Posts tagged ‘deaf child’

Look For Me on the Game Show Network!!

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I babysat for my grandson last night, which was more of a “play date” than babysitting. Having a degree in psychology, it is always interesting to me how young children play with their character figures. We lined up Superman, Mario, Batman, Woody (from Toy Story,) a few Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, along with Mickey Mouse and Pluto. Alejandro starts right off with them fighting each other, which is what he has seen many of them do in movies and on tv. Being a pacifist nana, I soon had them all having a “party”, dancing to music to which he and I sang. We had to, of course, match up male character with male character, but I told him that was okay, (setting the stage, perhaps, for a non-homophobic adulthood?) They danced and we sang and he said it was the best party ever!

Well, all good things must come to an end, and he was escorted up to bed where he promptly fell asleep after a few nana enacted bedtime stories. (I do a mean big bad wolf imitation!) Meandering back downstairs to watch television, I was fascinated with the many television channels my daughter has. Stopping short with an open mouth gape, I came to “THE GAME SHOW NETWORK”…and on that channel was an old episode of “The Ten Thousand Dollar Pyramid”, followed by an old episode of “Match Game” and “The Newlyweds” where the term “whoopie” was used as a euphemism for, well, for WHOOPIE! (They were not allowed to say “sex” on television in those days.) It struck me how cheerful and vibrant the contestants were, dressed in the finest clothing and hair fashions from the 1960s and 70′s. It dawned on me that the contestants may not be aware that their participation on these old shows was again being shown for all to see and laugh at!

All of this brings me to a little known fact about myself. I was on a game show in the 70s! Yes! Little ole me! It was called “All Star Secrets” and was hosted by Bob Eubanks. There were five stars on the panel, but the only ones I can clearly remember were Jim Backus and Jed Allen, an actor in a daytime soap opera at the time. The show began with a reveal of the contestants. As Bob Eubanks introduced each of us, we were supposed to smile and wave. When my time came, inexplicably I mouthed the words “Hi, Mom!” (Oh!!!! The embarrassment!!!!) The game consisted of the host telling us a “secret” about one of the stars and we had to guess which one. One secret was “This star used to be a very awkward and unpopular teenager”. My guess was Jed Allen, an extremely handsome and popular star. Bob Eubanks looked in my direction and said “Linda, why did you pick Jed Allen?” Panic went from my head to my stomach; we were never informed of the possibility that we would have to SPEAK! I managed to squeak out the sentence “Because he was the least likely person.” Duh! Sounds stupid, but I knew these shows tried to be interesting. The statement couldn’t possibly have been made by Jim Backus, the actor who played Mr. McGoo, as the other contestants had guessed. My guess was correct, and I WON a 2 week trip to EUROPE and $1,500!! (A huge win in “those days”.) I was SOOO excited, I collapsed on top of the podium and cried and screamed! I made so much of a fuss that they had to actually come over and pull me off the stage because the commercial was over and they no longer wanted the contestants to be visible.

So, if you happen to be watching the game show network and “All Star Secrets” comes on, look for me…I’ll be the one making a fool of myself, but enjoying every minute of it!

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!!!!!!

Under the “Dome of Silence”

