September 25th, 2019
Over the past 35 years, our House has been more than a place for families to stay while their children receive medical treatment at local hospitals. It has allowed guests like Amanda Upton to build relationships and a community of support that extends past these walls. Here she shares what RMHC has meant to her and her family:
In September 2016, my family came to Ronald McDonald House® for the first time as guests. We had visited friends at the House before and found Family Dinner to be curious with how kind everyone was, but that was only a small taste of what the community is like at RMHC®. During our first night of staying at the House as guests, we decided to check out Art Therapy. That night there was only one other family in the Art Room, so we struck up a conversation which quickly turned from general information to a deep medical conversation. These were people who spoke our language, understood what we were going through, and were not scared by the medical equipment attached to my kids.
When we checked out of the House the first time, we were not sure if we would ever be back, however as our medical journey has twisted and turned, we have ended up spending a lot of time at RMHC over the last three years. While the cozy beds, family meals and House programs are amazing, the thing we have gained the most from RMHC is community. As a parent of medically complex children sometimes it can feel rather isolating, but when we are at the House, we are surrounded by people who understand, empathize, and support each other.
What started out as meeting one family at Art Therapy spread to meeting another family in the playroom, the next family during Garden Education, an additional family during dinner; many relationships fueled by my kiddos playing with other children in the House. Since all the families are in the House because of medical needs, we all start with something in common, which helps relationships bloom like the flowers in the garden. Often in the House you will hear conversations about medical appointments, tests, and procedures between families because we are able to give each other advice based off the things our child has gone through, which is a way to support each other at a deeper level. It does not take years of a relationship to support each other because we know what medical life is like, so we have each other’s backs.
My children are always counting down the days until we go back to RMHC because it is the place that brings their friends together. When we are headed to check in, my oldest always asks which of her friends are at the House at that moment because we now have friends all over the world that gather at RMHC. One of my favorite things recently was when we were checking into the House and my daughter asked who would be there. I said I was not sure that any of the guests we knew would be, and her response was that she was excited because that meant that she was able to make more new friends. She made it a goal that trip to see if she could meet someone new every day. The great thing about RMHC is the way that the House is set up. All of the different activities and community spaces make it very easy to meet new people all of the time. I know when it comes time to head back home after time at RMHC that my drive home will be long for the first few miles as my kids are sad to be leaving their friends. Even if they are excited to be headed home, a piece of them always feels torn.
The last three years for our family have been a bit of a medical roller coaster, however, when my children think of packing up and heading towards the hospital, their first thought is not about hard medical tests but instead about the people they will be able to see. Medical life can be mentally taxing on children and I am so thankful as their mom that they have RMHC to come to between appointments, because for them it is filled with people they love. Having relationships at RMHC makes the medical journey easier because it has brought friends to give hugs after a long day, learn with in the garden, and dress up with in the playroom. It gives my children a place to be kids.
The thing about friendships is that while the House provides the meeting place, the friendships continue to grow beyond the walls. Other moms from RMHC have brought me coffee when my children are in the hospital, and we have gone to spend time with our friends when they are in the hospital. We have playdates at the House when we are there with other families and sometimes are fortunate enough between appointments to be able to head out into the community with another family to enjoy something like the zoo or a museum together. This helps us bond as families and set down some of the stress of medical appointments. Some of these friendships go as deep as vacationing together, inviting each other to birthday parties, and video chatting across the country. The House nurtures friendship through community.
There is something special about the House, magical really. While it might be made up of walls, it is filled with love and that love is felt and spreads through the families. When we first came to the House, I only expected a bed, but I have gained so much more than just a place to rest. Before coming to RMHC, even though we were already three years into our medical journey, we knew very few people with medically complex children because it is hard to meet others when you are focusing so hard on helping your child. However, the House gives the gift of community, which helps friendships blossom and lifelong connections form. I have met some of the most amazing people, both kids and adults, and those people have changed my life forever, and I am so grateful.
When I think about RMHC I think about the people. I think about the night we gathered in a window to watch fireworks, the evening we had a princess party and made s’mores in the oven, and the afternoon we decorated a small Christmas tree in a friend’s room. There are so many wonderful memories, so many amazing friends in such a magnificent place…“The House- That-Love-Built.”