A blessed Christmas in uncertain times

01/05/2011 11:21 AM |

A new year is a time for new resolve, new hope and a fresh perspective. The last two years, I felt like New Year’s was just more of the same. This feeling began when my husband lost his 22-year position as a church administrator with the Diocese of Rockville Centre. The economic crash of 2008 swept into our home with the force of a tsunami.

At that same time, my youngest daughter, Johanna, born with a rare genetic disease causing malformations in her brain, was undergoing IV treatments for a systemic infection. I anxiously pondered how we would provide for this fragile life. While preparing for Johanna’s 75th surgery, we educated ourselves on unemployment, COBRA and life in these new economic times.

Our greatest financial concerns were health insurance and the mortgage. The COBRA subsidy of 2009 helped to provide the life-sustaining health insurance our daughter so desperately needs. The mortgage was a nightmare.

In 2006, in an effort to provide some breathing room with medical, household expenses and college bills, we entered into a mortgage that our broker explained was a relatively safe venture unless the economy and housing market crashed and you lost your job. Being short-sighted and exhausted from the crises surrounding our daughter’s illness, we blindly discounted those risks in favor of breathing room.

That “breathing room” quickly suffocated us as the “perfect storm” of economic disaster hit our home in November 2008. Early in 2009, we communicated our struggles to the bank, seeking a loan modification in an effort to secure the mortgage.

The process was frustrating from beginning to end. Lack of consistent bank personnel, lost paperwork and inaccurate notations on computer systems bred confusion. Every encounter started from square one. Unable to pay the mortgage on unemployment and COBRA, we continued our frantic communication with the bank. We secured the services of an attorney to walk us through the tumultuous waters of a loan modification. The law office kept us abreast of the endless paperwork and provided third-party verification for all communication with the bank.

In March, 2010, just weeks before my daughter had another brain surgery, my husband secured a great job as an administrator for a thriving business. Our home business was growing as well. We excitedly presented our attorney and the bank with the new numbers, hoping to secure the mortgage and our home.

Frustrations mounted as the paperwork continued. The only offer of updating our loan was to pay the ballooning arrears and re-enter this faulty loan, now in litigation in other states. Finally, the day after Thanksgiving, we received a denial for modification.

At wit’s end, I did what every writer would do; I wrote our story and sent it to friends, editors and co-workers. I even wrote a letter to Santa. I heard my essay crossed the desk of some Wells Fargo executives. I put my faith in Santa and a little baby born in a manger.

At that same time, an MRI confirmed that Johanna has a brain tumor unlike the malformations that have plagued her since birth. Surgery was scheduled for just after New Year’s, as we made plans to spend Christmas at home.

At 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve, just before leaving for Mass, I received an unexpected call. It was a home preservation specialist from Wells Fargo wishing me a Merry Christmas. Emotions brewed as I considered this a cruel prank on this Holy Eve. As our conversation continued he explained that Wells Fargo would indeed be granting us a modification and the terms would be worked out in the coming weeks. They wanted us to know so we could celebrate a Merry Christmas. Stunned, I stuttered, “Thank you. And Merry Christmas to you.” As scenes from “It’s a Wonderful Life” emerged from my subconscious, the shock on my face and hysterical sobs caused my family to believe I received news someone had died. In fact, we came back to life Christmas Eve. After two years of fighting the death of our dreams, we offered thanks at the altar of God and left some extra cookies for Santa. God heard our prayer and surely Santa got my letter.

Johanna received a precious gift from a friend this Christmas. It’s a snow globe with Dorothy’s ruby red slippers, playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” She keeps it by her side day and night. Johanna says, “When I am in the hospital, all I have to do is shake my snow globe and look at my ruby red slippers and say, ‘There’s no place like home.”

While 2011 presents us with new challenges for my daughter’s health; we are a family of new resolve, fresh perspective and new hope. We resolve to ride the waves of these tumultuous times and head for the shore, working hard to secure a future for our family here on the North Fork. Whether in the pediatric ICU or on the porch in Jamesport, we will endure and thrive because truly there is no place like home.

Ms. Benthal is a community columnist covering Jamesport and Aquebogue for Times/Review Newsgroup.