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I am really dating myself, but my favorite tv show to watch when I was a child was “Get Smart”, a spy spoof where Maxwell Smart comedically played an agent who always “got his man”, even when he didn’t know how he did it! I relate so well to Maxwell Smart and his “methods”, because my life is been pretty much the same!
But their infamous concept, the “Dome of Silence” flittered through my mind recently in an unpleasant way, a way that made me change my thoughts in a major way.
My daughter, Marie, who is deaf, has been hospitalized again. For parents of children with severe psychiatric disorders, y’all know that hospitalizations are a recurrent theme, no matter how well a child seems to be doing. Life with such a child is full of peaks and valleys, and sometimes the valleys need a tune up. As conscientious parents, we probably all play the same game…do we visit every day? Do we bring food and drinks? Games? Puzzles? In other words, do we turn each hospitalization into a reward for being there?
My brother’s schizophrenia emerged when he was just emerging himself into young adulthood at the age of 18. This was a surprise disability on top of his already existing developmental, vision and hearing disabilities. As my parents aged, he eventually lived in a wonderful group home, but HE also needed “tune ups” in a psychiatric hospital, generally after an incident where the aliens told him to walk ten miles to the train station, or throw himself against the wall as punishment for some unknown offense. These hospitalizations were regular, and each and every time my mom would visit every day, bringing with her his favorite desserts, or a milk shake or ice cream sundae. Her heart ached to see him in the hospital so often, so she would sit there for hours with him, holding his hand or rubbing his back. It made her feel better to visit with him, and it made him feel better also. In fact, it made him feel so much better that the frequency of his “tune ups” increased. I learned as a young adult that being in a psychiatric hospital should not be rewarded with food and puzzles, or even with visitation every day.
I have tempered my need to mother my daughter with the need not to make inpatient hospitalizations seem better than the residential school in which she lives. Following my own instincts, which were reinforced by Marie’s social worker and psychiatrist, I have limited my visits. Yesterday, however, I changed my mind.
The hospitals have all been wonderful at providing ASL interpreters for at least 12 hours a day, which facilitates her conversations with nurses, social workers, unit workers and her psychiatrist. Marie does not, however, want to utilize the interpreter in conversations with other children. She tries to fit in with them, but does not understand what they are saying or laughing at. Being somewhat paranoid, (aren’t all teenagers?) she suspects they are laughing at her. She tries to join in, and they may include her for a few minutes, but soon the conversation continues over her head, and the children are once again laughing and joking and not including her. As I was leaving yesterday I witnessed this happening, saw the look of sadness in Marie’s eyes and noticed that she was holding back tears so as not to further embarrass herself in front of the other children. She looked so alone, and in reality she was. The other children were under a “Dome of Silence”. She could see them talking, gesturing and laughing, but could not hear or understand what they were saying. I don’t know why this obscure reference came to mind, but it did, and the visualization of it has changed my way of thinking. I realized that her isolation from others trumps the need not to reward her for being in the hospital. Nothing in the hospital could be a reward for her, as she is not part of the community as she is in her school. If anything, one would think she would be so adverse to being in the hospital that she would do anything in her power not to be hospitalized. Ah, the irony of that nostalgic “Dome of Silence.” I think I will visit for a few hours today and bring her a milkshake. We will sit there and “talk” in ASL and I will hold her hand like my mother did with my brother. She will no longer be sad and isolated, at least not during my visit…

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To read more about our life, here is a link to my book:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11

The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

Link to the Readers Digest review of my book:  http://www.rd.com/recommends/what-to-read-after-a-hurricane/

I Don’t Think Animals Kiss…

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One day several years ago, many months after Marie came to live with us, my husband, in a good mood, came into the kitchen, swooped me backwards, and gave me a passionate kiss.  When we had finished, I noticed Marie standing there, gaping, eyes wide, with a shocked look on her face.

“What was THAT????’ she asked in American Sign Language.

“A kiss,” I told her.

“No, no”, she signed back, “a kiss is a little peck on the lips” she said as she came over and demonstrated one on the dog. (Heaven knows a teenager would never kiss their MOTHER!)

“There is a different kind of kiss when you really love someone like your husband” I said.

“That is amazing!  How did you LEARN to do that? ” she asked plaintively.

“You don’t learn it, you just feel it.  It is natural when you love someone,” I explained to her.

“Well,” she huffed, “I’m going to wait until I’m 17 to do that,” she said as I said a silent prayer to myself that I should be so lucky for her to wait that long!

I laughed inwardly at her innocence, this worldly child who, because of her child abuse knew the mechanics of sex more than anyone her age.  I doubted she ever saw anyone really “in love” before, and she had never seen anyone kiss passionately, which really surprised me.  The more I thought about it, though, I realized she hadn’t been exposed to it in her young life and the only other way she might know would be from watching television.  Because of her deafness and lack of early education,  she had a low reading level and was not able to understand the captioning on tv, so she did not generally watch comedy or drama series.  Her favorite tv channel was (and still is,)  the Animal Planet where captioning is not really needed to enjoy the shows.  What wonderfully active lives those animals live!  Exotic lives!  Interesting lives!  Dangerous lives!  Sometimes romantic lives; nuzzle noses, lick, bite, cuddle, hug, dance and flap their wings as a means of showing affection.  But a long, romantic, “mushy” kiss? I think not….Marie had to learn that from her parents…

