Monday, January 2, 2012

You never know when you touch a life...

I don't usually write new years resolutions.  Making a list of the goals I want to accomplish for the new year seems daunting and overwhelming to me.  I prefer to just have an overall picture of what I want the new year to bring, and to remember some simple things or phrases that will make memories for my family. The title of this post is one of those phrases that I was reminded of recently, and I'd like to share the story behind it.  Not only is it an amazing tribute to our Andrew, it is also a good reminder to all of us while making our resolutions...

Do you ever sometimes feel overwhelmed and choose not to do something because either you don't have time, or you feel like what you do won't make a difference anyway?  You think that that person won't care or won't remember what you did, so why bother?

This story changed that for me.  Never again will I think that.  And for the rest of my life I want to do things like this to make a difference in someone's life.

Two years ago, we were busily making plans for Andrew to transition from early childhood services to an IEP.  I remember this time, which seems like forever ago, so clearly.  My baby, who had endured so much in his short life, was about to start preschool.  He would be 3 years old, and therefore eligible for an IEP which enabled him to receive special services at a local elementary school and transportation to and from day care on a real SCHOOL BUS.

This was no small feat.

I was terrified.  While at the same time, I wanted him to be successful, and I knew this was what was best for him.  I was back to work full time, and I couldn't take him to preschool myself, much to my disappointment.  I wasn't very excited about this bus thing.  But I knew Andrew would be thrilled.

And it turned out to be something pretty special because of one very special person.  Bus driver Dennis.
(First day of preschool, February 2010)

Dennis made Andrew's first bus riding experience such a special one.  Every day he had animal crackers and he gave them to the kids as they got on his bus.  Dennis loved children.  You could just tell.  I only met him a handful of times, since obviously I was at work when he picked up and dropped Andrew off.  The first time I met him, it was a blizzard outside on a cold February day, on Andrew's very first day of preschool.  I took the morning off to go with him through the day so he would feel comfortable and would know that mommy knew what was going on.
Dennis pulled up to Andrew's day care with a reassuring smile and an animal cracker for Andrew.  Andrew thought it was the greatest thing ever.  And he never stopped talking about Dennis from then on.  He even wanted to include Dennis in our prayers every night.  And every time he saw a school bus, or played with his toy busses, he'd say "Dennis!"  Dennis gave all the kids a little sack full of animal crackers at the end of the year, and Andrew clutched it so tight and only ate a couple of cookies a day, as if to savor them.  It seemed he loved them not because they were animal cookies, but because they were from Dennis.

Dennis became a very special person to Andrew.  And I appreciated it so much because I was apprehensive about this school bus thing.  It was all new to me.  But somehow, knowing how much Andrew loved Dennis, I felt better.  I knew he was safe and I knew Andrew loved riding that bus with all his heart.
(First time on the bus...looks apprehensive but he enjoyed it)

When that school year ended, we received notice that Andrew would be transferring to another school within the district.  My heart just sank because I suspected that would also mean a new bus driver.

Being a teacher, I know that there are many people "behind the scenes" that don't get thanked for what they do.  "Lunch ladies," crossing guards, janitors....and bus drivers.  I knew right away that I needed to write a thank you to Dennis.  For making such a difference in Andrew's life, and for making his first experience with school and riding the bus such a special and positive one.  I really didn't think much of it at the time.  I just wrote him a note, and I had Andrew decorate it with his handprint and I helped him sign his name.  I also gave Dennis a copy of the photo above as the cover on a notecard that I wrote his thank you on.  I called the bus garage to get his last name and I mailed it directly to the bus garage (they assured me he would receive it even though it was the beginning of summer).

