Five years ago, in August 2016, my daughter received a life-saving gift–bone marrow from a then-stranger halfway around the world. It was an excruciating journey as a parent and for our whole family. Even my perpetually cheerful 9-year-old, Margaret–who was just 4 at the time–still sometimes struggles with inferiority and fairness issues when it comes to her big sister. She’s old enough now to understand the severity of Anna’s journey, but still views it through the eyes of a small child.
Finding Our Way
The past few weeks I’ve been reliving our journey through, of all things, Facebook memories. All In For Anna was an outlet to communicate her progress to our friends and family and to help raise money for out-of-pocket treatment costs. Those memories pop up annually, but this year they seem to hold special significance. I think it’s because being five years post-transplant feels like a big milestone. It is a big milestone.
One of the many personal silver linings for me on this journey was that I finally found my way back to the Catholic Church. I always believed in God but I had drifted away and was really more secular than anything else.
Prayer was not a part of my life. In fact, when I think back to those awful, heartbreaking years, I cannot recall saying one prayer. Sure, I was hoping and wishing and willing my daughter to get better. But I was not asking God for His help with those requests.
In 2018, my daughters started asking questions about Jesus around Christmastime–questions I could not answer because, truthfully, I didn’t know either–so I enrolled them in Religious Education. They had been baptized a few years earlier, so I signed them up at that parish. And since I had never been confirmed (and didn’t want to be a hypocrite), I enrolled myself in RCIA at that time as well. That’s when I started down my path back to the Church. But it took a bit longer to crystalize in my heart.
Our Own Santa Klaus
The bone marrow donation and transplant process is anonymous (at first), so all we knew for the first 2 1/2 years was that he was 32 years old and lived in somewhere in Europe.
That all changed in November 2018 when I received an email with the subject line: “Greetings from Germany” from a man named Klaus. My husband and I were making dinner, and I gasped out loud. Together, we read his email over and over again with tears streaming down our faces. And, since we were heading into the holiday season, we affectionately started calling him “Santa Klaus” because he gave our Anna the gift of life, and we are eternally grateful.
Christmas in July
Six months later, thanks to the TODAY Show, we were honored to meet Klaus and his brother Patrick. After the cameras left, we got to spend a few treasured days with them. We’ve kept in touch since that time, and we hope to visit him in Germany one day soon.
After the whirlwind of meeting him, we settled back into our routine of carpools, after-school activities, homework, and busy family life.
A few months later, however, a Facebook memory stopped me in my tracks.
It was from July 24th, 2016, and the photo brought me right back to that day. We were getting ready for Anna to go into the hospital for transplant in a week or so. After gymnastics that morning, my husband and I decided on a whim to take the girls downtown for brunch.
We parked the car, crossed the street to the restaurant, and bumped into Santa Claus. Yes, Santa Claus. On a scorching July morning. In Arizona. Naturally, we took a picture of the girls with Santa, laughed about it, and continued on to brunch.
But it was seeing that photo, in 2019, that took my breath away.
Him All Along
I didn’t know “Santa Klaus” at that time. And I didn’t know God at that time. But, in hindsight, what I do know is that photo was taken right about the time our dear Santa Klaus was preparing to donate his marrow to a 7-year-old girl in the USA.
There’s no way I could have known it in 2016. But in 2019, I realized that God had been by our side all along.
For 15 years, Melissa M. DeLaney provided communications counsel for elected or appointed officials, candidates, non-profit organizations, and brands, as well as high-profile or controversial issue management campaigns. She currently freelances for select, mission-driven projects and organizations, and writes when she can. Melissa lives in Tempe, Arizona with her husband and two daughters.