 

 

 

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To read more about our life, here is a link to my book:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11

The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

Link to the Readers Digest review of my book:  http://www.rd.com/recommends/what-to-read-after-a-hurricane/

I Didn’t Know Cats Like to Swim…

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Because my youngest daughter, who is deaf, goes to school out of state, I sometimes rent a hotel room for myself, my oldest daughter and her son, Alley (Alejandro) to visit together.  Last weekend was one such weekend.  I love to see the interaction of the three of them, Dinora signing in ASL to Marie and Alley trying to copy the signs with his small hands.  (He explains that Marie can’t talk because her ears are broken, so she has to use her hands…)  His favorite sign, “swimming”,  is used often because he wants them to spend all of their time together in the hotel pool.  It was during one of their swims, while I was sitting in the lounge chair by the pool, sipping a nice tall plastic cup of Diet Coke, and smiling while the three of them frolicked, that I was overwhelmed with a feeling of joy in my heart. They were beaming with laughter and exuding a happiness that one could not overlook…a deep, profound happiness which doesn’t often come to Marie. Seeing her eyes glint with laughter, tears stung at the back of my eyes, then slowly slipped down my cheeks.  To think that a child who had been so severely abused as she could come through all of that darkness and  despair to ultimately be able to experience such joy made my heart want to explode with love for the three of them.  I could not remember ever having been so content in my life, but my reverie was soon disturbed, but not unpleasantly…

My tears of joy were soon replaced by tears of laughter.  Alley came out of the pool and looked around…  “Where’s the cat pool?” he asked.  “The CAT pool?  There is no cat pool!” I replied.  “Yes! Yes!  In hotels there are sometimes CAT pools!” he argued, frustrated that I could not understand what he was asking. “You know, the pool for the kitties.”     Ah!  The KIDDY POOL!

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To read about Marie’s early childhood, here is a link to my book:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11

The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

Link to the Readers Digest review of my book:  http://www.rd.com/recommends/what-to-read-after-a-hurricane/

“All she does is screech and say No! No! No!”

 

The above description fit me perfectly.

Yes, me… perfectly.

Marie came to live with us at the age of 6.  She had been picked up off the street at 4 in the morning, barefoot, in her underwear, looking for food.  We took her in as an emergency foster placement because I knew American Sign Language and Marie was deaf. She looked like a wild animal…disheveled, matted hair, flaming eyes of distrust, so filthy everywhere that even an hour in the tub did not wash off all the grime.  Her teeth were dingy yellow, and her body was emaciated.  Being the “good” middle class mother that I was, I cleaned her as best I could and then I took her to buy some clothes.

In the store, she immediately disappeared.  I impulsively called her name, (as though she could hear me.)  When I finally found her, she was in the candy aisle, shoving candy bars into the pocket of her pants.  I screamed,  “No! No! No!”  She looked at me and ran in the other direction.  I finally tracked her down in the pet aisle, just as she was about to open the cage to the hamsters.  I screeched and said “No! No! No!”, and proceeded to grab her, pick her up, empty the candy bars in her pocket, and tote her back to the car without buying anything. If I thought this would teach her a lesson, it did not.  She was not used to buying anything, so she could not appreciate something she never had.

We ate out for lunch at McDonald’s.  Marie ate her sandwich and drank her milk and threw the wrapper and container on the floor.  No! No! No!

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The next day I gave her a stern talking to (“signing to?)  and told her that we were going shopping for clothes and that she needed to stay with me. As though THAT was going to work!  As soon as we got into the mall, a place she obviously had never seen before, she skirted UP the DOWN escalator, laughing with glee.  Mortified, I screamed and said No! No! No!  and then watched in horror as she slid down the banister of the escalator.  Big scream! No! No! No!  Home we went. 

Once at home, she got an orange to eat.  She grabbed the butcher knife to cut it and I screamed and caught her hand just as it was about to demolish the orange. No! No! No!

The next day we were going to take a walk to the library.  She broke free from the grip I had on her hand, and ran across 4 lanes of traffic. Scream! No! No! No!

