It is possible for an act of goodwill to be heart-warming and heart-breaking, in equal measure.
For Amanda Rawson and her three daughters, smiles and tears shared the same space during a spontaneous night of generosity this month when members of the Western Mustangs men’s hockey team brought Christmas kindness to their door.
Aaron Rawson, Amanda’s husband and the girls’ father, passed away suddenly in October.
A few weeks later, their middle daughter Olivia, 9, fell ill, and then – mere hours after the family put up the Christmas tree to mark what would have been Aaron’s 43rd birthday – she was diagnosed with cancer.
“Our lives have been turned upside-down and I feel like it’s still being shaken around,” Rawson said. “I would like to have skipped Christmas altogether but I had to pull myself together for the kids.”
Aaron had loved Christmas, had always been the one to string lights on the house and to place illuminated candy canes on the lawn. Afraid of heights, Rawson decided decorations this year would start and end with the indoor tree. It would be enough, she thought, just to get through the month.
She didn’t know that strangers – through connections layered upon connections – had her back.
Lending a hand
Rawson’s father Bill Dawson is a professor of accounting at Western’s DAN Department of Management & Organizational Studies (her mother, Gloria Dawson, is an administrator there) and one of his students, Dan Davies, learned of the family’s circumstance.
Davies, in his fifth year of management studies at Western and a goalie in his third-year with the Mustangs men’s hockey team, wondered if he could help. He approached head coach Clarke Singer and wondered if maybe they could stop by the house to lend a hand.
So last week, after gaining permission from Rawson to pay a visit, Davies, Singer and five other Mustangs showed up at the Rawsons’ home in Ilderton, Ont.
“When they started walking up the driveway with their hockey sticks, my 13-year-old daughter Summer, who just started playing hockey this year, her eyes just lit up. She was so excited to see them,” Rawson said.
“And they weren’t in any rush. They stayed for pizza and played some driveway hockey with the girls and they put up the lights and these enormous inflatables.”
Singer’s son had suggested supplying the lawn decorations: a life-sized Santa and three reindeer and a festive, four-metre-high Mickey Mouse. He hadn’t even realized Mickey was seven-year-old Scarlett’s favourite character until she squealed in delight.
Olivia starts four months of chemotherapy this week. From the living room couch, she will be able to look out the front window and watch the giant-sized holiday figures dancing on the front lawn.
Rawson hopes it will continue to make them all smile.
“It was amazing how generous they were with their time. They gave us just that little boost when we needed it most,” she said.
It is all part of the community that has come together to support the family in their time of need: friends, family, neighbours and teammates in and around Ilderton who have scheduled fresh-cooked dinners every day until February; the Gateway Church community who has walked each step with the family; the friend who set up a GoFundMe campaign, and all those who donated to it.
And now, a hockey team of strangers who lent a hand and a hockey stick when it counted.
Rawson asked that Western News tell of her gratitude and the hockey players’ generosity, despite the team’s reluctance to trumpet their good deeds. “They’re a group of guys doing something nice for someone they don’t know and that was really special,” she said.
Singer deflected praise to Davies – “an incredible young man in every respect” – and to his team: “a great bunch of guys who saw a need and filled it.”
In pre-pandemic seasons, leadership coach Ray Wood met with the team every other Tuesday to guide the athletes in character development, including trips to volunteer at the London Food bank and helping out at other community events. “The human side of what we do is in many ways the most important part,” Singer said.
“Out of a very difficult situation, maybe we could bring a bit of joy to their December,” he added.
The family’s grief is far from over, and in some ways it’s just beginning, but this has been a welcome respite from their ever-present worry and sadness.
“I feel like our life is a roller coaster and this is one of the peaks during a really low time,” Rawson said.