Duff McKagan: Merry Christmas

Duff McKagan's column runs every Thursday on Reverb.

Life just seems to get too damn busy sometimes. I try to take a deep breath in the morning and not take myself too seriously. I try not to get too caught up in all of the crap that just doesn't matter. My work is very important to me, but at what cost? We all deal with things we'd rather not at our workplace. Sure, we try to shake it all off our boot-soles before we come home, but do we succeed? My family is most important, but do I give them enough of my time? Enough of my patience? This is the time of year that I like to slow it all down and take stock of my year and my life. This is also the time of year that I get real thankful for the health and well-being of my kids. When I hear a story like the one I am about to share, I just want to kick myself for "sweating the small stuff" . . . life is indeed a treasured thing.

In Seattle, I live a mere stone's throw from Children's Hospital and Ronald McDonald House (across the street from Children's). Ronald McDonald House is a place for families to stay while their sick children are getting treatment. Most of these families have come from outside the area, as Children's is arguably the top pediatric hospital in the West. Most of these families have also given up everything in trade for the healthcare of their child. It is also often the last stop. RMH provides a roof and other measures of support, but make no mistake, it is not a place with frills. I have met a few of these parents over the years only because I live in the area. (Last summer I met a single dad from Yakima who was completely heartbroken and alone while his 9-year-old daughter was getting treated for cancer. I don't know what has happened with them, but I think about them often.) Living so close to RMH reminds you of things you don't want to think about, ever.

One of my sisters has worked at Sam's Club for the past 24 years. She

is one of those people who intuitively uses great economy when speaking

about others' lives; when she finally does have something to tell, it

is always of substance. Two weeks ago, she told me of a newer employee

at the Seattle Sam's Club whose name is Roger Linn. Roger and his wife

have five kids and have moved here from Montana. Their oldest daughter,

Ashley, has leukemia and is being treated with aggressive chemotherapy

at Children's Hospital. The Linns reside at Ronald McDonald House so

that they can all be here while Ashley gets treatment. This is their

second stint in Seattle.

Back in 2004, Ashley was experiencing a lot of pain, but her parents

were told by a doctor that she was only being "rebellious" and that the

pain was in fact all in her head. After seeing a few more doctors, she

was found to have leukemia (cancer of the white blood cells) and

underwent five blood transfusions. Things got bad fast. On Christmas

Eve 2004, the Linns flew to Seattle to get emergency treatment for

Ashley at Children's, and set up their first residency at RMH. Roger

kept his job and their house in Montana, making as many trips as he

could out here. Word got out in Montana that the Linn household was

often vacant and the house was robbed (everything being stolen).

Ashley, meanwhile, suffered full paralysis.

Ashley now had to deal not only with chemotherapy for leukemia, but

also physical therapy for paralysis. Ashley's illness, however, went

into remission and the paralysis ebbed. While she still suffered

tremors in the right side of her body, leukemia was out of the picture,

and the family moved back to Montana. (Ashley taught herself to write

with her left hand).

I wish this was the end of the story, but sadly it isn't. Ashley's

fight with leukemia is back, and the Linns are back. Roger decided that

this time he wanted the whole family together. He has been a longtime

Sam's Club employee in Montana, and there was an opening at the store

here. Roger's paychecks go to pay the mortgage back in Montana and

little else. The Linns are very grateful for RMH. I just can't imagine

the stress that must fill that place, living among other families with

dire concerns, many of whom have given up everything in pursuit of

health for their broken child. On top of all this, Ashley is now

experiencing tremors in her left side too.

When my sister told me this story, I instantly thought of writing about

it for Christmas, and leaving an address to which we could all send a

little money for the Linns. When I told Roger about my idea, he plainly

stated "There are a lot more people that have it worse off than us."

While he was more than happy to talk to me about Ashley (and the rest

of his kids!), he directed me to the side of this story where hope

sits, not despair. His steady voice depicts a man whose family has

cleared the clutter out of their lives and are now focused on the

important stuff. . . each other.

It is now Christmas Eve, and people are scurrying to get home or buy

that last-minute present. Other people will be going out to get

shit-faced at some bar. This is life and we are all in it. I too will

be rushing around and focusing on what "I"(ve) got to get done for

"Me"--although this year I will take a second to pray and meditate for

the Linns. Maybe writing this article will inspire me to finally take

the plunge and donate some of my time to Ronald McDonald House. This

article does not really have a point or tidy conclusion, but hopefully

it will inspire some of us to gather up an extra coat and some blankets

for a homeless shelter or buy a turkey for a mission. Maybe we could

just take a second to think about others that may have it worse off

than us. Be safe tonight and Merry Christmas.

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