Later in the evening, while watching television, Marie climbed onto my husband’s lap, where she attempted to rub his “private parts” and kiss him.  SUPER BIG SCREECH!  No!  No! No! Oh!  This child was so “bad”!  WHAT was I going to do with her?

At the end of the week, I went to Marie’s school where she was part of a dance performance.  I was glad to be able to be there, as her birth mother had never been seen at the school before.  I watched with pride as she danced and twirled, often sneaking a peak at me to see if I was looking.  When the dance was over, I saw her talking (signing) with another student who commented that Marie had a new mom, and how did she like her? Marie looked over at me for a minute and crumpled her nose, telling her that all I ever do is scream and say No! No! No! I was shocked.  I had never thought of it before, but she was right!  I was so busy chasing and correcting her that it would seem like all I did was scold her.  And what was I scolding her for?  For what I, as a middle class mother, think is wrong.  I had never taken into account that Marie had been raised to do all of those things…to steal food, to take what she wanted from stores, to litter, to be sexually promiscuous (at the age of SIX!) and to have no worries about safety, thinking she was invincible.  This young child, who had lived on the streets and managed to survive without any parental care, just parental abuse…WAS invincible! She did what she needed to survive.

I was so embarrassed. Embarrassed because I was judging her by my standards and not stopping to think of what her standards were.  I vowed never to scream No! No! No! again, but to explain things in a loving manner to her.

We do not steal.  If you want something, I can probably buy it for you.

We do not run into streets with cars, use butcher knives, or slide down escalators.  It is not safe.

We do not just throw garbage on the ground, but in our family we pick it up and put it in a garbage can.

And, most of all, there is no need to make money by being “friendly to men”.   We have plenty of money so you don’t have to do that.  And it is not fair that you had to do that instead of just being a little girl. And you never have to do that again.

Marie did not change overnight, but each time she would fall back onto old habits such as stealing or being unsafe, I would lovingly explain why she no longer had to do that.  She had a family that loved her and it was our job to keep her safe.

Then there was the time when, walking in the mall with a soft drink in her hand, she unwrapped the straw and threw the paper on the ground. My eyes widened, and she laughed when she saw my reaction.  “I was just teasing you” she signed.  “I know I don’t litter in this family….” 

No more screaming from me…

 

 

Link to my book  The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

Link to the Readers Digest review of my book:  http://www.rd.com/recommends/what-to-read-after-a-hurricane/

 

 

 

 

Yes, I DO have a husband!

I write so often about my adventures with my children that I rarely mention that I have a husband. I love him to pieces, and he is a hard worker and great with the kiddos.  The reason why I don’t write about him…well…he’s kind of boring and not very interesting to write about.

It is very important that we, as the couple that hold the family together, spend quality time with each other.  If we do not put each other first, raising children, especially children with disabilities, would be difficult.  We need bonding, relaxing time together, and we manage to get away for at least a night or two every month,

We went away last weekend to a little cabin we have in the woods of New Hampshire last weekend.  My dad actually purchased this cabin for us when Steven was only a year old.  We knew from his autistic-like behaviors that we were not going to be able to vacation as a family very well at any hotel unless it had padded walls, (which I think I’ve only seen in those motels advertised for sexual adventures!) This cabin is where we have vacationed as a family, swimming in the nearby lake, boating, tubing and water skiing, hiking in the woods, fishing, snowmobiling, making camp fires, and just relaxing as a family.  It has served us well through out the years, and my husband and I  now use it sometime when we get away.  I personally prefer a 5 star hotel, room service and a massage, but that is rarely in our budget…okay the truth is it is NEVER in our budget, so the cabin suffices.

My husband, bless his soul, loves to putter around the place fixing all the little things.  Last weekend he cleaned out the crawl space under the house and found lots of dead mice, who ate our mouse poison and didn’t make it out of the basement in time; we need longer acting mouse poison so they can make it home and die in front of their families.  My husband also found TERMITES.  The house is surrounded by woods with lots of dead trees littering the landscape. WHY would the termites choose our house to eat?  It’s not like it is warm in there because there is no heat.  Why are they drawn to eat the only thing they shouldn’t eat?  I’ve come to the conclusion termites are like children. They won’t eat the huge pile of spaghetti offered to them, but instead want to one by one eat the limited supply of meatballs in the pot. (However,unlike the termites, we won’t kill our children to save the meatballs.)

