To the unaware onlooker, she seems like an ordinary woman going about her Wednesday morning. But in fact, I know she is an extraordinarily strong woman, a woman who has felt the loss of her child and has refused to stay stagnant, a woman who is the bedrock of the nonprofit I now spend most of my time thinking about.
We meet by chance encounter. I am visiting the founding Make-A-Wish® Arizona chapter as a part of my internship, and it just so happens that Linda is here today, too.
When I step inside the building for the first time, I know this is Chris’ wish house – I feel it right away. There are little reminders of him scattered throughout, and all the staff members seem to carry his memory with them.
A wall on the first floor tells his life story, a blue line connecting all of his childhood pictures. The line crashes down when Chris gets diagnosed with leukemia, then rockets back up when his wish comes true. It continues up the staircase to the second floor, becoming a timeline, showing how Chris’ legacy has helped thousands of children and their families.
In the “family room,” pictures of Chris adorn the shelves. It feels cozy and safe in here, just like a living room, complete with a comfy couch, photo albums, a television and a stuffed ducky on the side table. I get the sense that Chris watches over the families who come with their own children, ready for a wish that will bring happier times.
In some way, these mementos are windows to the past. I peer through them, but it is difficult to discern the details of Chris’ life, what it was like to be him, to be around him.
Not every moment of my tour is so introspective. For much of the time, the interns and I speak with the staff in the volunteer training room. We discuss why each of them chose to work with Make-A-Wish, what their typical day looks like and how the nonprofit has impacted their lives.
Halfway through our conversation, I notice out of the corner of my eye that we have a visitor waiting at the door. It is the original wish mom herself, Linda!
She comes in unannounced, even though she had already brought in a box of donuts earlier in the day. As it turns out, she stops by the wish house often. And bringing surprise donuts is kind of her thing.
After greeting each one of the interns and mussing up my ‘do (short hair twins!), she moves to the center of our group. The staff ask if she would mind telling us about Chris. A natural hush falls over the room, and with all eyes on her, she begins to share the story of her son’s wish.
The police uniform, she says, did wonders …
Chris struts into the room full of officers like they go way back, like they went through training together and did stakeouts together and brought in all the “bad guys.” When he suddenly grabs his chest, Linda fears the worst. But it turns out he has just forgotten his sheriff’s badge.
He runs back to his room, retrieves it and comes back out, full of swagger. One of the officers helps pin it on his chest, and he smiles. He is one of them now. Seeing Chris’ newfound confidence, there isn’t a dry eye in the place. Grown men sniffle, wiping at their eyes and noses, overwhelmed by the power of that moment.
Linda pauses. Then she takes us down another journey, one that she hasn’t shared before with this group of people. It is the story of life before Chris.
She had always wished for a son. And once he was born, she promised she’d do whatever the world asked of her.
Linda has certainly risen to the challenge. Ever since her experience, she has been dedicated to bringing wishes to every family that is going through the same struggle. But don’t let her strength fool you – this isn’t a one-woman show. It takes a team, and she’s excited that that team is growing, no matter how new its members may be.
“Everyone is a big family,” she says. “Some people just don’t know all the distant cousins yet.”