Ellie Boshers has loved Alice in Wonderland her whole life. So it was no surprise when she chose the Disney classic as the theme for her 10th birthday party.
While Ellie was excited about planning her Alice in Wonderland birthday — jumping at the opportunity to invite friends and help with the decorations — something big was missing. And it all came to a head in the car one afternoon while Ellie was having a “girls day” with her mom. Normally, her grandmother would be with them. As Ellie told her mom how sad she was that she wasn’t, tears streamed down Ellie’s face.
Ellie’s grandmother Rita (aka “Granny”) has been in and out of the hospital for several months. She is now undergoing rehab and recovery at a nursing home after facing several complications from spinal surgery. Because of this, she was not going to be able to attend Ellie’s birthday party.
Granny has had a big impact on Ellie’s life since the day she was born. She often cares for her during the day, takes her to church, and spends countless hours cooking and sewing with her. Naturally, they are quite close.
Though Granny isn’t far away while in the nursing home, this was the first year that she wasn’t able to participate in their usual winter traditions of making Christmas candy and going shopping.
Ellie’s mother, Kimber Leigh, has noticed the toll Granny’s every day absence has taken on her daughter. She explained to Babble that, “Not having that time with Granny has broken [Ellie’s] heart. It is not uncommon for her to just tear up or have a full-on good cry out of the blue just because Granny is on her mind and she’s worried about her or she misses her.”
And it’s been hard on Ellie to watch her grandmother struggle in her health and new restrictions. She prays that her grandmother will heal quickly and visits her as often as she can. “I just try to make her feel the happiest that I can and I try my best to make her feel happy,” Ellie said.
As her birthday approached, Ellie couldn’t bear to think of having her party without Granny, so she decided that it was all or nothing. “I decided I either didn’t want to have a party at all or have her there with me,” says Ellie.
Together, Ellie and her mom came up with an exciting plan to move Ellie’s Alice in Wonderland birthday to the nursing home so Granny could be there to celebrate. The facility gave the green light and Ellie couldn’t wait. “I wanted to keep it a secret because I thought it would be an amazing surprise and I thought it would feel really special to her if she was like, ‘Wow I can’t believe she did that!’” Ellie explains.
“On party day,” recalls Kimber Leigh, “After we had decorated their activity room, Ellie, a few of her guests, and I walked down to Granny’s room to invite her to join us. She cried.”
According to Granny, they were tears of joy:
“All of the girls came into my room and yelled ‘Surprise! we’re here for the birthday party!'” Rita told Babble. “And they loaded me up and we went to the party where everything was already set up, it was wonderful. I thought it was the sweetest thing that has ever happened. Just won my heart to no end. She is just so sweet and so thoughtful and it was just delightful.”
That day, Granny got to watch Ellie play games, have fun with her friends, and blow out her candles. It did wonders for her spirit during a long and painful recovery after surgery. “It just makes all the difference in the world, when my grandchildren are here, the sun comes out, that’s all I can say I don’t care how bad I’m feeling, they walk through the door and the sun is shining.”
The party was the talk of the facility that day from residents and staff as they admired the costumes, decorations, and most of all, the lively sounds that could only come from a child’s birthday party. Granny is grateful the facility was so supportive of the surprise, saying, “They have just blessed my heart so much, the people here have just bent over backwards to make people feel at home as much as they can, bringing in the touches of home as much as possible.”
Getting to celebrate her granddaughter’s birthday was a real joy that made a world of difference. Granny will always remember this wonderful surprise and believes the time she spends with her grandkids brings her healing. “I really do not hurt as bad when the kids are here,” she says. “It’s like you’ve had some kind of treatment. They’re just better than any pain medicine you can get.”
And if you doubted that the Boshers’ love for Alice in Wonderland runs deep, Kimber Leigh shared a photo with Babble of her, Rita, and Granny on Halloween 2012 — all dressed as characters from the story.