Erik Quinn: The Heart of a Family: Thank You, Anne.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Thank You, Anne.

I have never cried over the death of someone I never had the opportunity to meet.

Until now.

Just a couple months ago I decided to watch the videos I ordered from the Williams Syndrome Association. To be perfectly honest, it was not a pleasant experience for me to see people with WS on video for the first time. I was shocked. It was a giant slap in the face, and I was devastated by the reality of it all. These people were my son.

However, when I saw Anne McGarrah appear in the 60 Minutes video, I felt my first real glimmer of hope for Erik. Anne was incredibly well spoken and offered insight on how Williams impacted her life. She painted a realistic picture of what living with WS meant and was a pioneer for people with disabilities, some of whom are unable to speak for themselves. Some of what she shared was obviously very painful, but she had a wonderful attitude and made me smile and actually laugh through my tears. It was the first time I saw beauty in what I still see as a cruel, messed up thing for anyone, especially my own child, to have to live with. I can't imagine ever being completely at peace with what has happened to Erik, but my heart is now open, and time will tell. That's not nearly as important as the fact that I now believe in my son and have great hope he will be a happy, productive adult. I am a better mother now that I have hope.

I know Erik can make a difference in this world -- because Anne did. She helped me get through suffocating darkness when I needed it most, and she never knew it. If she were my daughter, I would have been so incredibly proud of her. My heart breaks because I never got to tell her thank you.

So I sit here at my desk with tears running down my face for a woman I never knew, feeling grief I have postponed feeling until I was ready. In front of me sits an envelope containing a letter to her mother, another woman whom I have never met. I wasn't sure what to say, but my heart guided my pen. I watched myself automatically print the words I wasn't sure I could find within me.

I have never thanked a mother for giving the world her child before.

Until now.


ANNE LOUISE MCGARRAH GREENFIELD, Anne Louise McGarrah, 57, of Greenfield and Amherst, died Dec. 7, after a long struggle with disabilities associated with Williams Syndrome. She was a pioneer, teaching the world about developmental disabilities and Williams Syndrome, appearing on “60 Minutes” with Morley Safer and Dr. Oliver Sachs on PBS. “Come Into My World,” she wrote in a 1991 poem after learning she was one of the oldest people with Williams Syndrome. Anne was a pianist and loved to play for children of all ages. She worked as a teacher’s aide at the University of Massachusetts, after graduating from Rockville Terrace High School in Rockville, MD, and received a Teacher’s Aide Certificate from Amherst Regional High School. She lived at the Buckley Health Center in Greenfield, at the time of her death, here she was beloved by all, and for a time published a “Dear Annie” newsletter for residents. She is survived by her mother, Barbara of Amherst, two brothers; Robert of Bethesda, MD, and Douglas of Hamilton, MA, and 7 nieces and nephews she loved so well. A graveside service will be Saturday at 10:00AM in West Cemetery, Amherst, with a memorial service in February. The family requests in lieu of flowers, contributions to the Williams Syndrome Foundation, c/o Dr. Barbara Pober, Children’s Hospital, 300 Longwood Ave., Boston, MA 02115.


Blogger Aspen said...

As always, beautifully said. Anne was an amazingly strong woman who gave us all strength and hope when we needed it the most. Like you said, she never knew just how many people she touched.

9:03 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Anne Louise was my Aunt and I was just looking up her name--since I'm working on our family tree--when I came across this wonderful piece you wrote about her. It made me tear up, and makes me proud of my Aunt. I'm so glad that she could bring hope and love to you and so many others.

7:56 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Mike, THANK YOU for commenting on this entry in my blog. You made my day. You certainly do have a special "celebrity" branch in that family tree of yours. I will never, ever forget your aunt or the encouraging letter her mother sent to me after her death, which I still keep and treasure. She wrote in red ink at the bottom "BE STRONG." It has helped me immensely. I am a lot stronger than I was when I originally wrote this. Happier, too. I hope your family is all happy and well. Thanks again.

6:13 AM  

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