Later that summer, our family went to Disneyworld.  We were sitting in the heat, sweating, having lunch in a crowded, noisy restaurant.  I had taken Andrew to the potty when my cell phone rang.  Craig answered because I wasn't by my phone.  After a few minutes, Craig finally figured out who was calling.  It was Dennis.  I was so upset that I had missed his call.  He was calling to thank me for the note I had sent.  He and Craig had a short conversation and Craig told me the jist of it.  I knew when we got back home I wanted to return his call and talk to him myself.  So I did, and we chatted for a while and I told him how much I appreciated how nice he was to our son and how much Andrew loved him.  He told me how much that note meant to him, and that he had it posted on his bulletin board at the bus garage.  I thought that was so sweet.  I could have cried when I found out he would have a different bus driver the following year.  I knew Andrew would wonder where Dennis was and why he wasn't driving the bus anymore.

As time went on, I never forgot about Dennis.  Andrew continued to talk about him from time to time.  One evening last winter, Andrew and I were at a basketball game at Craig's school and an older man came up to me and asked if this was Andrew.  I knew I recognized him, but couldn't place who he was.  The man looked at Andrew and said "Andrew knows who I am, don't you Andrew?"  Andrew grinned shyly up at me and said quietly, "Dennis."  I was so thrilled!  He told me that he still saw Andrew some days because his bus route connected somehow at Andrew's new school.  I was so happy to hear this.  He expressed concern over Andrew's upcoming heart surgery and mentioned that he would be thinking of him.  He was just one of the sweetest men I had ever met.  He reminded me so much of my dad.  That night on the way home, Andrew talked about seeing Dennis, and that he wanted to go to Dennis' house! Ha!  He said "Maybe Dennis could come over to my house, or I can go to Dennis house!"  Sweet boy.

I never saw Dennis again after that night.  This year Andrew has another new bus driver, Steve.  We love him too!  I got to know Steve because I was home this semester with Kerigan, so the bus came to our house to pick up and drop off Andrew.  On Andrew's last day before Christmas break, I had Steve come pick him up at home since Craig and I were both home and I knew Andrew loved having the bus come to his house.  I sent a little plate of cookies and a thank you note for Andrew to give Steve.  He was thrilled to get them, and he then asked me to step on the bus for a minute.  He asked if Andrew had ridden the bus with Dennis and if I knew him.  My heart just sank because I knew what he was going to say.

Dennis had passed away.  Just a few days before Christmas.  He had driven a bus load of boys to a basketball game and the players came out and found him unresponsive on the bus.  Several coaches and a student performed CPR on him and he later died at the hospital.  How appropriate that he had passed away doing what he loved most- driving the school bus.

His funeral had just passed, and Steve thought I would want to know that the note I wrote to him was printed on the back of the funeral program.  Apparently, I hadn't identified myself on the note other than writing "Andrew's mommy."  So no one knew who I was.  But Dennis did.  And that is really all that mattered.  Steve made the connection when I brought the cookies out with the thank you note.

I just walked in the house and burst into tears.  For so many reasons.  I was so sad.  There is no reason for Andrew to know that his special friend is no longer on this Earth.  I'm sure as time goes on memories of Dennis will fade for him.  But I will never forget.  This man who touched my son's life in such a special way.  I'm so sad I missed his funeral.  I'm sure his family would have liked to meet "Andrew's mommy" and the special boy that Dennis thought so much of.  I have plans to find their address and send a card, and possibly arrange a visit for us sometime.  I have a feeling that we don't know the end of this story yet.  The story of a little boy and his bus driver.  A very special and unexpected friendship.

As I've reflected on this... I realized that Dennis taught me so many things.

I am so humbled and honored that his family would choose to copy my letter on the back of his program.  The program, which is such a symbol of the life that he led, a beginning and an ending to an amazing life.  That my letter meant that much to him.  It meant something to his family.  Because it recognized the person they loved and cherished so much.  It brought to life the relationship that Dennis had with the children whose lives he touched.  That one special little boy, my Andrew, was someone who meant so much to a man that his tribute was printed for all to see.
(You can see Dennis waving through the window.  I am so glad I have these pictures)

What you do matters.  Even if you think it won't.  Do it anyway.  Write that thank you note.  Tell someone how much they mean to you.  They will remember.  Trust me.

That's my new years resolution.

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