LOUISE: Becoming the Best
I never knew my mother was uncomfortable around people with disabilities. I was exposed to individuals with special needs at an early age. A young boy who rode my school bus was hearing impaired and used sign language. My pastor’s daughter was developmentally challenged and I was often in their home since his wife was the youth leader. One of my friends in college was blind. So when my youngest son, Jay, was born with Down syndrome and a severe speech articulation disorder, I felt somewhat prepared to handle the challenges of one whom the world considers different.
Not so with my mother. Though she loved Jay, she wasn’t sure how to interact with him. But since our visits were infrequent, given Jay’s fragile health as a baby, it never presented a major problem. However, many years later, things changed dramatically as my father developed dementia and began losing daily living skills. My mother became a caregiver and looked to me to help understand his needs. She suddenly realized that Jay and my dad were somewhat alike as she watched Jay gently pat his granddad’s hand and assure him it was okay when he forgot the words he needed to say. Jay definitely understood communication challenges.
After my father died, Mama came to spend several weeks with us and began to experience the real world of disabilities. Jay was patient in teaching her. He talked to her though she couldn’t always understand his speech. He prayed for her and even prayed for his granddad in heaven. Mama cried. Jay hugged and comforted her in his gentle way. He became his grandmother’s companion, surprising her daily with his quick wit and abilities.
One day Mama read a book concerning children with special needs. There was a chapter on grandparents and she devoured it. She told me what a great chapter it was and that it changed her life. I had actually written that chapter. I had co-authored that book, Extraordinary Kids.
Now Mama had a new mission. She set out to be the best grandmother my son could possibly have, talking with him, learning some of his signs and asking for good-night kisses. She went to Sonic with us everyday and even watched WWE Friday Night Smackdown with him, getting as carried away by the wrestlers’ antics as Jay. They laughed and giggled, especially when Jay taught her how to burp. When she went home, she missed him and called to talk with him by phone.
Now well acquainted with Jay’s routine, Mama would send him cards and enclose money to buy a Coke at Sonic, rent a video or go to Wal-Mart. But one of the most significant changes was that she became somewhat of an advocate for people with special needs. If she met someone who had a new grandchild with Down syndrome, she would give them a pep talk about how loving and caring this child would be and how blessed they were. Then she would tell them about her grandson. When she met someone in a wheel chair she stopped to visit with them.
I’m not sure my mother knows the person she has now become. I don’t think she recognizes the changes in her thinking since she set out to become the best grandmother my son, Jay, could ever have. But I think Jay would gladly tell you that she succeeded.
(My 95-year-old mother is recovering from a stroke. Please keep her in your prayers).