A CORK mother who gives presents to ill children on what would have been her little girl’s birthday has been forced to make a heartbreaking decision to cancel the family tradition.
Michelle Savage and her husband John lost their four-year-old daughter Alisha to a rare childhood cancer in 2015, after relocating to the US where she underwent specialist treatment.
Every year the family, including daughters Emma Louise and three-year-old Lucia — the little sister Alisha never got to meet, collect presents for children who are in hospital or ill at home.
These are donated by the people of Cork so that John and Michelle can help other children to mark Alisha’s special day.
The couple normally spend their late daughter’s birthday delivering presents to hospitals and the homes of sick kids.
This year, however, the family have found themselves surrounded by presents that can no longer be distributed, due to safety concerns around Covid-19.
They had been collecting the gifts since Alisha’s last birthday on August 20.
Now, they will celebrate Alisha’s tenth birthday with a cake and some candles at their home, but the presents they have gathered won’t be distributed.
“I felt my heart would sink if I gave away those presents because I would be putting other children at risk,” Michelle said. “The person who contracts Covid-19 could be someone in hospital with a broken toe.
“It could also be a severely ill child. Although, it brings a tear to my eye to have to do this it wouldn’t be right to take a chance.”
She said that the feelings of guilt around postponing this year’s celebrations have been tough.
“It’s difficult not to feel like you are letting these kids down,” she said.
“The hardest part is knowing that for some children this would have been the last present they got from us. Many would have been eagerly waiting for the postman to arrive because they know that a present arrives around this time of year.
“We have the presents tucked away safe and hope that we can give them out next year. When it’s safe to do so we’d like to celebrate in a way that is extra special.”
The last few months have been a struggle for the Savage family, given the arrival of Covid-19 restrictions.
“Seeing all the masks and sanitiser brought us right back to when Alisha was sick,” Michelle said.
“We quarantined before everyone else did.
“Having been through what we had with Alisha made us realise the true seriousness of the situation.”
Despite losing Alisha and their son Christopher, who was stillborn a number of years ago, Michelle and John still consider themselves lucky.
“We are not the ones who are in hospital waiting for these gifts,” she said. “As a family, it has made us realise just how lucky we are.
“Alisha and Christopher might be gone from us but there are other little angels who need our help too.”
Michelle said she is determined to treat Alisha’s birthday as a celebration. “We have to treat it like a celebration for the other children even if deep down we are heartbroken.”
Michelle and John have now found an alternative way to honour their daughter’s memory. They are asking everyone they know or who knows Alisha’s story to wear her favourite colour, purple, on August 20.
Readers can find out more about Alisha’s Rainbow Gift by visiting their Facebook page.