Monday, October 19, 2009
(Above: a Coach purse)
When 2-year-old Paula Baker drowned in a freak swimming pool accident in 2001, it devastated her whole family - her two brothers, her father and, especially, her mother, Marian Baker.
"Marian was non-functional, in a fog," says her husband, Michael, a trauma surgeon at John Muir Hospital in Walnut Creek. "A lot of days, she didn't come out of her bedroom. She couldn't deal with the overwhelming pain."
But somehow, Marian found the strength to call the Contra Costa Crisis Center. They hooked her up with other parents who had lost children. And that made all the difference.
"It saved our marriage, for one thing," says Michael. "I never understood before that men and women have different ways of grieving."
Grateful for the help, Marian threw herself into raising funds for the Crisis Center. She wanted to make sure it could help other people the way it helped her family.
Things got so much better, four years ago Marian and Michael adopted a little girl and named her Joy.
But a few weeks later, Marian was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. But even while she was undergoing chemotherapy, she always more worried about others - especially the little kids who were also getting chemo at the oncology center - than about herself.
She would bake cookies to bring to the kids, and that was just the beginning.
"One child wanted a Sony Xbox, but they weren't available on the market yet," Michael recalls. "So she personally tracked down a Sony vice-president in New York and arranged to pay for one and have it delivered to the kid. She used to say, 'If chemo sucks for me, it's ten times worse for a 14-year-old.'"
Her passion was expensive purses, especially Coach purses, which she would buy on the Internet and donate to the Crisis Center for its fundraising auctions.
But her own battle with cancer came to an end on June 14. Heartbroken, Michael buried her with a Coach purse by her side.
But her good works live on. On Nov. 7 the Crisis Center will hold its annual fundraising gala at the Diablo Country Club, and it's being held to honor Marian's memory. Among the raffle prizes: a 2010 VW Beetle, a laptop computer and - what else? - a Coach purse.
You don't have to be present to participate in the raffle. For raffle tickets or to RSVP for the gala, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 925-939-1916 x100.
And if you can't attend but would like to contribute anyway, send a tax-deductible check to P.O. Box 3364, Walnut Creek, CA 94588.
But I'm not really writing this column to plug the gala. My real reason is to let you know that this lifesaving service is available to you, too, if you need it. And in these hard times, a lot of people do. Just make the call:
If you live in Alameda County, the comparable organization is Crisis Support Services of Alameda County. Its phone numbers:
Grief/Job Loss: 1-800-260-0094
And if you'd like to contribute, send a check to P.O. Box 3120, Oakland, CA 94609.
But the most important thing is to make that call. I promise: The person on the other end of the line will understand what you're going through because they've been there themselves.