Scott Widak spent all 47 years of his life in his hometown of Plainville, Massachusetts, living with his mother and surrounded by his family. When he became terminally ill, he found an unlikely community in thousands of Reddit users who were touched by Scott and his unique passions and interests. We spoke to Widak’s nephew and mother as part of a WBUR radio series, Kind World, featuring stories of kindness and the profound effect a small act can have.
SEAN O’CONNOR: I grew up in Massachusetts, in a town called Plainville, with my grandmother and my mom. And someone who I grew up with pretty much my entire life was my Uncle Scott, who this is really about.
STATIA WIDAK: I had six children, but Scotty passed away, so he’s not with us. And I live in Plainville, I’ve been here 54 years. I love it here and it was the perfect home for my son, Scott. My husband passed away 20-some years ago, so I was left with Scotty, thank God I had Scotty, he was my best friend.
O’CONNOR: He lived with my grandmother for his entire life. And he was just, you know, one of the best people I’ve ever known in my life. He was the most selfless, loving, kind human being.
WIDAK: He had a smile for everyone. When he met people, he would invite everybody to the house. And I remember, in Florida, I wasn’t prepared for this but he went at the pool and he said, “Oh, come on over. My mom wants you to come and eat with us.” I had no idea, but that’s what it was—he loved people.
O’CONNOR: Some people with Down syndrome, I think that they’re explained to like what their condition is and whatnot. But my family had an interesting outlook and they tried to treat him as normal as he possibly could be. For a lot of his life he stayed at home and he had a job downstairs, which is essentially doing paperwork that really didn’t have any meaning behind it, except for him. He would document, like, the TV schedule and what shows were coming on.
WIDAK: We’re in a tri-level house, so he’s got his office downstairs—that’s what he calls it. Because we’re in business and I guess he saw the brothers and sisters doing this office work and he felt that he wanted to have an office. So we set up a computer and he had his television and he could watch all his shows. “Bonanza” was one of the favorites, because he didn’t like anything with violence in it, that he did not like. But he loved Vanna White with “The Price is Right” and, oh, the Christmas shows.
He would cry, if things got a little sad, he would be crying down there watching TV. He never wanted anyone to be hurt or hurting, he never wanted that, you know?
O’CONNOR: Scott faced medical challenges his entire life, not having the same amount of chromosomes genetically as people without Down syndrome. And he was always, like, feeling half and half. It was sort of a slow progression to when he developed liver disease. And sort of the terminal fate of his medical condition started setting in like two to one years before he died.
In the winter of 2012, our entire family knew his condition was really declining. And then he ended up in the hospital, he was in and out of the hospital constantly, and none of us wanted to leave him at any moment by himself. So it was my night to stay at the hospital all night and I didn’t get much sleep, he was up all night in pain, and I got back home and it was just one of the most stressful, depressing days of my entire life and I turned to Reddit and I was like, “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 a card?”
There was no mail. And then on the second day, there were about 10 letters that came in. And then, like the next two days, it all started pouring in and there were crates of mail from the post office. And my aunts would walk it into the house—like, crates of mail.
WIDAK: Yeah, he said something about Reddit, and I thought, “Reddit? I don’t know.” Because I’m not a computer person, I’m sorry, but I’m 85 years old. Lo and behold!
O’CONNOR: Within a few days, we got, I think, a little over two thousand pieces of mail from all over the world. I think it was up to like 40 countries or something like that. It was crazy.
WIDAK: Oh my goodness. Then Scotty was very sick, he couldn’t get out of bed, but we would all take turns reading letters to Scotty and he loved it. You could see how he was so happy that someone is telling him, “Scotty, get well.” “Scotty, you like ‘Bonanza’ and I like it, too.” That’s what people would say, you know?
O’CONNOR: This letter comes from Australia. He says, “Hi Scott, my name is John and I live in Brisbane, Australia. But we aren’t upside down like some people think. Your nephew said that you like to get mail and enjoyed country music as well as drawing. I saw some of your pictures and they looked great. I wish I could draw half as well as you. You may know that we have kangaroos and koalas down here, but we also have all sorts of other animals and plants, including the 10 most deadly snakes in the world. I have popped in some goodies for you to look at and keep as mementos. Give your mum a kiss for me, as she’s a great lady. From the land down under, John.”
And they’re all like that. Honestly, every letter has an immense amount of thought put into it. If he got this one letter from Australia when he was healthy, he would keep this for the rest of his life. This would be up on his wall, he would show people this for years to come, like, whenever they would come over. And he got thousands of these. It’s unbelievable.
About three-and-a-half to four months after the mail came in, he passed away. And the last time I ever saw him walk, or that we know he walked, we had moved the mail downstairs when he was bedridden upstairs and he had actually walked down to his downstairs room and got a crate of mail and walked back up.
Towards the end there, like the last week or so, my grandmother slept on the couch in the living room next to his hospital bed. The hospital bed couldn’t fit two people, but if it could she would have been right in the bed with him.
WIDAK: When he got very sick, then he wanted me close to him. So what I did, I slept on the sofa in the living room, and I said, “Scotty, I can watch you and you can watch me. We can watch one another.” And he would go to sleep peacefully, you know, happy that I was nearby.
O’CONNOR: As much as this is about Scotty and the mail he’s received and the strangers who sent the mail, it’s a lot about her, too. Because she was his counterpart and the person who took care of him his entire life, his best friend, and she deserves all the credit in the world for what she’s done. Definitely it was a pretty unique mother and son relationship—very positive one, very beautiful one.