Tuesday Evening, September 6, 2016 / 4 Elul, 5776
by Jackie Kligerman
I happily retired last year. I loved my chosen field of work and truly enjoyed my career. I felt so lucky to have actually liked both my work and going every day to a job that was rewarding. I had many fulfilling though difficult experiences during my professional working years. I am a special educator who worked with children with severe developmental disabilities and their families. As a teacher, clinician and administrator, I worked in a variety of settings with many different situations. But a theme that was apparent to me in all of my work was being witness to the pain and anguish of the families dealing every day with the severity of their children's issues. Most significant to me was the families' need to face the fact that their children would not be able to lead typical lives and needed care for the duration of their lives.
So as I investigated volunteer opportunities when I retired, I wanted to do something that was connected to my career and utilized my professional skills. I decided to contact the Make-A-Wish Foundation. I attended an orientation and began the work of meeting with children with life-threatening illnesses and their parents to discuss and determine their wish. So many of my friends and family members, while of course supportive of this work, said that they could never do such a thing as it is so sad. But my experiences with this organization, and the youngsters and their families whom I have met, are anything but sad. They are inspirational in their courageous attitude, spirit of strength and fortitude, hope for the future.
I met with one young woman on the pediatric oncology ward at a local hospital. She was celebrating the fact that her last chemotherapy treatment was the next day. Her skin was ashen, she had no hair, she was dressed in sweats and she was seated in a wheelchair as surgery had left her unable to walk. Before we discussed her wish, I tried to get to know her as a person. She was a senior in high school and despite the fact that she had not attended school for many months, she had not only kept up with her studies but was on the high honor roll every semester. She was applying to colleges and researching which ones would be friendly to her physical disability and the potential barriers that she might encounter. She was now interested in a career focused on helping children experiencing long term hospitalizations to lead as normalized a life as possible in that setting. She impressed me as an outstandingly remarkable young woman who was planning her life with a positive outlook towards her future despite the obstacles in her health and the threats to her physical well-being.
Fast forward eight months. I met again with this young lady and her family to present them with the particulars of her wish, which had been granted and would happen the following week. In walked (yes, walked) a beautiful woman with a huge elated smile. She was wearing a lovely new outfit and her perfectly made up face with its rosy complexion was topped by a full head of curly hair. She had recently graduated from high school with honors, had attended the annual school prom the week before and was in the process of gathering what she needed to pack as she headed for college the next month.
Sad work at the Make-A-Wish Foundation, no. Joyous, inspiring and uplifting young people and outcomes, yes. And this example is just one of the many experiences I have enjoyed.
So as Elul approaches and we reflect on the past year, I am thankful for the opportunity to have met so many wonderful youngsters and their families who inspire me and encourage me to be continually introspective and examine the courage that I may or may not have to endure similar trials for myself or my family and friends. I have learned so much from these people. And I have to believe that there is meaning for us all in knowing and interacting with them. Has it made me a better person? I hope so. But I do know for certain that it has made me a more humble person who is grateful for the blessings that I enjoy.