Originally published as a column in CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on July 20, 2020.

When my eldest son turned 18 not long ago, there was a lot to think about other than baking a cake and choosing a gift.

Like all parents, I thought of what’s ahead with a mix of joy and worry, but mostly with excitement. The journey as a grownup is about to begin, right?

I also thought of my friend Jessie Simpson, whom I’ve met in November 2018 and been spending almost every Sunday afternoon with until the pandemic started. It’s impossible not to think of him every time I think of young people starting out in life or graduating, ready for adventures and embracing life.

Jessie was like that just a bit over four years ago before the savage attack with a baseball bat on graduation night, by a man who took out his vigilante-fueled anger on him. That resulted in a catastrophic brain injury, ten months of coma, multiple strokes and seizures, and countless other complications, many still ongoing.

Jessie has been in a long-term care facility since. He wants to walk again one day. He also wants to see the things he misses: his home, his favourite beach, his cat. His green and black dirt bike.

Jessie’s mom, Sue, is a relentless fighter. Her strength to keep on going, to not give up no matter what challenges appear along the way – and many did in the last months, is inspiring. The definition of a mother’s love, right there.

After months of seeing her son through the window, she finally got to be in the same room, albeit no hugs or kisses. ‘It’s the hardest thing,’ she said. Once again, I cannot imagine. Another reminder of the things we take fort granted.

Jessie’s birthday is coming up on the 26th. He’s keen on birthdays – he’ll ask you yours and whether that is your favourite month of the year, then he’ll tell you his and yes, July is one of his favourite months. But so is February because of Valentine’s Day, and December too, because of Christmas.

For his birthday last year, I got him a stuffie in one of his favourite colours, baby blue, and peaches. His favourite fruit. He turned 22 but frowned when asked how old he was turning. His answer was, ‘I don’t know but I am still a teenager.’ I made me teary every time.

Jessie’s future, and his whole life, have been stolen and I can understand how he cannot make peace with that, though he does not know yet why he is where he is.

But that’s not where the story ends. He will learn to walk, Sue says, and he will learn to do other things too. He can lift his left arm now. All the way up, she said.

His regained strength is what keeps her strong.

During the pandemic, some learned a new skill. Sue drove around for a bottle drive fundraiser so that her son could come home for visits. She also started planning for a silent auction for the same reason.

She needs to have a hospital bed, a lift, ramps and so many other pieces of equipment that Jessie depends on. That’s a tall order, but she’s undeterred.

First thing though it’s Jessie’s birthday. He is turning 23. No cake but you can donate for his fundraiser by following this link. Or you can follow the news on the silent auction Sue is organizing and either contribute to it with items or services or watch for when it goes live sometimes in August and bid on one.

Also, a Kamloops pizzeria is donating a portion of their sales for Jessie’s fundraiser during the month of July. You can learn more here.

You can also write him a birthday card (see below for details.) He will get to read them all. They’ll be added to his colourful room as reminders of people who love him.

Hope is a big word but that’s what Sue has been feeding on since the night of her worst nightmare. And she’s not about to let go anytime soon.

Our community has showed its big heart many times for those who need it. Let’s do it again. Let’s show Jessie and his mom that they are not alone.

Happy birthday, Jessie! Keep on smiling and I’ll keep on reminding people why your favourite shape is the heart: ‘Because it means love.’

If you want to write Jessie a birthday card, please send it to this address:

PO Box 233

Savona BC V0K 2J0