Kevin Bannan lives on the South Shore and runs a small business. He does OK, but he and his wife have a daughter who is in her second year at Merrimack, a son who just started at Fairfield, and another son who is a senior in high school, so they’ll be paying college loans until, well, forever.
Yet you never hear Kevin Bannan complain. He’s a very even-keeled guy. And part of that is because every fourth Wednesday he spends all day driving people to and from a place in Jamaica Plain called Hope Lodge. Hope Lodge offers free room and board to cancer patients who are being treated at Boston-area hospitals.
“When you meet people who are fighting cancer, you’re almost embarrassed to think about what you complain about every day,” Bannan says. “I get a lot out of it. Mostly I get perspective. And I get to meet some really nice people.”
Right up there was the Chinese lady who didn’t speak a word of English. Somehow she managed to explain to Bannan that she wanted to go to the grocery store. After he drove her back to Hope Lodge, the woman tried to tip him.
“She didn’t have two nickels to rub together and she was trying to give me 20 bucks,” he said.
What followed was an epic standoff, as the woman insisted he take the cash and Bannan used sign language, pidgin English and anything else he could think of to explain that as grateful as he was he couldn’t take her money. Everything was resolved with bows and smiles after Bannan ran into a nearby store and found a lady who spoke Mandarin.
Hope Lodge very purposely has common areas for food preparation and eating. Volunteers make the dinners, and the patients make the effort, talking to each other in what amounts to peer counseling that is totally spontaneous and genuinely effective.
“I remember one night, a young woman walked in the front door. She had taken the T from the airport. She didn’t know they had people like me waiting to drive them,” Bannan recalled. “She was so beaten down, the handkerchief on her head, depressed. Two weeks later, I saw her in the kitchen. She was sitting at the island with everybody else, laughing, smiling, a different person.”
Christopher Grimes never stayed at Hope Lodge, but his is a story that resonates there. Four years to the day Monday, he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma. He was 4 years old. His parents, C.J. and Kristin, did everything in their power to save their son. For four years, Christopher fought the cancer like a champion. The nurses at Children’s Hospital loved him.
“You name it, he had it,” his grandmother, Peg McCobb, was saying. “Surgeries galore. Stem cell transplants. Radiation. His doctor moved to Michigan, and CJ and Kristin brought him to Michigan for one last chance.”
But nothing could beat the cancer. Last week, Christopher insisted on going to school, in a wheelchair. He wanted to say goodbye to his friends, some of whom had shaved their heads for him. These were kids who for years watched Christopher leave soccer practice to get his platelets.
Eight-year-olds are not supposed to die, but Christopher did, last Thursday. They buried Christopher in a beautiful place, in the family’s plot in Vermont, on Monday afternoon.
His grandmother helps out at the food pantry named for his great-grandmother, Mary Ann Brett, at Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta in Dorchester. The pastor, the Rev. Jack Ahern, made the long drive up for the Mass in Stowe, and the truth is Father Jack would have driven to Calcutta for Peg McCobb and her family.
“There was something special about Christopher,” his grandmother said. “He was very gentle.”
Kevin Bannan’s next driving day for Hope Lodge is in two weeks. He will smile at the patients, and he will think of Christopher Grimes at every stop.