Tucker Helstrom was truly the definition of empathetic. Despite his circumstances, he was concerned about other around him and wanted the best for every person he met. This story is from Tucker's mom, Dana.
Tucker and his sisters were first brought to a food shelf donation site when he was four years old. While we were dropping off our donation, a volunteer offered to give us a tour of the pantry. Tucker was first impressed with the well-stocked huge shelving units, but soon started focusing on the people instead of the supplies. As soon as I got the three children buckled into their car seats, Tucker
asked me, “Mommy, why was that boy hugging the box of macaroni and cheese?” I hadn’t noticed that, but Tucker did. I explained to him, “The boy was probably very excited to have a warm meal and it might be one of his favorites. Many kids don’t get to cooked meals every day and have to wait a long
time between meals.”
Three hours later, our family was sitting down to eat. The kids had been busy playing since we got home. When I was putting our food on the kids’ plates Tucker asked me, “Mommy, do you think that boy is happy?” I had no idea who he was talking about, so I asked, “What boy?”
“You know, the one with the box of macaroni and cheese. Do you think his tummy is full now?” Oh what a sweet boy, hours later and he was still thinking about people with less and hoping that little boy was happy. Only four years old and already so concerned about others, especially those who suffer.
During his childhood Tucker continued to want to donate to food shelves and would remind me if we had forgotten to do so for more than a few months.
When Tucker was six we moved out of St. Michael and into Hopkins. Now that we were driving around the metro, Tucker noticed the people at stoplights and asked why they were there. Despite his young age, he was able to understand the cause and effect of bad and unlucky things happening to people that make them end up homeless. His heart was pure and big, always feeling sad and never once
bringing up words like “lazy” or “why don’t they just…”. Instead of judgement, Tucker asked questions of concern like, “But what about when it is cold?” “Where do they get food?” “Why don’t people help them?” It was crazy to be having such a discussion with a boy on his way to kindergarten.
Tucker and his mom, Dana
At age 9, Tucker was the one who was “unlucky” and a “bad thing happened” to him. He was stricken with osteosarcoma, a rare and vicious bone cancer. Treatment had to be inpatient and Tucker hated being stuck in the hospital. Every single time Tucker had to go to U of M Masonic Hospital for a
week of chemotherapy, Tucker was overcome with anxiety and sadness and cried the entire drive from Hopkins to Minneapolis. He had panic attacks that were so intense I needed to sit in the back seat with him to restrain him from trying to jump out of the moving car as his yelling made any soothing conversation impossible.
There was only one short moment when Tucker calmed down during the drive. It was at the top of the highway exit ramp on Riverside Avenue. The first time, as Tucker stopped crying I remember thinking, “Finally, he is calming down and realizing he will get through this and it will be ok.” As I started
to loosen my hold of him Tucker said, “Mom, we need money,” with urgency in his shaky voice. Before I could ask why, he told me to hurry and was rolling down his window. There was a man standing on the corner with a sign that said “Homeless, anything will help.” I had my friend who was driving hand me my wallet and before I could reach in it, Tucker snatched out the five dollar bill and handed it to the man, and said, “Here, I hope you have a good day.”
The man responded “You are a sweet little boy. God bless you and you have a good day too.” Tucker looked at the man, giving direct eye contact and a smile. Then he rolled up the window and we turned left putting the view of the hospital directly in front of us. The sight broke Tucker back into tears and anxiety. He remembered that his day was going to be horrible: two big needles shoved into his chest, poison poured into his little buddy, tummy aches, no appetite, stuck in a hospital bed for a week, and missing his sisters and friends. He hated what his day was going to be. But the thoughts of his pain were sidelined when he saw the suffering of the homeless man. Instead he was worried about where the man would sleep and if he would eat, and then did what he could to try to help. Cancer took away Tucker’s hair, hockey, sports, school time, play time, his right leg and eventually his life. But it never took away his compassion, his empathy, or his legacy.