Gideon's Last Christmas

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A story that will ground and lift you at once

UPDATE: I'm sorry to report that Gideon passed away Saturday afternoon, at roughly the same time I originally posted this item. You can read more about it here.

It's five days before Christmas, and I've only now put up the tree. Four large plastic bins of decorations and ornaments sit in the living room, waiting for their contents to be unpacked and strewn about the house.

I haven't even started wrapping presents yet, and there's a writing deadline looming for Monday.

I could be forgiven for being stressed out, right about now. But I'm not.

You see, I just watched an item on CBC Here & Now that moved me, lifted me, and rocked me to the core. It was the most powerful bit of television I've seen in a while.

Reporter Rod Etheridge brought us the story of Gideon Stairs, a four-year-old boy who, at this minute, is fighting for his life at the Janeway Children's Hospital.

Please. Don't hit the back' button yet. This is not a typical tearjerker. It doesn't use crying parents to shamelessly exploit your emotions.

It will, however, bring tears. It might even rip the heart out of your chest. But it will and I guarantee this it will fill your heart with hope and renew your faith in humanity, before carefully putting it back again.

Gideon was beset two years ago with a pediatric cancer that afflicts the kidney. This summer, his parents, Dean and Stevie Stairs, learned that Gideon would not survive. They have moved from Lewisporte into St. John's, with their nine other children, to be with Gideon in his final days.

The most wrenching visual is that of Gideon, his tiny body concentrated on the seemingly simple task of drawing breath. He is so frail, yet so determined even in sleep to keep breathing. This is the part where your heart gets ripped out.

Then we learn that Dean is a musician and music producer. He has been composing gentle acoustic numbers on the guitar, which he plays for Gideon, convinced that it brings him comfort. The image of Dean playing guitar, while Gideon works to breathe behind him well, that will bring tears too.

But you will be impressed by the composure and sincerity of Dean and Stevie. Their quiet strength is an inspiration.

The story also hinges on the outpouring of support from the community. The Stairs are strangers to this part of the province, yet the community has heard about their situation, and many are coming forward to help.

Here's an excerpt from the CBC online story:

Within days, word of the family's plight spread throughout St. John's.

The manager of the apartment building where the family was staying has let them stay for free, and strangers have dropped off money and food. Others have lent the use of their cars.

The community's response has overwhelmed the family, Stairs said.

"People are generous and just pouring out their hearts and their pocketbooks and whatever they have to offer," Stevie Stairs said.

"There are times when language fails to communicate," Dean Stairs said. "This is one of those times. People have been so very, very generous to us."

It a touching story, elegantly told. Did I already say it will move you?

For many of us, Christmas inflicts the burden of expectation'. If the decorations aren't all up, every gift isn't perfect, we can't find those special stockings, and everything isn't just so, we stress about it.

Watching Gideon's story should help us descend from that precipice of anxiety and guilt. But not in the usual count your blessings' kind of way.

This story held more than that for me.

The footage of Dean Stairs playing guitar was particularly moving. With sweet, gentle music, he paused the linear passage of time, transforming it into a brilliant bloom of sound and emotion. He had tuned out all the noise, and was there for his son, with his son, in the moment.

In the now.

I think this is why I love a major blizzard, even a power failure. It gives our family no choice but to slow down, decompress, sit by the fire, and play games in the candlelight. No outside world. Just us.

Together.

In the now.

Now, go to the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador site and watch this clip. In the right hand column, under CBC News: Here and Now, click Latest Newscast'. It is about 20 minutes into the show, but definitely worth the wait. You have until Monday at 6:00 pm, at which point it will be replaced by the next newscast. If they post the story as a stand-alone item on the site (that would be a good idea), I will update the link.

Now, go. Watch it.

And please, try to enjoy your Christmas. In the now.

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  • Suzanne
    July 27, 2010 - 14:53

    All you say is so very true Geoff.

    It may sound trite, but it is always the small things that grab you and suddenly you sit and think about all that surrounds you. Wonder takes you and you are back in time - time when the mystical world of Christmas was all you could think of. When Santa filled your dreams. And now that is passed to those around you. Your child singing the wrong words to Christmas song earnestly trying to make his voice heard. The cat shaking her paws trying to rid herself of the first snow of the year which is covering her path to the garden. And today - all the memories of your past blessings and of the times you held those you loved close and warm.

    Life can be painful and at times seemingly unbearable - but the Stairs family will get through this and one day, even though their hearts will always weigh heavy with sadness, they will smile at their memories and feel the beauty in the now.