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'Twas the night before... (or "darkest hour just before") A holiday excerpt from Ellen Rogers' "Kasey to the Rescue"

Ellen Rogers' memoir, Kasey to the Rescue: The Remarkable Story of a Monkey and a Miracle, tells the story of her family's difficult journey after her son Ned is left paralyzed from the neck down after a car accident. The surprising superhero in the book is Kasey, a 25 year old capuchin monkey trained by Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled

Buy this book for: Anyone who needs a reminder to be thankful for life's small miracles. It's not YA, but will appeal to youthies with a cast of (other than mom and monkey) teens and twenty-somethings. 

We decorated Ned’s hospital room with a tiny tree and Christmas decorations and piled his gifts around it. Little things like CDs and T-shirts. He couldn’t make use of much else. Happy faces firmly in place, we went to Ned’s room on Christmas Eve, pretending everything was merry and bright, but ghosts of Christmas past filled the room. Our family traditions were all about food and fun, games on TV, a festive round of house-to-house visits with our friends. We always ended the day reading “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” and I got everyone involved, reading each line and pointing to one of the kids to supply the last word. By the time they were out of elementary school, they all knew it by heart, so most of the confusion and fun happened when one or another of them got caught texting or dozing off and then there’d be no end of razzing.

Jake spent the evening with us at the hospital, then went off to visit friends. Megan and Ron went home, and the girls trudged up to bed. Standing in the silent living room–turned–hospital bivouac, I decided I wasn’t about to let go of our small, important tradition.

“Girls! Get out of bed.”

Sleepy groans could be heard overhead.

“Come on! We have to do ‘The Night Before Christmas,’” I insisted. “We’ll conference Jake and Megan in on the phone.”

“You’ve gotta be kidding,” Maddie harrumphed on her way down the stairs. “Mom, it’s too late. I’m tired.”

“We’re doing it anyway,” I grimly informed them. “It’ll be fun.”

Jake and Megan were less than thrilled to be interrupted while doing whatever people do at eleven o’clock on Christmas Eve, but I forged ahead, dragging everyone with me line by line.

“Twas the night before...”

“Christmas,” someone said as if it were a wake.

“And all through the...”

There was a long silence, a noticeable hole in the voices. Again that realization of foreverness swept over me, and now it was starting to sink in with the rest of the family. I’d been living with it for a while, but the kids weren’t used to it yet. Seeing Ned away from home on Christmas Eve—-so dependent, so helpless, in that sterile white setting—-had brought the painful reality into full, unobstructed view.

Your life will never be the same, Judy had said, but tradition allows us to pretend there’s something unchangeable in a world that spins out of control. This little ritual left over from their childhood may have seemed silly and simple to my kids, but without that anchor, I didn’t know where we might drift—-or drift apart.

On Christmas morning, I went to the hospital.

“They want a discharge plan right after the holidays,” I said. “As if a person gets to decide these things. It’s all about insurance really. And what the doctor says.”

“Which is what?” asked Ned.

“He wants you to go around the corner to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. He decided you need more rehab before you go home.” I was grateful for that. It lifted the burden of having to say it myself. “It’s not a defeat,” I told Ned. “Just a detour.”

“You should probably get back,” he said.

I nodded and touched his cheek. As I left his room, I glanced back in time to see him pick up his right hand to wave goodbye.

“Ned!” I rushed back to his bed. “Did you do that on purpose?”

“I’ve been visualizing those arm curls,” he grinned. “All of a sudden, I actually brought up my arm. Watch. I think I can do it again.”

And up it came. I crowed and clapped my hands together.

“Wonderful! Do it again, do it again.”

But he couldn’t. It went away completely after that, and I was the only person who’d seen it. We were both simultaneously thrilled and disappointed. The roller coaster ride continued.

“One step forward, two steps back,” I sighed.

“Yeah, but then there’s another step forward,” Ned reminded me.

I squeezed his arm. “Merry Christmas, Ned.”

“Merry Christmas, Mom.”

From KASEY TO THE RESCUE: The Remarkable Story of a Monkey and a Miracle by Ellen Rogers. Copyright (c) 2010. Published by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold. All Rights Reserved.


I had the pleasure of reading this recently. What a wonderful, inspiring story. I had no idea so much time and effort went into the selection and care of a service monkey, or that they could be such little characters, either, but since I'm a sucker for anything to do with animals, this was great stuff.

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