I’m going to divert from my usual party planning post to talk about something close to my heart. There are two items that have taken social media by storm in the past couple years–boxes of sunshine on Pinterest, and more recently, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I’m going to start off with a personal story; if you would prefer to just see my most recent Box of Sunshine, feel free to skip to the end.
This is my gramps. A week and half ago, he died after a rather horrific 18 month struggle with ALS. And not just the normal type of ALS, which typically starts in your limbs, but a particularly cruel form, which started in his neck and throat area. His speech and ability to swallow were immediately affected, and within 8 months of being diagnosed, he had a feeding tube and could no longer talk. He spent the last 10 months of his life unable to talk, and in the end, was basically incapable of communicating. It was tragic to see a man who had always been so healthy and full of life slowly become entombed in his own body.
I have always been extremely close to my grandparents; I spent countless weeks at their house during summer vacations growing up. These visits continued well into my 20s until I moved across the country 10 years ago. Living over 3,000 miles away, I found it very frustrating to be able to do so little to help my grandparents during this difficult time. My one idea was to send my them a Box of Sunshine to try to encourage them and bring some light and love into their struggle. A few years ago, I sent a box of sunshine to my mother in law when she had foot surgery. I found all sorts of cute yellow and orange items to put in it, including lots of food and drink items (you can see that box here). However, this wouldn’t really work in this situation because of my grandpa’s inability to swallow or eat. So I had to think outside the box (of sunshine) and find items specifically for him and his situation. Below is what I came up with; I hope it inspires and encourages others as they seek to bring much needed warmth and sunshine in the lives of those suffering.
I’d also like to briefly comment on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I have blown away by the response to this challenge. And whether or not you are irritated by videos clogging your social media feed, upset by excessive water usage, or annoyed by the seeming narcissism running rampant, I am so thankful for not the just money being donated to ALS research, but the awareness that there now is about this disease. There is so little known about ALS, even in the medical community–my grandpa always had to double check with his specific ALS doctor after meeting with any other medical professional because so many know so little about this horrific disease. Families affected by ALS are thankful for those participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge and what it means for research. My prayer is that others will not have to suffer as my grandfather did. So thank you to all those who have participated.
For more information on ALS, please visit the ALS Association webpage.
Foodless Box of Sunshine
Disclaimer: Technically this isn’t a completely foodless box because I did add some Peanut Butter Cups and Peanut M&Ms for my Grandma. Caregivers need encouragement too.
Each item was specifically intended for either my grandma or my grandpa or for specific rooms of their home. I wanted pops of yellow everywhere they went to remind them that I was thinking about and pray for them.
For my grandma, I sent candy, nail polish, and chapstick. For my grandpa, I sent Carmex, napkins (he had drooling issues due to his inability to control the muscles in his mouth), and a back massager for the neck and back pain he had. I also sent washcloths for the bathroom, soap and a dishtowel for the kitchen, framed Scripture prints I’d designed–one for their bedroom and one for the living room. I also sent pictures of my kids in yellow, as well as hand and food warmers because my grandpa kept the house at 68 degrees to help make it easier to breath. Oh, and a silly yellow bumble bee toy thingie. When I was born, my grandparents came to the hospital with the first gift they ever gave me–not a doll or teddy bear, but a giant stuffed bumble bee. It only felt right to send it to them. Finally, I designed little tags for each item so they would know exactly how it was to be used.
My grandfather was an amazing man left an incredible legacy. Being his first born grandchild, he wanted me to speak at his funeral. I was honored to remember him to those at his memorial service and thought I’d share my memories with you also.
Many people never have the opportunity to know their grandparents well. I, however, have had the privilege to not just know mine, but to also have a very close relationship with them. My mom often tells me of the time they came walking into her hospital room right after I was born, my grandpa carrying a large stuffed bumblebee picked out especially for me by him. And in her words, her parents morphed before her eyes and changed into people she barely recognized. Well my arrival may have changed them a bit but, they were a major influence in my life, helping to shape me into the person I am today.
As I have reflect on my grandfather’s influence in my life, there wasn’t one big memory that stood out. Instead there were a myriad of seemingly insignificant memories that, when combined, encompass the essence of who he was.
There’s the man everyone knew…the one who was retired Air Force turned life insurance salesman with impeccable handwriting. Who was always immaculately dressed with a perfectly knotted tie. Or on casual days in his Michigan gear. Who love coffee–black of course. Who loved his church, teaching Sunday school, leading singing. And who dogmatically stood for truth, integrity and Christ. Regardless of whether or not you agreed with him, you couldn’t help but respect him.
Then there’s the grandpa I knew. The one who met me with a bumblebee instead of a doll or teddy bear. Who could be recognized not by the coffee in his hand, but on his breath when he hugged you close. The one who bought me milk and a donut to go with his coffee and donut, first at Mr. Donut, then (somewhat grudgingly) at Dunkin Donuts. Followed by feeding the ducks at Silver Lake, back when it was still safe to go there. And when I got older, bought me my own cup of coffee. The grandpa who built amazing sandcastles every summer at Rehobeth beach, then fought the seagulls off his Thrashers fries. Who took me on exciting trips to places New York City, Washington, D.C., Florida, and California. And took me to do fun things I probably would not have had the opportunity to do otherwise, things like Broadway shows, presidential inaugurations, and Disney world. He was one of my biggest supporters and cheerleaders, and I don’t know that he or grandma ever missed a birthday, school concert or performance. From backyard plays with the Helms sisters, to Faith Community Church picnic talent shows, to Christmas concerts, he and grandma were at every event. I remember, as a small child, watching in fascination as he took out his dentures and meticulously brushed them. And then attempting to model that same brushing technique when I got my retainer years later. There was the time he, grandma and I all crawled into their bed and ate ice cream. And the time he told my husband that if he wanted to marry me he had to have life insurance. He sat him down right there, pulled out the paperwork and asked for his credit card. I remember his stories–you’ve heard him tell one of his stories right? It’s like you were right there with him when it happened. The details; the dramatic pauses; sometimes even tears. Or how he’d look at me and hold my face when he was getting ready to say something important. His infectious laugh. And I remember the first time we found that book “I’ll love you forever”; you know that book? No one can get through it without crying. He was no different, but he read it to us, tears streaming down his cheeks. There are so many memories and moments etched in my mind; I could go on and on. But what stood out to me more than anything was his unwavering commitment to Jesus Christ and His Word. The man you saw on Sundays or at the office was the same man that came home and lived with his family. There was no difference between the Ken Sparks you knew and the husband, dad and grandpa we knew. And I knew I could always count on him for godly counsel and wisdom, for prayer, and most importantly, for complete adherence to the truth of God’s word. And in the midst of losing him, this knowledge has brought unspeakable comfort.
You see, despite being the amazing man that we all knew, Grandpa knew the truth: that he was a sinner in desperate need of a Savior’s grace and forgiveness. And he had submitted himself entirely to Jesus Christ as Lord, living his life to honor Christ alone. And When he died, grandpa walked right into the arms of the Lord and Savior he loved so much. He believed, just as I do, the words of John 11:25 & 26 where Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet will he live. And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” This is our comfort and this is our hope. His body may have died, but his soul is alive with Christ in glory. And those of us who also love Christ will one day see him again.
I’d like to close with the refrain from that book grandpa read to me all those years ago, tweaking it just a bit to fit the occasion:
I’ll love you forever. I’ll like you for always. As long as I’m living, my grandpa you’ll be.