A special Christmas: Thank-you from the Flanagans

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By The Staff

Editor's note:

Buffy Flanagan wrote this letter as a thank you to the people who have helped her family get through the illness of Beanie, her three-year-old son who is battling cancer.

After the letter was written, Buffy delivered Shannon Lake Flanagan, who came into the world just 26 weeks into her pregnancy. Shannon, at 1 pound, 4 ounces, was the smallest baby at Kosair Children's Hospital. She is approximately the size of a dollar bill.

Meanwhile, on Feb. 21, Beanie went into the hospital to begin his chemotherapy treatment. Friends said his doctors expect the chemotherapy to be very painful. Dad Tim has had to take Family Leave to take care of the other children. The Children's Hospital Foundation has offered to write off any medical costs, and the First Presbyterian Church has offered to pay the family's utilities for the next couple of months.

If you have the ability to help the Flanagan family, donations can be made care of Dorman Preschool Center, P.O. Box 853, Shelbyville, Kentucky or to the Flanagan Family c/o First Presbyterian Church, 629 Main St. Shelbyville, 40065.

The knock came at the door on the afternoon of December 23, 2007, and I was the one to answer. We knew he was coming....a good citizen who had read our son's story in the Sentinel-News was coming to visit the family of a small boy with leukemia before Christmas. It was such a sweet gesture and it turned out to be so much more.

I opened the door to his bellowing laugh. Our children, Cole (9), Chase (5) and Beanie (3), stood watching with almost visible electricity running through them as he walked in the door. Now as "grown-ups" we all remember the childhood picture of "THE" Santa we all kept in our heads and how the man in the cotton ball trimmed red suit in the mall left us feeling just a little deflated; but on that day I smiled at the reaction of our children to this merry fellow, and I turned to let him in.

When he stepped through the door I immediately understood the "star struck" expressions on their faces. He filled the doorway, all red, glistening and wonderful, his red pack over his shoulder and laughing an unrehearsed and authentic "Ho, Ho, Ho!" that warmed me to my soul. As I watched him sit and hold each one of my children as though he had known and loved them all their lives, it was his eyes that struck me the most, for they sparkled with gentle smile that danced out of sight underneath his soft white beard. He spoke to the boys the same way he held them, and gave each one a personal Santa-delivered Christmas gift.

"You be a good boy now, and remember that I love you." Santa said to Chase as he slid him down off of his knee, and my heart melted as our small son (who looked even smaller next to Santa) stretched his arms as wide as they would go to wrap a hug around as much of him as he could reach.

The time passed with talk of reindeer and elves, of snow and all the business of the North Pole, and then, to our surprise Santa looked in my direction and called to my husband and I by name. As I sat on his knee I could hardly believe what I was feeling. My heart pounded with the joy of a child, and I was overcome by the urge to wrap my arms around him just as Chase had done, to press my cheek against the velvety red fur of his shoulder and just let myself be enfolded in the glow that surrounded this man.

Some thread of "adultness" held my composure in check though, and I sat and listened with amazement at what he said next.

"Santa has seen through your eyes," he whispered. And one look into his knowing expression told me this was true. I wanted to respond but could not, the events of the past few months whirling through my mind. First came the wonderful news that the final member of our family, a little girl, was on the way in May, followed two days later by the terrible trip to the ER with our three-year-old. That was the trip that turned into a month-long stay as he began chemotherapy for a diagnosis no parent is ever prepared to hear. It was the first of many hospital admissions, and a life changing blow to hear that the chemo will continue for three years. The sorrow had been indescribable and Beanie's need for constant care meant a loss of half our income. The struggle ahead seemed overwhelming, and as I sat on one of Santa's knees, my wonderful husband next to me on the other and our children giggling at the sight, I was sure that Santa knew.....he knew it all.

From his pack he pulled a package wrapped in silvery paper and told us that he had brought us a very special Christmas tree. As Tim and I unwrapped it, a painted wooden tree covered in dollar bills of all denominations, I could manage only "thank you" through the choke of emotion I was feeling.

With a few more hugs for the boys and instructions to go to sleep early on Christmas eve, he was gone, not up the chimney, but in a pick-up truck. (The reindeer were resting, you know). And just like that, a stranger changed the hearts and lives of our family at Christmas time.

As for me, the experience of the last five months has changed me somehow. I've seen a side of people - of humanity I had not really believed existed outside of movies. Quietly and humbly, the people of Shelbyville and even from surrounding towns, too, have extended their kindness in prayers, cards, and donations. They have given so much more than generosity -- they have given hope.

To Shelby Community Charities and everyone associated with them -- thank you. Your generous help to families like ours is priceless, and especially to Larry Montalto and Gary Walls, your kindness will never be forgotten.

To First Presbyterian Church and congregation, thank you for the smiles you brought to our family Christmas morning. I wish you could have been there to see it! A special thanks to the Stevenson family, you heard of our struggles and recruited so much help. You are truly God's warriors.

To the Dorman Center Preschool, you are the most wonderful bunch of people on earth! We are so fortunate to have you in our lives and that of our children. You are more than teachers, and the heart and soul you put into your work will stay with them into adulthood. To Mary Simmons and Diann Haggard, we love you like family.

Special thanks to Walt Reichert for writing such an inspiring, lovely story on Beanie for the paper.

And finally to the docs and nurses of Shelby Pediatrics and Kosair Hospital, the employees of Alcan Packaging, and to all of the "anonymous" people who have reached out to help, thank you from every heart (big and small) of the Flanagan family. We know one day it will be us who are called upon to help, and when that time comes we will pass forward the love you have all shown for us.

Beanie still fights....and each day is a victory. I am hospitalized for much of the duration of my pregnancy as the boys' little sister would like to make an early appearance and my husband Tim is on FMLA. He's now a full time mom and dad to all three boys and doing great at it. Through all of it you have continued to help and words cannot express our gratitude.

And as for you Santa -- I don't know where you came from, who you are or if I would ever know you should I see you walking down the street, but I do know this ...... Santa Claus is real, and I for one, will always believe.

Submitted by Buffy Flanagan