May 16, 2012 at 4:10 PM ET
Even though the Internet, as a whole, is notorious for having a short attention span, a large group of strangers have been showering a man in hospice care with countless letters, drawings, stuffed animals, DVDs and other gifts for over a month. All of this, just because they were told that he loves opening mail and needs to be cheered up.
When his uncle, Scott Widak, was placed into hospice care, Sean O'Connor knew he had to do something to help keep his spirits up. The 27-year-old Boston-based filmmaker knew that Widak — who suffers from liver disease and Down syndrome — loves opening mail. And, as a long-time Reddit user, he also knew that a post on the social linking site can quickly grow into a small movement.
O'Connor explained all those details in a post on a Reddit forum — or " subreddit" — called r/AskReddit about a month ago:
Hey Reddit - my 47 year old uncle, Scott Widak, has Down syndrome and is terminally ill with liver disease. He is currently bedridden and living out his last days at home with my 85 year old grandmother. One of his favorite things to do is open mail … anyone feel like sending him a letter or card?
Since O'Connor included an address, the post was quickly removed (as some Reddit forums maintain strict rules against the sharing of personal information, in any context). Nonetheless, many Reddit users had already seen the information and others privately messaged O'Connor for the contact details.
And that's when the Internet's kind side truly shone.
Boxes upon boxes of letters and gifts began arriving. "At first Scotty was extremely confused," says O'Connor. But then the parcels and notes from stranger "started to grow on him."
"Where are the boxes? I'd like to look at the mail," he'd regularly ask. While no one was in the room with him, he once even got out of bed, grabbed a box of mail from where the parcels were stored, and carried it back all on his own. It was as if the messages from strangers gave him a new burst of energy.
The sheer quantity of mail was overwhelming though. "He could appreciate one letter for months …he doesn't even have the time to go through all of it," O'Connor explains.
There were gifts from all over the world.
An Australian man even mailed his lucky coin to Widak. "He'd been holding on to it for 14 years," O'Connor says. Unfortunately the envelope containing the trinket was damaged before it reached its destination and the coin was lost. But the sentiment touched Widak.
Even though he'd seen Reddit users commit all sorts of acts of kindness — such as fulfilling a terminal cancer patient's wish, gathering funds for a child's medical care, and so on — O'Connor was still amazed. "These people have their [crap] together. They're going out of their way to send letters to stranger."
"No one could predict this," he says. "And they're still doing it."
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