For now, I just wanted to post this post on Mother's Day. Now that I have become a mother to my own baby boy, I have so much greater appreciation for my own mother and how she has faced life since losing her son. I love her love for the SMS students and, so, on this Mother's Day, I wanted to share a little account of how Sean's school became to be.
The Beginning of Seany's School
My childhood was, in one word, remarkable. I do not say that to boast. I say that simply because I had a family that made it truly remarkable. More importantly, my younger brother, was the remarkable one. My younger brother, Sean, was severely mentally challenged. However, when other people looked strangely at my brother, me and my family recognized that we were truly the lucky ones to have him.
Sean was six years old when he passed away.
My family: My mom, dad, older sister, twin sister, and youngest baby brother did not know how to go on without Sean.
My mother gave Seany every bit of her heart while still being there for her other children. She spent every moment caring for Sean whether it was by holding him in the hospital or researching with the doctors about possible solutions. My dad went proudly into his fancy wall street job with scratches all over his nose from Seany, who loved to play the “nose honking” game with him. And both my parents held Sean in those final years, when Sean would cry so softly and we all cried together.
My family could have crumbled. But my parents would not let our family fall apart. And they would not let us forget about that remarkable brother who taught us so much about loving others.
My parents and our wonderful family friends worked with the organization Koins for Kenya to start a school in Miyani, Kenya in memory of my brother. In 2008, Koins for Kenya, family, and friends, helped create the Sean Michels School for Special Needs Children.
I just wanted to share with you about the beauty of these children at the school.
When you walk to the school, it does not seem like much. It is a small building with little beds for the children. But there is warm food for the kids and there are kind teachers who help their students. Some of the children are missing maybe a leg or an arm or are otherwise “disabled.” With donations, my parents and Koins for Kenya have been able to get wheelchairs for the children with limited mobility. They have been able to give them a life and school to attend when they otherwise would be stuck in a hut all day.
I will always remember as a teenage girl, I watched my mom and dad pick up one of the students: Beja, whose legs are crumpled underneath him, and they lovingly told him that he reminded them of their own boy. Beja smiled so big when they said that to him. I learned to love these children as if they were my other brothers and sisters. In each of the children’s faces, I saw my brother. I didn’t see my brother because these children were “special needs,” I saw my brother because they, too, were remarkable. What I remember most is how proud my parents were to call Sean their son. And what I see now, is how my parents continue to be proud to call Sean their son. In his memory, they open their arms to all the other “remarkable,” but, sometimes, forgotten children of the word.
I am now grown and I have my own son, whose middle name is after his Uncle Sean. Sometimes, although I don't have the voice for it, I love to sing, “You are My Sunshine” to my baby boy. I often sang this song to my brother, Sean, as he had a yellow toy lion that sang this song, that mom gave him, and as a child, I liked to sing along.
A few months ago, I was awake far too early in the morning with my baby boy and as I fed him, I sang to him the second verse of the song: “You are my sunshine. My only sunshine…. but if you leave me to love another, you will have shattered all of my dreams.”
As a teenager, I had thought Sean left me and yes, all my dreams were shattered. But now I know what this little lullaby means to us—Seany hadn’t left me. He had simply gone for a little while and was waiting for me. In the meantime, Sean actually asked me, contrary to the message of the song, to “love another” in his absence. And so, my parents found children on the other side of the world to love and children within our own community, too. My parents took in two teenagers from our community who had some life difficulties and gathered them into our home and they became family. My parents taught me to love everyone—no matter race, religion, gender, beliefs, etc.
My mom taught me to love everyone through her love for her children. I grew up learning to love the one that others overlooked—the special needs, the disabled, the misfit, the abused, the mentally ill, the emotionally damaged, and, yes, to learn to love myself—who, I will admit, fits into all of these categories in some way. Don’t we all?
My parents lost a child. Each Mother’s Day, my mom, like so many others, understands the feeling of missing someone in their arms. I believe that is one of the worst pains a person can feel in this life. And yet, my parents only grew in love. My parents could have given up, but instead they became busy loving others.
When I hold my baby boy, I sing the first verse of “You are My Sunshine” to him as well. I sing: “The other night dear, as I lay sleeping/ I dreamed I held you in my arms/ But when I awoke, dear, I was mistaken/ So I hung my head and I cried.”
In this lifetime, my parents will never hold their Seany boy again. The last time I held my brother in my arms, I was a pre-teen girl and my brother did not move nor smile at me, because he was already gone. It was like he had fallen asleep to our little lullaby. The lullaby, I thought, had ended.
But my parents taught me to keep singing the lullaby, to all the other children of the world, who need to hear it.
My parents continue to sing the chorus: “You are my sunshine, My only sunshine.”
To my parents, each one of their “children” are their “only” sunshine's and each one feels like the most cherished child in the world. From my parents, I’ve learned that a parent’s heart can hold many, many “only” sunshine’s.
So, if you would like to join us, and let the world know about Sean’s school, I would be truly grateful to you. Please, just help us continue to sing a lullaby that began years ago by a remarkable boy, who couldn’t speak or sing at all, but started singing a lullaby with his mother that still hasn’t ended.
If you would like to learn more about the Sean Michels School, please visit koinsforkenya.org.
If you would like to donate, we and the children at SMS would be so grateful. You can donate by going to koinsforkenya.org and clicking the “donate” button. In your donation, please state your “donation destination” as the Sean Michels School, to ensure that your donation goes to the right place. Your donation does not go towards volunteer travel expenses, but goes completely to the children and the school. Thank you so much.