Vickroy: Pennies from an angel to help special-needs dancers
BY DONNA VICKROY firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @dvickroy May 8, 2013 6:18PM
Jean Epstein (left) and her daughter Cathy Epstein-Faxel (right) have collected found pennies, based on the poem Pennies From Heaven, in memory of Jean's daughter/Cathy's sister Linda (in photo), who passed away in 2000 as seen Monday, April 29, 2013, in Oak Lawn. The two have decided to donate the pennies to a Homer Glen dance group that needs a lift for a special needs participant. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Pennies From Heaven
I found a penny today
Just laying on the ground
But it’s not just a penny
This little coin I’ve found.
Found pennies come from Heaven
That’s what my Grandpa told me,
He said, “Angels toss them down.”
Oh, how I loved that story.
He said, “When an angel misses you
They toss a penny down,
Sometimes just to cheer you up
To make a smile out of your frown.”
So don’t pass by that penny
When you’re feeling blue,
It may be a penny from Heaven
That an Angel tossed to you.
Updated: June 10, 2013 2:18PM
At face value, the penny is worth next to nothing. But for those who believe in the power of serendipity, the penny can be priceless.
As her sister, Linda, lay dying in 2000, Cathy Epstein-Faxel and her mother wondered how they might honor the 29-year-old’s memory.
Then a friend gave Epstein-Faxel a copy of the poem “Pennies From Heaven” by Charles Mashburn. The work is a reminder that loved ones who have passed often send messages of hope in the most unsuspecting ways.
It was meant to be a comfort, to get her family through the difficult times ahead. Little did Epstein-Faxel know that poem would become a nearly 13-year campaign filled with joy, sorrow, surprise and reflection.
“I found the first penny walking into the funeral home for Linda’s wake,” she said.
She and her mom, who live next door to each other in Oak Lawn, framed the poem and placed it on a table along with Linda’s collection of baseball caps and other favorite things. Several people who came to pay their respects left pennies on the table.
Today, more than 1,300 pennies later, both Epstein-Faxel and her mom, Jeanette “Jean” Epstein, marvel not only at the number of coins but the number of stories they’ve collected over the years.
More than currency, Epstein-Faxel said, the pennies symbolize messages from Linda.
Linda was born with Down syndrome, and despite a doctor’s early warning that she’d never be able to communicate, went on to be a high-functioning adult who was able to walk, talk and, later, live among peers at a Park Lawn residential facility.
She was such a die-hard Cubs fan that the organist at her funeral played “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
The youngest of the family, Linda weighed less than 5 pounds at birth. At first, she didn’t display any of the signs of Down syndrome, the protruding tongue or the short, stubby fingers and toes, Epstein-Faxel said. But her parents knew something was wrong because she wasn’t developing properly.
When Down syndrome was diagnosed, Epstein’s doctor advised that the child be placed in a home.
“My mother refused, and you know what, Linda went on to have a great life. She went on to do all the things the doctor said she wouldn’t,” Epstein-Faxel said.
Her sister was so inspiring, Epstein-Faxel said, that she chose to major in special education. After several years of teaching, Epstein-Faxel left to raise her two children. She now substitutes at SPEED-Special Education Joint Agreement School District in Chicago Heights.
At 19, Linda made the decision to live at the Park Lawn facility. She wanted to be with her peers. This particular facility also offered the ’round-the clock nursing care that Linda, who was diagnosed with kidney disease about the same time, needed.
“Park Lawn was amazing. When Linda died 10 years later, the old staffers came back to be with my mom and dad,” Epstein-Faxel said.
Epstein-Faxel said she and her mom know 1,300 pennies isn’t a lot of money, but because each coin was found at a moment when they were missing Linda or struggling with one of life’s hassles, they collectively add up to a big hug from Linda.
A fair number of them “were discovered just when I needed one most,” Epstein-Faxel said.
One time while she and her mom were out to lunch, Epstein-Faxel pulled out her brand-new reading glasses to peruse the menu. One of the lenses was missing.
“I was so upset because I had just gotten them,” she said. “I looked all over the restaurant and walked back out to the car but couldn’t find it.”
After lunch, she decided to cancel their planned shopping trip and head straight for home. On their way back to the car, they spied a penny on the ground.
“See, Mom said, ‘Linda’s trying to tell you everything will be OK,’ ” Epstein-Faxel said. Indeed, Epstein-Faxel pulled into her driveway that day and there on the ground was her lens, unscratched and undamaged.
There are lots of stories like that. Epstein-Faxel or her mom would be having a bad day, or trying to chase the blues that seize grieving people at the most unexpected times, and they’d find a penny.
They began tossing them into jars.
For some time now, they’ve been thinking about donating the coins. After all, why just let them pile up in a container? Epstein-Faxel knew Linda would want them to benefit somebody.
Then, recently, she came across an ad in a newspaper.
The headline read, “Pennies from Heaven, We Need a Lift.” The ad was placed by the Dance Studio for the Performing Arts in Homer Glen.
It was a plea to the community to help the studio raise $6,000 so it could buy its first lift for its special-needs program.
“I thought about how many times Linda has lifted our spirits,” Epstein-Faxel said.
Like the pennies were signs from Linda, Epstein-Faxel said the advertisement was a sign for what they should do with the money.
“Linda would be happy,” she said.
Dance Studio for the Performing Arts is at 15758 S. Bell Road, Homer Glen; (708) 301-8181; www.dancestudioltd.com.