|Jeremy Scott Vanderlaan|
She sat across from us at the kitchen table - bewildered, scared, and terrified. I still remember how the tears flowed down her face, staining her cheeks. Carrying the weight of an unknown future, my sister in law, Teresa, relayed news from the doctors, all of which we hoped we'd never hear.
First, she was told he'd never walk. Then, she was told her baby boy would never hear or see. There was nothing the doctors could do.
We cried with her...but in an almost unimaginable way she was alone in her tears that day. While her son, Jeremy, laid in the ICU of McMaster Hospital's neo-natal ward clinging to life, her husband and Jeremy's father, Scott, laid on the 4th floor of the same hospital fighting Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
|Swimming with Dad (Scott Vanderlaan)|
So, surrounded by a few family members, Len, my brother-in-law, in a moment of uncertainty and unfamiliarity, asked if he could pray. He prayed for Scott, Teresa, and Jeremy. He prayed for mercy, healing, strength and courage. God heard his prayer that day. Maybe his prayer wasn't answered the way we wanted it, but God answered. He answered with a mighty 'Yes'. He said 'yes' to Scott and 'yes' to Jeremy.
It was more than that, though - it was a 'Yes to Life'... a 'Yes to Love'.
On March 13, my nephew, Jeremy Scott Vanderlaan, will celebrate his 16th birthday! On a day when most teenagers race out of the house to get their driver's license, Jeremy will sit in his chair with his family at his side. Teresa will spoon feed him is cake. Scott will watch with deep compassion and love. And his brothers - I can't forget his devoted brothers: Isaiah and Mason. They will sing 'Happy Birthday' to their big brother, Jeremy.
Jeremy was born very premature on March 13, 2000 and weighed only 2 lbs at birth. Doctors and nurses fought valiantly to save this little life. His survival was a miracle. But Jeremy suffered from oxygen deprivation at birth and lives with a severe form of Cerebral Palsy as a result of injury to his brain. Jeremy's Cerebral Palsy is classified as a Level Five - meaning that he has severe head and body control limitations. He requires extensive use of assisted technology and physical assistance; and is transported in a manual wheelchair. He cannot achieve self-mobility by learning to operate a powered wheelchair.
|Hanging out with Mom (Teresa Camera Vanderlaan)|
Thankfully, the doctors' prognosis was wrong! Jeremy can see, he can hear, and he can laugh! While Jeremy is fully dependant on others for everything, we have become dependant on him. In his observant silence, and in his infectious laughter, Jeremy blesses our family get-togethers in ways unimagined. His Aunt Denise has developed a unique bond with him that lights up the room when they are together. Singing "Row, row, row your boat" is a favourite activity of his and he laughs with delight as Denise sings the last line "throw your teacher overboard and listen to her scream. AAAAHHHHH." No sooner does he stop laughing and he's asking for more "Row, Row, Row". I have heard Denise sing this song many times, and with each rendition, it seems it's the first time Jeremy has heard it. I have also watched with admiration as Teresa's family cares for him as if he was one of their own children.
Several weeks ago, while celebrating family birthdays together, I asked Teresa if Jeremy would want an ice-cream bar. I never anticipated her response - "I don't know. Try it", she said. Although, I wasn't planning to feed Jeremy myself, I was challenged by her reply. I've spoon fed my own children when they were very young, but have never fed a teenager. So, pretending I knew what I was doing, I started to feed Jeremy some of the ice cream. He loved it, and with his mouth open, he wanted more! Before I knew it, he had finished the dessert. I don't know if he ate more than what landed on my clothes and the floor, but it was a moment I'll never forget. My soon to be sixteen year old nephew allowed me to do something reserved mostly for his mom and dad. He allowed me to participate in his enjoyment of that chocolate covered ice-cream bar!
|Fishing with brothers, Mason (left) and Isaiah (right)|
Teresa and Scott, Isaiah and Mason, are some of the most blessed people I know. Life and times have been, and can be, difficult for them. Raising two young boys with a teenage son, who requires 'round the clock care, is challenging at the best of times. However, they are blessed with a son who loves them unconditionally, and their love for him knows no bounds. Their family has been given a special gift. Through Jeremy's life, they are able to see beyond the frills and empty promises that our world offers. Jeremy's dependency reflects our own dependency for love, affection, and acceptance from and by those we call family.
Thank you Scott and Teresa. Thank you for being model parents as you care and provide for your family.
On March 13th, it's not about his mom and dad or his brothers. It's about Jeremy. I know when the time comes for the candles to be lit, the birthday song to be sung, I'll look over and see something in his parents' eyes that I've seen a thousand times. It'll be a look of admiration mixed with overflowing love and I'll hear the hear the unspoken words, "Yup, that's my boy."
Happy 16th Birthday, Jeremy!
Now, shove over and save some cake for the rest of us!
(Photo credits: Denise VanderLugt.)