By Cathy Free
Deseret News columnist
SANDY - There have been some bad days, no question about it. But the thought of abandoning her daughter never occurred to Colleen Pearson.
She never could have done what that affluent couple in Pennsylvania recently did. Leave her daughter at a hospital with a note attached, saying that she could no longer care for her?
Undoubtedly, it would have been easier, years ago, for Colleen to put her mentally disabled daughter, Chelsea, in a special group home and let somebody else care for her. Certainly, nobody would have thought less of her for doing so. But Colleen refused to do it.
When you first meet Colleen, you wonder how she copes with it all. She is disabled too, having lost the use of all her limbs except her right hand to multiple sclerosis. Now, she watches helplessly as the same disease slowly takes hold of Chelsea, 26. It seems especially cruel that Chelsea, who suffered brain damage from a tumor when she was an infant, would have to endure more hardship and pain.
But even though mother and daughter now spend most of their time in wheelchairs, a deep love and commitment remains. Touched by their special relationship, Colleen's friend, Cathy Gadd, requested that I take the pair out for a Free Lunch and hear their story.
Colleen, 48, "has gone far beyond the norm to care for her daughter," says Cathy. "She is one of those rare human beings who has plenty of reason to feel sorry for herself, but instead always lifts you with her upbeat personality. It's wonderful to watch her and Chelsea interact together. Time spent with them is always inspiring."
Indeed, we could all learn a thing or two about what really matters from Colleen and Chelsea Pearson. I recently joined them and Cathy at TGI Friday's - Chelsea's favorite place for cheeseburgers - and went home heartened by their courage and wit.
Chelsea, who never goes anywhere without her radio headset and can recite the call letters of every station on the air, affectionately calls her mom "Mother Perfect," and she isn't far off. Although it's been a struggle as a single mother to raise Chelsea and two other grown sons, Colleen has never let her 20-year battle with MS get in the way.
Her children grew up with plenty of trips to the park, excursions to the mall and outings to movies and ball games. Today, friends like Cathy Gadd have to drive Colleen's specially equipped van, and home nurses stop by morning and night to help with baths and dinner.
"At some point," says Colleen, "I'm going to be bedridden. I know the day is coming when Chelsea will need a group home. The waiting lists are long, and now I feel guilty that I didn't give her that opportunity early on. I guess that I was selfish - I wanted her with me."
What mother wouldn't? When Colleen first began losing strength in her legs, it was Chelsea who helped her regain her balance or prop her limbs on the sofa. "Now, I want to be there for her for as long as I can," she says, watching as Chelsea happily digs into her cheeseburger. Her daughter's hands tremble as she eats - a sign that MS is slowly progressing.
"It kills me to think of her moving out," says Colleen, "so I don't dwell on it. I decided long ago that a good attitude and seeing the humor in life is the key to being happy. It's like Christopher Reeve said: 'A bad day is just a good day in disguise.' I really believe that. More than anything, that is what pulls me and Chelsea through."
That, and the love of a mother who has always been there in good times