The gift, the girl and the firefighter

And at the block party there was a special raffle of a Mike Ditka Chicago Bears jersey to help a little girl suffering from cancer. The little girl lives on another block, but that's how Mount Greenwood is. A child needs help, the neighbors are there.

So two days before the block party, Jay mowed his lawn and set up the tent to prepare for the party. The Mayoskis' side business — Pump It Up in Orland Park, with those large inflatables where little kids climb in and jump and get sweaty — had previously donated $200 to help that little girl.

But that evening, Jay told Jennifer he didn't feel well. She wanted him to call an ambulance. He told her that would be embarrassing. Besides, he had to go to work the next day.

So he went to sleep. And Jennifer had fallen asleep, too, in their son Nicholas' bed. The next morning at 5 a.m., Jay's alarm clock went off, and she thought it was odd that he left it that way. It was blaring when she entered the room and saw him in bed.

"I touched him. He was cold. And I just knew he was gone," Jennifer said, still overwhelmed by guilt that she didn't force him to go to the ER. "I feel guilty because I didn't make him go. He never complains."

Her husband was 37 years old, in what appeared to be good health.

"Who thinks he's having a heart attack at 37?" she said.

Then came the wake and the Mass at Queen of Martyrs Roman Catholic Church in Evergreen Park, the burial at Holy Sepulchre, and all those people at the front door, making condolence calls.

Jennifer didn't recognize one of the families. Members of the family pulled up in a gray Jeep and handed a sympathy card to Jennifer's sister. Jennifer tried to catch them, but they hurried off before she could thank them.

She opened the card. There was $300 inside.

Here is what was written inside:

"You don't know us. We are the parents of Emily Beazley. Emily is battling cancer. At your block party, your block was raffling off a jersey for Emily. Your block collected $300. We would like you to have it. We know it isn't much, but we hope it helps. We are very sorry for your loss. You and your family are in our prayers. Ed, Nadia, Emily and Olivia Beazley."

Jennifer began to cry.

"That little girl, I was so touched ... that she thought about me in my time of need instead of herself," Jennifer said. "Being a mother, I can't even begin to imagine going through that."

Jennifer's next thought, the card and bills in her hand, was "absolutely not." That money was raised for Emily. It would go to Emily.

Emily doesn't like to talk about death. What hurt her was the idea of other kids losing their father.

"I felt really bad, so I decided to give the money back," Emily told us. "I said, you know, I think I should give the money back. And my mom said OK."

But Jennifer Mayoski didn't see it that way. She quickly returned the cash. She kept the card.

"That money is for Emily," she said.

So the gift made a journey. It traveled on Chicago's Far Southwest Side, in a neighborhood of cops and firefighters and churches, from one block to another, from Jay and his neighbors, to Emily, and then to Jennifer, and back to Emily again.

It was a precious gift. But money had nothing to do with it.

jskass@tribune.com

Twitter @John_Kass

CHICAGO

More