As evidenced by the abundance of flower and jewelry commercials, Mother's Day is Sunday. I have often wondered how I would celebrate if I were a mother.
But, in a way, I am.
As a "House Mama" at the Ronald McDonald House of Memphis, I am the mother to 51 children who are fighting cancer while being treated at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
Now some would ask, "Does this really make you a mother?" If a mother is someone with natural offspring then the answer is no. But if a mother is someone to whom children look to hear their stories, wipe their tears, and give them hugs, then the answer is a resounding yes.
I started volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House of Memphis shortly after it opened in 1991. As a volunteer, I was able to meet many families who were fighting for their child's life.
I will never forget one of the first families I met. Their 2-year-old son was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Their son, along with their 5-year-old daughter, spent the better part of nine months staying at the Ronald McDonald House of Memphis. This family tried to maintain a sense of "normalcy," when in fact, their lives had been turned upside down. I will never forget this little boy's love for life and his smile. At 2 years old, he loved golf and would play outside in the yard for hours using his custom fit golf club. When he was at his sickest, I would spend time with him in the hospital so that his parents could spend time with their daughter.
Unfortunately, their son did not survive. But to this day, I am still friends with his family.
Some of my friends ask me how I do it. "Isn't it sad, Sherri?" they ask me. I tell them it is really not sad at all. Every day, we have the most fun we can have while we are here. While we cannot cure our children, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital has proven evidence that staying at the Ronald McDonald House improves a child's adherence to complicated treatment plans and communication with the child's medical team, which can help them heal faster and go back to being kids.
I have been amazed throughout the years by the dedication and love that exists at Ronald McDonald House. Laughter is the universal language and that was never more evident when we had two little girls staying at the House. One spoke English, but the other did not. That did not stop them from playing and laughing together, though. I will never forget one afternoon when I heard the giggles coming from the front of the building. I got up to investigate where the giggles were coming from. I found these two girls in the lobby having a silly string fight. Their laughter brought more families out of their rooms. Before long, there was an all-out silly string war happening, and everyone was laughing.
I am just one of many "House Mama's" around the world that helps to make up the system of support that Ronald McDonald House Charities provides to families with sick children. RMHC has a long history of taking care of families and children, one family and one child at a time. RMHC provides a stable and supportive environment for families to stay together as they try to maintain some sense of "normalcy" when their lives have been turned upside down.
Today, RMHC is composed of 315 Ronald McDonald Houses in 31 countries, 184 Ronald McDonald Family Rooms inside hospitals in 19 countries and 45 Ronald McDonald Care Mobiles in eight countries. We all work together to strengthen families during their most challenging times.
Working for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Memphis is by far the most rewarding job that I have ever had.
It's not often we are given the opportunity to do something we are passionate about. I have been given that opportunity on a daily basis, and if I could do it for free I would. When I finally hit that winning lottery ticket that is just what will happen.
If you are a mother, grandmother or aunt with a healthy child, give thanks on this Mother's Day and everyday for their health. Life can change in an instant, and it is my sincere hope that you never have to stay at a Ronald McDonald House. But be assured that if you do, there will be a House Mama there to greet you at the door, and to offer you a hug and a listening ear.
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