Elise Ryan was minding her own business, trying to look after her family, when a hurtful note landed on her doorstep. The letter berated the grandmother for failing to keep her yard tidy. However, when her community learned of her situation, they stepped in to help.
Ryan lives on Succasunna Road in the small settlement of Landing in New Jersey. She shares her residence with her dog, Captain. Ryan had called the neighborhood home for four decades and, as such, was a big part of her community.
However, as of September 2017 Ryan had been spending less and less time at her home. It was then that doctors had diagnosed her young grandson Matt with brain cancer. Subsequently, the grandmother had ploughed all her energy into supporting her family.
While Matt attended many hospital appointments, Ryan played her part in trying to ensure life at home was as normal as possible. Her efforts included helping to look after her grandson’s pets. The doting gran also spent time caring for his twin sister.
As the months passed, some of Ryan’s usual chores fell by the wayside as she concentrated on Matt’s health. One specific area that became neglected was the grandmother’s garden. By May 2018, it was still displaying its owner’s Christmas decorations.
But given what her family was going through, the last thing on Ryan’s mind was putting her festive gingerbread men away. In May 2018 the grandmother was explaining her messiness to local TV station CBS New York. “Unfortunately, this is a very bad time in our life and, yes, I am slower than usual,” she admitted.
While Ryan wasn’t going to let her untidy yard worry her, however, it seemed that one of her neighbors was unable to turn a blind eye. Clearly, the mess had become an annoyance for the individual in question. As a result, they opted to send an anonymous letter to Ryan admonishing her over her perceived slovenliness.
The scathing note received by Ryan pulled no punches. It began, “Please take some time and clean up your property. If you found the time to put up Christmas decorations, perhaps you can find the time to take them down.”
However, Ryan’s gingerbread men weren’t the unnamed neighbor’s only bone of contention. “Clean up the leaves and twigs,” the letter continued. “There is usually trash on your sidewalk or in the road after the animals go through it on Tuesday night. That is never cleaned up. Show some pride in your property and the property of your neighbors.”
Responding to the unknown writer’s jibes, in May 2018 Ryan told regional TV station News 12 Connecticut, “I’m never home on the weekends, I’m over at my daughter’s house. And when I do see it, I do pick it up. And it says that I should have more pride in myself and my property and my neighbor’s property.”
Understandably, the grouchy note touched a nerve for a grandmother who was doing all she could for her family. And it wasn’t just Ryan who was affected by the words. When she showed it to Matt’s mother, Alyssa Adonis, she too was upset by the tone and content of the mean-spirited missive.
Consequently, Adonis decided to share the contents of the letter on Facebook. With the help of her mother’s neighbor Robert Katz, she also penned a response to the letter. Its wording was later hung from huge orange signs erected all along Ryan’s fence.
The no-holds-barred reply read, “To my neighbor who left me a nasty letter about my yard in my mailbox and didn’t sign it… My priority is my 10-year (old) grandson who has been in the hospital fighting for his young and precious life.”
Revealing how Ryan’s lifestyle had been affected, the signs went on to explain, “I have been busy caring for his twin sister, their house and pets! I pray that next year all of my priorities are as simple as leaves and twigs.”
Ryan’s retort was hard to miss, and coupled with her daughter’s social media post, it didn’t take long for word of the grandmother’s ordeal to spread. As a result, in the days that followed, hundreds of Ryan’s friends and neighbors descended on her property to participate in a mass clean-up.
The helpers, many of whom included Matt’s classmates from Roxbury High School, all pitched in to rake leaves and pull out weeds. One local even cut the grass on a ride-on mower. Another brought a leaf blower to aid the big clear-up effort.
After seeing Ryan’s friends neighbors come to her aid, Adonis expressed her gratitude to the Landing community. “People responded to hatred with love,” she told News 12 Connecticut. “Everyone has done so much for our family… It’s a beautiful thing.”
Among the volunteers was Georgiana Farnsworth, who told CBS New York that she wasn’t surprised to see how her community had come together for Ryan. “To see something like this happen was unbelievable. No one can get over it, so everyone’s coming up to help today,” she said.
One of Ryan’s neighbors, Christine O’Connor, said the incident should remind people to be mindful of others’ situations. “Regardless if it’s cancer or if it’s something else, you don’t know what somebody is going through,” she said. ‘Maybe they’ve just been sick, maybe they’re going through anything. You never know.”
Following her community’s efforts, Ryan said that she forgave the person who had written the letter. After all, those harsh words had led to a significant show of compassion by the Landing community. “I’m sorry for the person who did this,” Ryan told local radio station WABC in May 2018. “Because they must feel very small right now.”