Friday, May 29, 2009

For the Love of Cilla

Many people have been touched by breast cancer in one way or another. Whether that be a very personal struggle or the diagnosis of a family member, friend, co-worker, neighbor, or acquaintance – most of us at one time have unfortunately felt the impact of this life-threatening illness.

This past Memorial Day weekend I had the honor to be a part of an amazing home make over event in support of a friend who is struggling with an advanced and very rare form of breast cancer. Her name is Priscilla and she is a young, beautiful wife and mother of 2 small children. Cilla (as we loving call her) has been dealing with this illness for over 2 years.

(left to right: Husband Matt, son Josh, daughter Moira, and Priscilla)

In addition to the illness, Cilla and her family are part of a very special community – the Deaf Community. Dealing with breast cancer is difficult enough, but being deaf while trying to navigate a mostly hearing medical community makes it that much more of a struggle. But Cilla is a uniquely strong person. She’s not one that gives up and never lets adversity deter her. So although Cilla has many challenges, people that know her and even those that have only met her briefly are inspired by her positive attitude.

During the past few years, and even before while Cilla’s husband Matt dealt with some health issues of his own, maintaining the family home became difficult for obvious reasons and needed many repairs. Friends and family knew they needed help and that Cilla needed a refreshed environment in which she could take comfort in while recuperating from chemo. So, while Cilla and Matt went away for a long weekend an incredible community rallied together in support as they were determined to make over their entire home as a surprise present to the couple.

Andy (Ellie Mae's Dad) who owns a home improvement business, spearheaded the effort as Project Manager along with Tara, who is a close friend of Cilla. People from all over the deaf community volunteered to help out as well as neighbors, family, friends, school employees, co-workers, and even strangers who didn’t know the family personally but wanted to make a difference in their lives and help out. Andy was able to assemble a small army of contractors who volunteered their services which included a plumber, electrician, plasterers, carpenters, and landscapers.

And you’ll be amazed to know that these beautiful acts of kindness unfolded quietly and lovingly without the fanfare of the media or bright lights. All of it occurred by word of mouth and was organized at a very personal level. Over 50 people volunteered their time over a 6 day period. People worked from sunrise until well after midnight each day. Cilla’s brother Dave and sister Pauline put in really incredible hours.

For me it was an unforgettable experience that has left an indelible imprint on me. You see most people who volunteered were deaf themselves, and for me who is able to hear, I was amazed at how quietly all of the work took place. For there was no background music blaring as people worked or any chattering that one would normally hear (after all sign language is mostly silent) – instead it was quiet outside of the hammering and sawing that occurred. I often paused to make note of the silence and wondered if this is a small taste of what it is like to be deaf -- of course, it’s not even close.

I know Cilla and Matt through Andy (Ellie Mae’s Dad). Andy is profoundly deaf himself, but was raised in the hearing world by hearing parents. He reads lips perfectly and speaks incredibly well so I never had to learn sign language myself since we communicate with each other as though he is hearing. But over Memorial Weekend I was one of the few people that volunteered who could hear and didn’t know sign language. As I struggled to communicate with some people it made me think what it must be like to communicate differently and what it must be like for Cilla and Matt as they struggle to understand some people in the medical community as well as to be understood. It made me reflect on my own problems and how truly insignificant they all are.

But, the most touching moment of the weekend came from this man.

This is Cilla’s Dad and I have a heart-warming story to share with you about him. You see one night as we were cleaning up to go home Cilla’s father came back to the house (he’d been there every day so we were surprised to see him again when we thought he’d gone home for the night). It was well after midnight but Cilla’s Dad couldn’t sleep and he had to come back. He had to do something more to help his daughter – something personal in his own quiet way. He didn’t think he’d find us still there at the house. His intent was to be there alone and to paint a room that Cilla often recovers in. He wanted to do this himself as his own personal tribute to her. A father’s love for a child is incredibly strong even if that child is an adult herself. Andy and I were touched by this act of love. Tears streamed down our faces. We hugged him and softly kissed his cheek. He cried with us too. He held our hands ever so tight and thanked us. We wanted to stay to help him but he didn’t want us to stay. He needed to do this for Cilla himself. So, we left that night too emotional to even speak to each other on the way home. We couldn’t sleep ourselves that night. There were far more important things to do than sleep.

On Tuesday night we celebrated.

Cilla and Matt arrived home from a Key West vacation to see their home completely redone. New floors, new paint, new doors, new fixtures, new bathroom, new landscaping – almost everything was refreshed. When Cilla got out of the car she tightly hugged her children Josh and Moira and then looked up to see new landscaping and a garden in her front yard. In shock and in joy the tears streamed down her faced. Quietly everyone gathered around and hugged her. The silence again was amazing to me. The loving energy of the people who had gathered there to pay tribute to her seemed to not only warm our hearts but our bodies as well on that chilly spring evening.

