Living in a household affected by chronic illness is challenging, stressful, frustrating, and sometimes next to impossible.  It often feels like a jail sentence from which there is no escape.  But over the past almost seven years, my family has experienced amazing acts of kindness that we may not have seen if all had been well in our world.

In October of 2010, my husband wound up in the hospital with a failing kidney.  It was decided that he needed a nephrostomy tube placed through his back and into his kidney to allow it to drain properly.  His tumor had occluded his ureter and his kidney was swollen.  It was the only thing they could do to save his kidney function on that side.  We didn’t know it at the time, but that was the turning point for his disease and we had yet to feel the full impact on our family.  Meanwhile, I had a hip resurfacing surgery scheduled for early November that year, and we decided I should keep the surgery date and get it done before he was any sicker and I couldn’t take the time to do it.  I had surgery, and a few weeks later, my hip fractured, and I had to return to surgery for a total hip replacement.  My second surgery was 10 days before Christmas, and my sick time had run out.  Neither of us had any income coming in.  With three young kids, and no income, the stress of Christmas was the highest it had ever been.

One day, a letter came in the mail, addressed to me.  I opened it and found $500 with a note saying that it was so my children could have a nice Christmas.  It was signed, “Santa.”  I felt the tension release from my shoulders immediately, and was so excited that I could buy them presents to put under the tree.  A week or so after that, we found a gift basket full of cheese, crackers, snacks, and assorted other goodies, left inside our back door.  There was no note and we had no idea who had left it for us.  We put it under the tree to save for another day.  We decided to open it a few days before Christmas.  At the bottom of the basket was a green gift box.  I opened the box and found $800 in cash.  To this day, we don’t know who left those for us.  But whoever it was, they were our Christmas angels that year, and we will be forever grateful for their kindness and generosity.  That was the most stressful two months of our lives.  Our world had completely fallen apart, and yet out of the ashes came hope, love, and incredibly kind gestures that made all the difference to us that Christmas.

Over the years since my husband got sick, we have been the recipients of numerous kindnesses from many people.  Our friend celebrated her 40th birthday, and asked all of her friends and family to donate money to help us, in lieu of gifts for herself.  Our parents have helped us out numerous times when we were in a bind.  They have paid our mortgage at times, bought us heating oil, bought us appliances when ours had broken, and my awesome uncle even gave me a car when mine had died.  Friends gave us money this past Christmas and we were able to buy heating oil and pay some bills.  My parents treated us to a Disney vacation,  have taken us on vacation to the beach in North Carolina, and my husband’s parents treated us this summer to a vacation in Vermont.  The list goes on and on.  People have made us dinners, and taken our kids to do things, and helped with projects around the house.  Every gesture of kindness has been very much appreciated and drastically reduced our stress during those tough times.

Families dealing with chronic illness tend to get caught up in the day to day stress of trying to keep their lives as normal as possible, even though their lives are anything but normal.  It helps to take a step back sometimes and look at the good that has come out of a tragic situation.  We have had friends come into our lives who have provided companionship, laughter, and time away from “the disease.”  Anonymous people have come through to help us when we needed it most.  We all have a choice to get lost in the rubble, or to stand up and see the beauty that can come from the same mess. We were dealt a crappy hand, but because of that hand, we have also been given the profound gift of friendship, love and generosity.  THAT is the true gift.

Written by Renee Palumbo
Renee Palumbo is living life with a chronically ill husband, three children, a dog, and a cat. In the 10 years since her husband’s diagnosis, Renee has learned that life can change in an instant, and we all have choices in the way we handle a crisis. She holds a degree in journalism and sociology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Renee writes a blog called Running on Empty, which is about seeing the humor in life, dealing with the stress of a family member’s illness, and looking at life from a slightly warped perspective. She hopes that by expressing her thoughts and feelings, she can help another caregiver feel less alone and more understood. Read more of her thoughts at runningonemptyblog.net.

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3 Comments

  1. Such a wonderful example of others opening their hearts and minds to your situation.

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  2. My husband is in a sentence called Parkinson’s and I am just there to help him with whatever I can.

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