Without the kiddos with us at the cabin, I was slightly bored!   Of course, my husband and I make a lot of time for loving and such, but that still leaves several hours of the day where he is puttering around and I am bored. I am not a good “relaxer”.  I usually need to be doing something, (thus the reason I have 5 kids in the first place!)  Without cable television, I am forced to…do nothing.  I have no hobbies, and I don’t generally like to read books.  I have been adverse to reading ever since I started reading a Danielle Steel novel in 1982 and never got to finish it because the kids always needed something and I would have to stop mid-chapter.  So, there I was, sitting on the couch, actually feeling a little sorry for myself because I had nothing to do.  Then, VOILA!  I remember that my youngest daughter had downloaded games on my cell phone!  So, there I sat all weekend, playing Scrabble on my phone.  It was great!  I beat myself 53 times!  I was a happy camper!

I’d Give my KIngdom for a Manicure

I blogged a few times back about my son’s wedding.  For this wonderful event, myself, my husband and my two daughters Dinora and Marie flew out to California.  Due to unfortunate finances, (raising 5 kiddos is really expensive!) we flew out on a Saturday, attended the wedding on a Sunday, and flew home again on Monday.  We really only had Sunday to enjoy, and enjoy it to the max we were going to do!  Because the wedding was in the evening, Dinora, Marie and I drove off in the rental car looking for a place to get a manicure.  Although this was not a regular activity for us, it somehow seemed appropriate given the fact that this was my first born’s wedding!

The city where the wedding took place was upscale. We drove to the first place suggested by the hotel.  Manicures were $95, but they had no openings for us, (my GOD! Do people really pay that much?)  We drove to a second place, which was in an exquisite setting with a Greek God theme, statues, vines, flowers and fountains everywhere.  As soon as I saw the wine bar and the piano player off to the side, I knew that we were not going to be able to afford this place.  Fortunately, THEY did not have any openings either. We laughed because the Greek place would have been all wrong for us because Marie,who is deaf, could not hear the piano player and Dinora, who has had a problem with drinking, could not drink the wine.

We had begun to learn our lesson that one needs an appointment for a manicure as we went from place to place looking to have our “nails done”.  We actually turned this trek into a mission, laughing and joking the whole way. Finally, we all shouted with glee!  In among a little string of stores, there lay the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow…a storefront that read “Nails Pretty”.  YES!  NAILS PRETTY.  Just what we wanted.  We joyfully got out of the car and went into the empty salon where we were greeted by 6 of the most friendly Asian individuals I have ever seen. A manicure cost $15.  A “mani-pedi” was $25. The three of us decided to go for broke and ordered the works, our first “mani-pedi”.   The three of us sat in these large massage chairs while TWO people worked on us, one on our fingernails, one on our toenails. They washed and cleaned and massaged our feet and hands, a unique experience to say the least, and we laughed through the whole thing.   (Although I think Marie was also giggling at the feeling of the massage chair.)  It was SO MUCH FUN!!!

This experience taught me something about life. There are some things we have to do without due to finances.  But when we do get to do something special, it is a joy!  And I was especially joyful I got to enjoy it with my two best daughters!  Money doesn’t buy happiness, but a little bit of money can…

If you want to read more about my family and our experiences, (and contribute to the future manicure fund,) please check out The Apple Tree:  Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane”, an e-book sold at I-Books.

A Whole New Meaning to “Swimming with the Fishes”

I have been fortunate in that my mother loved to travel and she often took me and one of my kiddos “along for the ride.”  One of my favorite spots was Discovery Cove, part of Sea World in Orlando.  Discovery Cove offered a make believe coral reef with lots of beautiful fish swimming around and huge stingrays that would swim close and touch you. It was so amazing, and was as close to real snorkeling that I had ever been. With a life jacket, snorkel and mask on, Marie, (my 13 year old daughter who is profoundly deaf and has PTSD) and I spent the day swimming around, amazed at the many varieties of tropical fish. It was like being in another world.  In one spot, there was a glass wall and you could swim next to sharks.  Up until this point in my life, this was as close to real snorkeling, and SHARKS, that I would get! It was awesome!

