Ken and Connie live in a beautiful, yet modest, brick house. Standing outside, it is evident that it is more than just a house; it radiates the feeling that this is a home. After stepping inside, the feeling is reinforced by pictures of family, friends and grandkids covering the walls and fridge, the beautiful knick-knacks that decorate the tops of shelves and cabinets, and the overly-excited greeting by their dog Tucker.
What you can’t see standing outside looking in at the warm glow of the house is a cupboard full of medicine, the table covered with gauze, bandages and medical devices, and the love that Ken exudes as he helps care for his wife who now has Alzheimer’s. While this journey alone is exhausting for the couple, Ken is undergoing radiation therapy and receives out-patient palliative care through Virginia Mason Memorial Hospital’s Home Health and Hospice.
Lindsey Catton, the volunteer services coordinator at Cottage in the Meadow, was approached by Ken’s palliative care social worker about the possibility of having volunteers winterize Ken and Connie’s yard. Lindsey recognized that this was a need that had to be met, so she reached out to the YouthWorks Council, The Memorial Foundation’s group of 20 student volunteers representing seven high schools across the Yakima Valley. Without knowing the couple’s story, the students jumped at the opportunity to help community members who needed a little extra help around their house.
On December 6, after a full day of school, extracurricular-club meetings, and sports practices, eight of the YouthWorks Council members arrived to help prepare the yard for the upcoming winter weather. After an hour of raking leaves and cleaning out flower beds and bushes, Ken thanked the group for the act of kindness.
“What you all don’t know,” Ken said, “Is that my bride of 57 years inside has Alzheimer’s and I just had another round of radiation therapy.” The teenagers’ eyes widened and hearts opened. “As you can see I can’t walk very well or do a whole lot with my arms. This never would have got done without you.” He continued, “How can I ever thank you?”
Lindsey had mentioned to Josh Munson, the program coordinator of YouthWorks, that Ken and Connie might need help getting their Christmas tree out of the garage. When asked about the tree, Ken replied that he couldn’t ask for any more help and besides, the group needed to get home for supper. Without a second of hesitation each volunteer expressed that they would stay there until the couple’s tree was up and decorated.
The group went straight to work: Braedon, Gunnar and Jorge carried the tree and ornament boxes inside from the shed, while Mykah helped string lights and strands of cranberry-red beads around the tree. Brienn, Dani, Kailea, and Kayla delicately unwrapped ornaments as the group listened to Ken and Connie reminisce over the almost 60 years of Christmas memories each ornament represented. Braedon had the honor of topping the tree with its homemade angel. Together the group decorated the tree and helped honor the lives of strangers by welcoming Christmas into their home. For an evening, if even just an hour or two, Ken and Connie rejoiced and reflected on the Christmas memories shared together instead of anticipating what is ahead in their journey. The peace that overwhelmed the room was felt by all.
As the YouthWorks Council said their goodbyes and wished Ken and Connie merry Christmases, Ken exclaimed to Josh, “What a true Christmas miracle.”
While the group may never fully comprehend what this compassion meant to Ken and Connie during a time of great need in their lives, the couple may never realize the effect this night had on the lives of each student volunteer. The group walked away openly committing to help the couple with more yard work, snow removal, or wherever there is a need.
With this final thought in mind, after leaving the couple’s warm brick home that is so evidently full of love, a well-known carol played on the radio with a lyric that resonated like never before:
A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!