Yesterday, my husband turned forty.
Any decade birthday can be a big deal, but this one was especially so. You see, in the beginning of his 30s, my husband (Wink) had everything going for him: he had young healthy children, he was part way through a graduate program with dreams of a PhD, he was healthy and strong, he was brilliant, he had a rock-solid faith and relationship with Jesus. Over the course of that decade however, many of these things vanished: his periodic cluster headaches became daily, chronic, and completely disabling, the slight pain in his groin became so intense he could barely stand or walk at all, his faith was lost, he dropped out of school, he could no longer think or speak clearly because of the pain, he was on so many medications that he could barely function, he became so severely depressed that suicide was always on his mind. You can read through my myriad of posts about him here.
I wanted to save up money and take him to Hawaii for his birthday. He’s longed to go for 17 years (since our honeymoon). But then I realized that we would pay thousands of dollars, and he would be in so much pain from the travel that he would likely never leave his hotel bed. If he did leave his room, his wheelchair would not allow him to go onto the sand. It would be a waste of money and could cause more pain and despair than joy.
My husband has tried to get a new wheelchair through insurance, but they have stated multiple times that if he is mobile on the main level of our house, then insurance will not pay for a chair. Luckily, he is mobile on the main floor of the house with a cane because our home was not designed with halls/doorways for a wheelchair.
My husband has also tried many, many times (with the help of a SS lawyer) to get Social Security Disability. After appearing in court last fall, the judge essentially wrote in his denial that my husband was way too educated (he has an Ivy league degree in BioPhysics and was formerly a computer programmer) to not be able to find a desk job that he can do. We are appealing. Again.
My super idea
While taking my daily walk in August, I came up with another idea. I would sell shirts like the Super Power Shirt that I had sold earlier in the summer.
This time, however, I would raise the price $10 over cost and use the money to buy my husband a new wheelchair. One that wasn’t left over from deceased older person and purchased on Craigslist. One that would be easily fixable when it falls apart… again. And one that celebrated him by name: Wink.
So…. after spending a month excitedly brainstorming how it would work, in early October I started my campaign… “Help Wink buy a new wheelchair”. It would culminate on his 40th birthday. I was hoping to sell 50+ shirts to help go towards a new chair (a new quality chair looked like it would be $2000+).
I shared the campaign with friends, family, co-workers, blogger friends, and others on the internet. As secretly as I could spread a viral campaign, I did. And people responded. They bought and bought and shared with friends/family, and then bought some more. By the end of the campaign, over 200 shirts had been purchased from people all over the WORLD! In addition, many people added cash donations towards the gift!
Support Wink page
My next secret mission was to create a support page on FB. On this page, I posted messages, blog updates from my husband, and birthday invites. My difficult task was to figure out how to do this without him knowing what I was doing.
I asked people to start posting pictures of themselves in their Wink shirts to show their support of him. People from his high school days, college days, family, and current friends all posted pictures. Strangers posted pictures. Friends of his wife (aka me!) and kids posted pictures. It was amazing. Here is a small sampling of the pictures that came in to his secret page:
One of my favorite pictures was from the UK from a former client of mine (please note the message on her AAC device!):
And my brother and his girlfriend:
A few days before his birthday, my husband posted on Facebook about a wheelchair that he had been following for years. It was previously only available to people in developing countries to help them be mobile in rough terrain. The exciting news was that it had just launched on Kickstarter for a US model.
This wheelchair is made completely from bike parts. My husband can go into any bike store (and there are a LOT here) to get new parts and fix his chair. It is also made for rough terrain. It can go on grass (very useful when my kids have soccer games or presentations on the field!), sand, and dirt. It even has a sort of gear system based on the level arms. It is awesome.
I watched the early shipping (and cheapest) chairs get snatched up and I knew I needed to act. I took a chance that this was going to be the perfect gift, and jumped in on the Kickstarter.
The big day
Yesterday, the kids, Wink’s parents (in town visiting from the other side of the country), and I woke him up to give him a gift bag. Inside, he found 7 “wink” shirts: 3 for him, 2 for me, and one for each kid. He was then instructed to check his email. I had sent him an invitation to his own secret group just minutes before and was itching to see his reaction to all the messages and pictures.
I think he just sat there in awe. Here were so, so, so many people wearing HIS shirt. People he hadn’t seen in over 20 years. People that he had NEVER met before but they wanted to show him they cared. Individuals and groups got together to show Wink that he matters and he is loved.
After the big reveal of the FB page and shirts, we told him to go to bed and rest all afternoon. We needed him to have as much energy as possible for his party. The potluck party was to begin at 6:00, and I can tell you it was such a long wait for me! I just wanted to have people over now and give him his BIG BIG gift.
At 6:00, friends started rolling in. We have no family for 500 miles (except for his parents who are visiting right now), so these were all friends from the last 13 years since we moved to this area. We filled up the house! There were at least 40 people, including many crazy kids running everywhere. I was told that you could hear us a block away! I set up some board and card, which Wink started happily playing with people (although I was disappointed that more people didn’t want to play).
Finally at 6:45, I brought down the cake. I had made him both a special apple cake AND pumpkin cheesecake. We couldn’t make the lighter work, so after about 30 attempts we decided to pretend that the candles were lit. We sang and he blew out the imaginary flames. We all giggled a little.
And I handed him an envelope. He opened it and scanned through it. And this was how he looked when he registered what we had all pooled together to get him:
He was just a little excited!!
Here is our family with him holding up his big gift:
Although the wheelchair will not arrive until next July (that’s how cutting edge this is!), now he has something huge to look forward to this year. And that is what this about: hope and love.
Over 200 people worked together to help someone amazing have hope and love.