The Gift

The Gift

From A 6th Bowl of Chicken Soup for the Soul

The Gift

The parish priest was picking me up to take me to the funeral parlor. I was relieved I didn’t have to walk because it was a bitter cold March day. The wind was as cold as I felt inside. My seventeen-year-old godson, Michael, was being buried the following morning. I had been sent to take care of Michael two years before. I was a health aide thinking that, at sixty-three, I should retire. But my supervisor asked me to take this case, a fifteen-year-old boy with muscular dystrophy. The hours were midnight until eight in the morning—hours I normally didn’t care for. But Michael’s home was within walking distance, so I took the job.

I met Michael’s mom when I entered her modest home. I had taken care of many clients throughout the years, but nothing prepared me for Michael. A mere seventy pounds, large brown eyes, silken brown hair and a smile that would brighten any room. He required total care. Michael had one useless arm, which was positioned against his chest while his legs were permanently drawn up. He could not change positions by himself. His favorite expression was “No problem.” I learned about Alf, the TV personality who used that expression, and replicas of Alf hung all over Michael’s room.

During the long nights, Michael taught me to play Nintendo games. My guys fell between the buildings while Michael’s men leapt over any obstacle. I was delighted one night to have my guys doing really well. Michael had a twinkle in his eyes when I discovered he had switched controls. We laughed a lot.

Every morning when I left Michael, I left part of myself with him. I spent my days just waiting to go back to him. It was a few weeks before his mother agreed to let me come in the daytime occasionally. I encouraged her to go out and have a little free time. She accepted. I discovered that Michael was an avid fan of our hometown football team, the Buffalo Bills. He was so excited when we watched them on TV that I soon got caught up in ‘Bills fever,’ too. I called their office and in just a few days, one of the players paid Michael a visit. They had a wonderful afternoon, taking pictures that we later had made into a poster.

It was about that time Michael saw Mrs. Barbara Bush on TV. He said, “She looks like a kind grandma.” I wrote to Mrs. Bush. Later, when the letter with the return address of the White House arrived, Michael’s eyes were larger than ever. I hadn’t told him that I had written for fear she might not respond. Her answer was a warm, caring, encouraging letter. We framed it. Many times Michael told me how lucky he was to have his mom, friends and me. I was the lucky one.

It was agreed that Michael could spend a few days at my home. I wanted him to be in my large dining room, so he could see out the picture window. I called a secondhand dealer to take my dining room furniture. My pharmacist loaned me a hospital bed and the MD Association gave us a wheelchair, which could be adjusted so Michael could lie down. He couldn’t sit up. Our parish priest had baptized Michael a few months before. He gave me the honor of being his godmother. I picked Michael up in the wheelchair and pushed him the half block to the church. I placed him near the altar. Father said, “We’ve been praying for Michael and here he is.” Michael said he didn’t know people clapped in church. The applause was deafening. On the way home, he told me he could happily die that day. He didn’t die, but gained four pounds during his stay. Michael loved everyone, never complained and smiled always. He told me how he always wanted to be a football player or a policeman. His one regret was that his mom wouldn’t have grandchildren. He was an only child, and his mother’s two brothers died from MD.

Michael’s seventeenth birthday was festive. Friends and relatives and I hired a man to entertain dressed in a gorilla costume. There was much laughter, many gifts and Michael’s smile. Michael asked if for his eighteenth birthday we could have a belly dancer. Michael died two weeks before his eighteenth birthday.

His father and I entered the crowded funeral parlor. I heard him talking about having angels in the family. I knew we did. Michael’s mom handed me an envelope. She said he had asked her to write it for him the night before he died. He told me of his love and how lucky he was. Also to always keep smiling. He said that the first star I saw every night would be him smiling at me. It’s been nine years and no matter what the weather, I step outside and that star is as bright and beautiful as the boy who gave it to me.

Mildred Shreve

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