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A terminally ill uncle, a Reddit post -- then the 'extraordinary'

May 16, 2012|By Matt Pearce
  • Sean O'Connor's original post about his uncle on Reddit and the first page of responses.
Sean O'Connor's original post about his uncle on Reddit and… (Reddit.com )

It started about a month ago with a single post on Reddit.com:

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?”

It was a bit of a risk. Going personal on Reddit, a user-generated social news site that works like a message board, can occasionally be like exposing yourself to the juvenile id of the Internet. But the poster, Sean O’Connor, added a couple of things that his uncle likes -- and something wonderful happened.

“I freelance at Sony Music, I'll see what Johnny Cash stuff we can send out,” someone responded.

Another added: “Long term lurker, first time poster. I just sent your uncle Macho Man action figure from Amazon.com. Hope he likes it!”

And then the mail for Scott Widak, 47, of Plainville, Mass., started pouring in — hundreds and hundreds of letters, cards and other gifts from all over, including Japan and Iceland, said Susie Widak, Scott’s sister.

At first Scott was confused about why the letters were coming, but then he began to love them, Susie Widak said, and he began to open them when he could. The family put up a map with push pins to show where mail had come from.

“I would say at least one out of six letters are from California,” Susie Widak told the Los Angeles Times. “Beautiful artwork, and posters, and cookies, and brownies, and fudge, and some of the people sent things — they buy the thing on the Internet, and it comes from Amazon.com and it has the letter inside. It’s very sweet.”

Sean O’Connor — the 27-year-old nephew who wrote the post — shared a couple of his favorites.

“The mail is phenomenal,” O’Connor told The Times. “The amount of time and thought put in to every letter is extraordinary.”

“This one kid, he wrote my uncle Scott this beautiful letter, and he drew out a tic-tac-toe board and made the first move and included an envelope for my uncle to make the next move,” he said.

A girl from Sweden sent a card with jewelry pendants as keepsakes for his uncle and O’Connor’s grandmother, Statia, who takes care of Widak. “She said, ‘Keep these for good luck, I’m always thinking of you guys,’ ” O’Connor said.

Widak’s health isn’t great, which has been tough for the family.

“My poor Ma,” Susie Widak said Tuesday of Statia. “She’s got a grandson going off to Afghanistan today, and with Scottie … aww.”

But the letters have been a boon.

“It’s just shocking how wonderful — I don’t even understand how one line you write on the Internet can be so powerful,” Susie Widak said. “This reminds me of old-fashioned ways or something.”

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national@latimes.com

Twitter.com/mattdpearce

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