CapeWomenOnline - Where Cape Women Shine

Your local venue for the women of Cape Cod to share their ideas, experiences and resources while inspiring each other in their life's journey

Inspire . Encourage . Network . Share

Life Story banner
  • Facebook icon
  • Share

Will’s Heart

by Jonnie Garstka

In January of 2012, my daughter-in-law Cindy, a beautiful, vibrant 41-year-old was diagnosed with breast cancer. She met the challenges of this disease the way she faces her everyday life; with grit, intelligence and humor.

Although she spoke openly with her three children, Caroline, Will and Anna, about cancer and the problems it would entail, Will, her 9-year-old son, seemed to grasp the enormity of their fight and its possible awful conclusion before his sisters did.

That summer, during our family vacation, Will found a heart-shaped shell on the beach. He showed it to me and asked, “Do you think this would make a nice necklace for my mom?”

I thought it would and said so. The moment passed.

In November, I visited their family in Decatur, Georgia. Cindy was having a third reconstruction surgery and I wanted to help out in any way that I could. Cancer takes more than its victims on its long, sad, journey.

Will brought the shell out again. This time he was more direct. “Could YOU make this into a necklace for my mom?” His eyes were direct and intensely blue.

Only a grandchild with immense faith would ask that question of me. Since I have painted and colored and done crafts with him from his toddler days, Will knows I am not an artist. I do, however, have many friends who are. My quest began with them.

In Georgia and in Massachusetts, I asked for help from painters, sculptors, whittlers and quilters. I visited craft stores and gadget stores and art galleries. I went online.

No one wanted to try to make a necklace from such a slender, fragile, shell.

Additionally, Will insisted that the chain, or ribbon, holding the shell had to be red. “It’s her favorite color.”

I was worried. Will believed in me and I hated to let him down. I was also afraid of breaking his precious heart.

Then Melissa arrived to visit Mimi, my neighbor and friend. A new mother herself, she was charmed by the thought of a son wanting to give his mother such a gift.

Additionally, Melissa’s mother had also had cancer and I think she connected with Will on many different planes. I believe she also relished the challenge of doing the deed.

In two days it was finished. By wrapping gossamer wires around the shell, she avoided drilling through it. Triple lines of slender red ribbon made the necklace into everything Will had asked for.

The finished necklace arrived in Georgia some two days after I’d mailed it. In the interim, Will had called me twice and texted me three times.

“When did I think it would arrive?”

“I did send it to him, not his mom, right?”

“It was wrapped “really good”, so it wouldn’t break, right???”

I have firsthand accounts of Will’s mad run home from school to check the mail during those two days.

He grabbed the small bubble-wrap-encased package and ran upstairs to his room to make sure it was not broken, and that it was exactly what he’d asked for. After all, it was going to be his Christmas gift for his mom…

I’m told Cindy, who hadn’t cried during all of her cancer treatments, surgeries and rehabilitation sessions, wept when Will gave her his present. He was initially upset that he had made his mom cry, but she assured him they were happy tears.

I owe Melissa. I owe Will. And I owe Cindy.

They have each given me my best Christmas ever.

Will with his Mom, donning her heart-shaped shell necklace. Photograph courtesy of Jonnie Garstka

Will with his Mom, donning her heart-shaped shell necklace.
Photograph courtesy of Jonnie Garstka

Jonnie Garstka was born in the autumn. She has an affinity for crisp October days and fire-warmed nights. Outgoing to a fault, she never knew a stranger, believing there is always a common denominator to develop while waiting in line at the store, at the train station or to get into the football game.

Jonnie is a retired teacher living with her husband in Brewster. She considers herself a ‘small town person with the inherent belief that the check is in the mail.’