Near the end of the day, Marie’s medication began to wear off as we had stayed later than I anticipated.  She began to get anxious, but she didn’t want to leave.   I told her one more swim around the coral reef and then we’d head back to the hotel.  As had been happening all day, a stingray came up and touched Marie on her leg.  In fact, she had been petting them for most of the day, calling them her “friends”.  For some reason, this touch was different than the rest.  She became frightened and had a full blown panic attack.  She started SCREAMING her high pitched scream and she was signing (in American sign language,) “The fish is going to eat me!” (Why the fish would think she were any tastier later in the day than earlier, I don’t understand.) To get away from the stingray, she climbed onto my back.  I tried to calm her down, but it was difficult to do sign language while trying to swim with a child on your back, and she was screaming so loud her eyes were shut and she couldn’t see what I was saying anyway!  By this time, we were halfway around the coral reef and as far from the shore as you could possibly get.  Marie decided she was not safe enough on my back because her toes were still in the water,  so she climbed up on my shoulders to get completely out of the water!  Unfortunately, that meant I’d have to sink UNDER the water for her to stay OUT of it.  I started screaming along with her.  (Albeit alternating choking with water and screaming.) She was truly frightened the fish was going to eat her and I was truly frightened I was going to drowned.

They have several life guards there and our dilemma was not hard to miss, with Marie standing upright and me bobbing in and out of the water choking. Because we were so far out, it took the lifeguards what seemed like an eternity to reach us.  When they got to us, Marie refused to let the lifeguards touch her, screaming and kicking at them.  (Good old Post Traumatic Stress Disorder shows up when you least expect it!)  What three of the lifeguards ended up doing was supporting me in the water while she continued to stand on my shoulders and scream. Of course there was a huge crowd of onlookers on the beach, some taking photos.  (We really were quite a sight!) Once on the beach both Marie and I collapsed into the sand.  The life guards asked if we needed to go to the hospital, but I was still breathing and Marie had stopped screaming and was crying quietly, so that meant we had both survived unscathed.  Well, maybe not totally unscathed, I’ve lost my wanderlust  for snorkeling!

 

If you are interested in reading more, I have written an e-book entitled The Apple Tree:  Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane  available at I-Books, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

I KNOW there is a heaven.

I generally try to write upbeat posts…that with whatever difficulties we have, there is always something good to find.  This post will be different than the rest…it will be about my younger brother’s death.  It won’t be upbeat, but there is something good that has come out of it.  I KNOW there is a heaven. Without a doubt.  Proof positive.

My brother, for those who are unfamiliar with my “life story”, was born during the Rubella days.  My mother somehow contracted German measles while she was pregnant with him and he was born legally blind, severely hearing impaired, (almost deaf by the time he died,) severely developmentally delayed, with a cleft palate.  His life with us is what taught me such tolerance for individuals with disabilities.  My brother was disabled, but he was a joy to be around.  He had simple pleasures that made him smile, and to me, he life was as worthwhile as anyone else’s.

He was wholly incorporated into our family life and he did everything with us.  When we traveled extensively, his favorite activity was paying the toll at the toll booth.  My father would drive up to the booth so Curtis’ hand could reach the booth, and give him the money to put in.  He took great joy in reaching out to feel the basket and put the money in.  I swear my father always took the turnpikes with tolls solely so Curtis could have fun paying.

Around the time I grew up and got married, Curtis developed schizophrenia.  The simple pleasures he had in life were replaced by demons and aliens telling him to do things.  Curtis, ever the obedient soul, started to wander the streets in the middle of the night doing what these voices instructed, and there came a time when my parents had to place him in a group home.  We were fortunate in the fact that it was a wonderful group home, full of caring staff, and they took excellent care of him.  Every Saturday my mother, my kids and I would pick Curtis up and take him out for the day, usually to the mall to walk around.  He loved malls, especially riding up and down the escalators and elevators.  To be so joyful doing something so ordinary was one of his gifts.