Finally as Cilla walked in the house she was greeted by her Mom and Dad. This was the house in which they raised her in so there was special meaning all the way around. As she went from room to room to see all the work that had been done and how beautiful everything was Cilla thanked us for our contributions. Words could not describe these moments and really give them justice.

As Cilla thanked us, we could only thank her back. As we are grateful to know such an amazing woman and we feel blessed that she continues to be in our lives.


lynn'sgarden said...

WOW Jackie, what a great, great story! A true Act of Kindness if I ever heard one..something you would see featured on television!! Cilla's family and friends are, needless to say, AMAZING! I'm really glad you shared this HEARTWARMING story!
Lynn (NJ)

keewee said...

Jackie, thank you so much for sharing this beautiful touching story. You have brought tears to my eyes, as I remember the goodness of friends, who helped Mike and I last November/ December when Mike was struggling to stay alive. Thankfully, my sweetheart survived his illness and is still the light of my life.I will never forget the kindness of those who rallied around in our time of need.

gardenerprogress/Catherine said...

What a really nice story. I love when we hear about good people doing things for the right reason. Not for publicity or money, just because they truly care about someone. It sounds like you married a wonderful man that would help take charge of the project. I bet it did feel great for you to put your time and heart into it too.
I will keep Cilla and her family in my prayers.

Allison said...

Priscilla is my cousin and that story just warmed my heart! Thank you for the tremendous amount of work you all did - truly phenomenal! The house looks so great. I am sure it was a huge relief for them - the act itself probably meant more than the changes in the house. They are blessed to have such caring friends who surround them. Thank you.
Allison (Phillipe) Martindale

Dirt Princess said...

What a wonderful wonderful story!!! I am so glad you shared it with us. Very moving and inspiring. I think that we (we as in, sight, sound, physically able) take so much for granted. We often moan or complain about things that most handicapped people would never complain about. We take hearing a bird sing for granted, or seeing our beautiful blooms. We should thank GOd everyday for what he has blessed us with, and thank God for all those that surround us. I have been affected by cancer in my grandmother, aunt and mom all had breast cancer. Thanks for this

Micaila said...

Jackie, Thank you so much for sharing this story of Cilla, Matt and the kids! Cilla and I went to HS together. We had our Taunton High 20th year Class Reunion in Nov 07. Most of our classmates had no clue she was even ill at this time. She wanted that night to be about our Class and not have it about her. Many of us wanted to do whatever we could to help out, but Cilla wanted nothing to do with it. She said being her friend was good enough. There are times I feel like Cilla has it so much worse than I do ... but then I remember she is the wonderful, amazing, smiling friend I have had for over 25 years now. Thank you so very much for all you and teh rest of the group did to assist this AMAZING family!!! Much love~ Micaila

Tatyana said...

Dear Jackie, I can't thank you enough for this story. If all of us were like that group of people, our world would be much better place. I will be praying for Cilla and her family.

Krafty Karen said...

God Bless You! Thanks for taking the time to post & share this heartwarming story. I am from Taunton, MA and have known Priscilla & her family all my life. It brought tears to my eyes to read about the kindness and love that went into the renovations of that house. It was in need of a make-over and Andy came to the rescue. This is what life is about! I also thoroughly enjoyed your posts regarding gardening. I live in South Florida now and miss many of the plants that I cannot grow here, lily-of-the-valley, bearded irises, lilacs, wisteria, hyacinth but most of all red raspberries. I'll be back to your blog again... feel like I have met a new friend... Karen Becker, Ft. Lauderdale

RainGardener said...

Jackie what a wonderful story and you told it beautifully. I'm sitting here reading with tears streaming down my face. I agree completely with what Catherine said about it being done for the right reasons.
Deafness runs in our family - I didn't have deaf children but some of my cousins have. I always found it interesting that the women in our family have the deaf babies and they are always males.
Sounds like you have a pretty special family yourself for your husband to take on this project.
Thanks so much for sharing this.

SweetAnnee said...

What a wonderful community you have.
I am touched by the warmth and love
by all those who helped.

I am SURE the family was amazed..
Thanks for sharing this story of


Jan said...

What a lovely, heart-warming story. It is wonderful what people can do when they work together for a cause like this. I saw this with all the volunteers that came to help after Katrina. I will be sure to keep Cilla and her family in my prayers.

Always Growing

Ellie Mae's Cottage said...

Thank you all for such kind words and for keeping Cilla in your prayers. I have received numerous emails and comments as people are praying for Cilla and sending good vibes her way. I saw Cilla today and she is very touched by this outpouring of love. Thank, thank, thank! -Jackie

Dirt Princess said...

Hey, I have an award for you on my blog :)

Bucolic Bushwick said...

This is a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing this story.