to helping pay for surgeries for seriously ill children who come to “Sick Kids” from foreign countries.

Finally, the day came when Nirene entered the hospital in Toronto. Her dad flew back from Montego Bay to be present for her surgery, and we all waited for what seemed like an entire day for Nirene’s surgery to finish. The doctor finally came out with the news we wanted to hear. The operation was a complete success! Now there was the difficult task of Nirene healing and being weaned off the life support machines. Slowly, one by one, each machine was removed.

Nirene was on the road to living a healthy life with a good future. She continued to live with my family for another year and a half so she could go to follow-up appointments at the hospital. Soon enough it was Christmas once again; however this time it was with a very different tone. Nirene was no longer our special little foreign visitor; this time she truly felt like a real sister, a member of our family.

Today Nirene is a successful businesswoman in Washington, D.C., with an MBA. She is engaged to be married and will soon celebrate her fortieth birthday. She was a bridesmaid at my wedding, and I had her introduced as “Sister of the Bride.”

Life has a way of presenting us with opportunities that can really stretch us way, way beyond our ordinary selves, that is, if you see these opportunities. That’s what my mother did. From my mother I learned that extraordinary selflessness will bring more love to your life, and more lives to love.

~Luanne Beresford

Maple, Ontario

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