My mother, who was very spiritual and had several supernatural experiences,  passed away two years ago, in November.  (Note a reblog I’ve attached following this one entitled Angels Among Us.)  Although we missed her terribly, my children and I continued our outings with Curtis.  All of my children loved him and would often argue who would sit next to him, or who would be his sighted guide. Their immediate, natural attachment to him amazed me given his severe disabilities and his disfigured head.  (His head was flattened on the back and he had huge ears that stuck straight out to the side.  My daughter who is deaf gave him the “sign” name, one that usually highlights a person’s individual characteristics, of Uncle Ears.)

We continued to take him out and he appeared to have his same zest for life until October of last year.  All of a sudden, his skills began to decline. Numerous medical tests were done and he was determined to be perfectly healthy.  At the mall, although he always had shuffled along when he walked, his shuffling turned to dragging his feet, then losing his balance, then having to use a wheelchair to get around.  Again medical tests.  No medical reason for his decline.

I remember guiltily the last time I took him to his favorite mall.  He was in his wheelchair, but I left the footrests in the car, assuming he could pick his feet up or shuffle them along.  I knew I was in trouble when I purchased his favorite ice cream with strawberry sauce. Because  he had lost the ability to feed himself,  I spoon fed it to him. He started to spit it out.  He didn’t want it!  His favorite thing to eat!  I new I needed to get him to a hospital, but had to bring him back to the group home first because they had his medical records. When I tried to push the wheelchair, his feet stuck to the ground. He did not lift them or shuffle along.  They just hung there.  If I pushed it forward, his feet would get stuck under the wheelchair.  With tears stinging my eyes, I did the only thing I could do to get him out of the mall.  I turned around and pulled the wheelchair backwards.  I could hear the thump thump thump of his feet on the ground and I started to cry in ernest. I had to pick him up to put him in my car, and he slumped over to the side with only the seatbelt keeping him from falling over.  It was obvious he had declined to the point that neither I nor the group home could take care of him. We took him to the hospital where he was admitted and again found to have no medical problems so he was placed in a nursing home. It was difficult to find a nursing home that would take him due to his numerous scary diagnosis; deaf, blind, schizophrenic.  He ended up in a less than perfect quality facility.  Due to frequent attacks of anxiety, when I first visited him I found him in restraints and his hospital bed mattress on the floor.  They were concerned that he would fall out of bed, so the had removed the actual bed and just left the mattress. He was alone, and a tray of food uneaten, (unseen by him) was in the corner of the room. They would come in and poke and prod him, give him medicine and needles, never treated him like a valuable human being.  He could not hear what they would say, the needle would pinch him, a blood pressure cuff would take readings, the thermometer would be used to take his temperature, and all of this would come at him out of the darkness and he did not know what was going on.  No wonder he was anxious!

Recognizing that with the swiftness of his decline he did not have much longer to live, I made the decision to stay with him at all times. I had to preserve his dignity.  We had done all we could so he could live a happy, dignified life, I could not abandon him at the end of that life.  With my being there, he no longer needed the restraints. My husband valiantly cared for all of the kiddos at home while I took care of my brother.   I spent my days sitting in his private room trying to coax some food into him.  When he wouldn’t eat the food they gave him, I would bring ice cream, pudding, applesauce and other things I knew he would like. I would lay on the floor next to him and rub his back or his arm, like we used to do.  If he could not see or hear me, I am sure that he could tell by my touch that I was there.

Within a week, we knew that he was fading away quickly.  My brother, who despite his disabilities had been as healthy as a horse his whole life, was dying and there was no medical reason for it.  Then I learned the reason; on his last night, while I was rubbing his arm, he turned to me, opened his eyes so wide it seemed as though he could see me, and he said plain as day, without the almost unintelligible garbled speech he used to have, “Mom is calling for me.  I will be going to heaven soon.” Then he shut his eyes and never opened them again. He died exactly one year to the date as my mother.

Yes, there is a heaven.  I know because my brother told me.

For those who might want to read more about my incredible family, the e-book The Apple Tree:  Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane is available on Barnes and Noble, Amazon and I-Books.

Angels Among Us

First blogged January, 2010

My mother passed away several months ago and it has taken me this long to write about it.  She was the most wonderful mother in the whole world, (and I am not just saying that because that is what one is expected to say about their deceased mother.)  In addition to being kind and loving, she was also very spiritual.

