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The Food Allergy Mentor

When my son was diagnosed with food allergies (milk, eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts) at 2 years old, we had no idea what to do. A lot of the basic information we needed was fairly easy to find. But we couldn’t really do much to help him learn to live with his allergies.

That help came from an unexpected source: a man named Rick.

Finding a food allergy mentor

I knew Rick growing up. He is two years younger than me, and our parents were friends. I knew Rick had food allergies, though I didn’t spend enough time with him to really know how they affected his daily life.

After we got married, my wife and I moved to a different state, and I didn’t really cross paths with Rick again until a few years later, when my son was 8 years old. We returned to my hometown for the funeral of a family member. And there was Rick, now working as a funeral director.

Rick was (and is) great at his job. When he talks to someone, he seems to know exactly what they need – an encouraging word, a silent shoulder to cry on, a joke to break the tension. He’s just the type of person that you would want to take care of the details when you are mourning a loved one.

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Relating to others' experiences with food allergies

Rick knew about my son’s allergies. At the wake, Rick made a point to take my son aside and ask him how he was doing. Rick mostly listened and offered some encouragement. But when we went back home, my son seemed to have a little lift, and an easier time dealing with the day-to-day struggles of managing food allergies in a world that makes it difficult sometimes.

Over the next few years, we traveled back to my hometown for a few more funerals. And every time, Rick was there, taking my son aside, listening and offering advice. Sometimes it was just simple advice (when you have to go to an event and you don’t know if there will be safe food, eat something beforehand so you won’t be hungry). He told my son stories that they both could connect with. Like the time Rick went to a wedding, and the bride asked the caterer for a special safe meal for Rick, which was great. But when it was brought to the table, everyone clapped. Rick was mortified at all of the attention.

They only met a few times, and always a few years apart, and only for a few minutes. But those talks with someone who had lived with food allergies for 40 years – a food allergy mentor – meant the world to my son.

Paying it forward

The best part of it all was seeing my son become a food allergy mentor to someone else.

Once, we went to a large backyard party thrown by someone I work with. There were about 100 people there, and lots of food on a long table. My son was about 16. We brought a big platter of allergy-safe cupcakes to share, setting aside a few for our son in the kitchen.

The host came up to our son to introduce someone: a woman and her young son, about 10 years old, who had the same allergies as our son. He said to the young boy, “You have food allergies?”. When the boy nodded shyly, our son held out his hand for a fist bump. “Me too. You want a cupcake?”. His mother nodded that it was okay, the boy’s face lit up, and the two of them went off to the kitchen.

They talked a little bit about food allergies, but mostly they threw a Frisbee in the backyard (our son was on his high school’s ultimate frisbee team). Just being with someone with the same experience was enough for the boy.

The importance of connection

As common as food allergies are becoming, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to find a mentor. A site like Allergies.net is a good place to start, and a great place to share some hard-earned wisdom.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Allergies.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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