I remember when I was four years old and we lived in Opalaka, Florida, right behind the Hialeah Race Track.  We had a cement swimming pool in the backyard which my father built, and next to it was a palm tree my mother had planted crooked so it was growing sideways.  I had a green parakeet whose name I certainly don’t remember, and I loved watching Howdy Doody and Captain Kangaroo on our little black and white tv with the rabbit ears antenna.  My brother was born one day in March, and life suddenly changed for our family.  My brother was born with serious disabilities due to Rubella Syndrome, (supposedly my mother had been exposed to someone with German Measles.)  With a cleft palate, he could not nurse or drink from a bottle, so he was fed by a large eye dropper. He could not such on a pacifier and he cried constantly.  He was blind and deaf and was obviously going to be severely developmentally delayed. My joyful childhood was suddenly overshadowed by a sadness of which I had never seen from my mother.  I would witness her throw herself across her bed and sob. A deep sadness enveloped our family. I looked at my little brother, who looked so innocent and little to cause such a fuss.

One day, when the sun was shining brightly and Curtis was asleep, my mother called to me to come sit in the rocking chair with her.  She squeezed me and held onto me tightly, rocking  and crying.  It was a different kind of crying, though.  A happy cry, if I could describe it as such.  From that day on, the gloom lifted from our house and I went back to living my happy childhood with my new baby brother.

Many years later, when I was a young teenager, my mother shared her experience of what happened to her that very day.  The doctors had been encouraging her to put my brother “away”, institutionalize him as was the custom in those days. “Forget about him,” they said, “You can have another child.”  She could not bear to make the thought of doing this.  Then, on that sunny day while rocking in her chair, she told me she was visited by an Angel, a beautiful, bright white Angel.  She told me she could feel the weight of the Angel’s hand on her shoulder, reassuring her that everything was going to be okay.  Although the Angel did not speak, she knew what the message was.  She did not have to worry anymore, her son would be fine, and he was.  He wasn’t fine in that he suddenly became perfectly healthy, but he was fine in that he has led a happy, fulfilling life. Clearly, she had been touched by something spiritual on that day to turn her torrents of tears into smiles of joy over her new baby.

Several years later, while camping high in the mountains, my mother woke up from her sleep and sat up in her sleeping bag.  She was joyous!  She told me she had been to see God, whom she described as a bright and beautiful. She said it felt real, not like a dream at all.  She was confused as to the experience because it seemed as though she was there to help a friend pass over into heaven.  She did not understand because of course her friend was healthy.  It was not until we returned home from vacation that she learned that this friend had died from a brain aneurysm on that very night at that very time.

My mother lived a life of  great happiness and contentment, always seeing the good in people.  Near the end, right before she died, I stayed with her 24 hours a day.  When we knew death was near, the nurses let me lie in bed with her and she passed away in my arms.  I don’t know what I expected when she died.  No…that’s not true…I expected to see some of what she had experienced!  I expected to see her pass into heaven!  I expected there to be some reaction from her body, some knowledge that her lifetime of spirituality would somehow, through osmosis, pass through to me.  But there was nothing.  She just stopped breathing. And there was nothing.

It took me a while to accept her death, and I became angry that there was no sign from God that she was with him.  Realistically I knew this was silly, but I was hugely disappointed.

Christmas time came soon afterwards.  As the parent of 5 children, I had this habit when the children were younger of taking a picture of their sleeping faces on Christmas eve.  As they aged, they hated the existence of these pictures!  (They were usually sucking on a “binky” at the time and girlfriends and boyfriends who saw the pictures in old photo albums would always go “Awwwwwwwwwwww, how CUTE,” the most mortifying thing that could happen to a teenage macho boy!)  This Christmas eve, filled with nostalgia, emptiness and sadness,  I again went into each of their bedrooms and gazed at their sleeping faces.  I was suddenly filled with a great sense of purpose and contentment, much like the type of contentment my mother might have felt when she felt the Angel’s hand upon her shoulder.  These were MY Angels.  These were my children who had endured so much when younger, either with their disabilities or with indescribable child abuse. They have not only survived, but they have THRIVED.  They are happy and loving and successful and they have bright futures as adults.  This is miraculous to me!

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