Archive for the ‘caring for parent and children’ Category

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s my Brother

I led a very untraditional lifestyle when I was growing up.  My father, whom I later realized was schizophrenic, had the wanderlust to travel, which our family did for about 6 months of the year. He would remove me out of school and we would take off for various areas of the country, living in our Volkswagen van. ( Although I am sure that today’s public education system would not allow it, somehow I think my father would have taken me out anyway.)

It was quite an adventure for a child like me.  I have a vivid memory of cracking eggs in a big, black, iron frying pan over a campfire in the Badlands in South Dakota.  The rocks the pan was on were not sturdy, and the pan fell sideways with the eggs slowly leaking out onto the pine needles on the ground.  (Clumsy then…still clumsy.) I remember traveling in southern Georgia, driving for miles watching red clay cover everything…the houses, the cars, and even the clothes hanging on the lines.  It was at the beginning of the civil rights movement, and I was uneducated in this area, (probably because I didn’t go to school!) The whole concept of a bathroom for “whites only” was a shock to me.  Did that mean that only people wearing white clothes could use it?  (I’m picturing nurses, dentists, pharmacists…)  I couldn’t use it because I had on my only pair of pants, jeans, and a multi-colored t-shirt. But I had to go to the bathroom baaaaad, where would I go?  Behind the bushes? How degrading!  My misunderstanding of this concept is now a slight reminder of what it felt like be African American in the 60’s. I also have the memory of  a bear at Yellowstone Park coming onto our campsite to eat our dinner as we all huddled in the car. My brother, Curtis, was upset because he had left a package of Cracker Jacks on the picnic table.  We had to restrain him from leaping out of the car to get it.  Afterwards, I was not so keen to sit by the campfire…

But most of all, I remember my constant companion; Curtis.  He was four years younger than I was, and he had been born with Rubella Syndrome; developmentally delayed, cleft palate, legally blind, and severely hearing impaired.  He was my buddy.  Because my dad was extremely frugal, (ie obsessive compulsive disorder frugal,) I did not have many toys to play with.  So, in addition to reading a lot, I played in our surroundings with my brother.  I have a memory of  sitting by a stream, sun shining down on the water through the leaves on the trees. Curtis was happily splashing about in the shallow water.  I was looking for rocks that somewhat resembled people.  (They were no Barbie dolls, but some kind of looked like Alfred Hitchcock and Potato Head.) All of a sudden I heard a whoooooosh!  Curtis had ventured too far into the water and the current started to carry him downstream!  Fortunately, I had long, slim legs (in those days,) and with a few strides, I picked him up by the back of his pants. He was laughing heartily.  To him it was a real adventure.  Like the poor person’s substitute for a ride at Disneyland!

We actually had a lovely childhood together. I had to carry him everywhere because he could not walk sturdily.  Carrying him was just a natural way of life for me.  I don’t know why, but I never thought to be embarrassed by him, (although his screeching and attempt at speech WAS pretty scary).  I never ever thought of him as a burden.  He was just my buddy, Curtis.

75502-004-47C41965

My parents rarely took pictures.  (The money thing again…) But I do remember ONE picture.  It was a picture of me and Curtis, standing in front of Mount Rushmore.  I was characteristically giving him a piggy back ride.  The photo shows Curtis, looking over my shoulder, eyes squinted shut by the glare of the sun.  I was wearing a stupid, treasured, red velvet derby hat, (you know, like jockeys wear.) As the dead presidents loomed behind us, I gave my characteristically stupid, toothy grin, (like all children do when their parents ask them to smile.) And on that day, I first heard the song from Neil Diamond which fit my sentiments exactly: “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”.  It was a powerful moment to think that someone had put into words what my life was like.

I was so very lucky to have been raised the way I was because it formed my personality, my temperament, and my compassion for others. I personally cannot take credit for the way I live now, fostering and adopting children. I am not selfless, nor amazing, nor wonderful, nor any of the other adjectives readers have used to describe me. I am simply living my life the way I was raised and it is a wonderful life!

****

 

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

 

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother Lyrics

The road is long

With many a winding turn

That leads us to who knows where

Who knows where

But I’m strong

Strong enough to carry him

He ain’t heavy,he’s my brother

So on we go

His welfare is of my concern

No burden is he to bear

We’ll get there

For I know

He would not encumber me

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

If I’m laden at all

I’m laden with sadness

That everyone’s heart

Isn’t filled with the gladness

Of love for one another

It’s a long, long road

From which there is no return

While we’re on the way to there

Why not share

And the load

Doesn’t weigh me down at all

He ain’t heavy he’s my brother

He’s my brother

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

written by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell

performed by Neil Diamond in 1970

******

 

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

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!

Good Luck or Bad Luck Can Be in the Perception

My father was an artist/architect/carver.  He designed beautiful buildings that to this day are still city centerpieces, painted flattering portraits that still hang proudly in people’s homes, and carved a large variety of creative items.  His favorite, and my mom’s least favorite, was a statue of a Tiki god.  A squat, dark man with wild pointy hair, red eyes and a huge, pure white, toothy grin that was almost as big as the body itself.  My mother said it looked evil and it gave her the creeps.  My dad proudly sat it on the fireplace mantel “for good luck”, he said.

Shortly after he placed the statue there, he fell down the basement stairs and broke his leg badly in three places.  He recuperated slowly, but managed to get back to work.  Because he had just returned to work, he ignored stomach pains because he was trying to get caught up on a project.  He finally had to be rushed to the hospital and almost died because his appendix had burst and he had become septic. Whether he was going to live was up in the air for days.

He finally recuperated and returned home from the hospital, although he was still not entirely healed.  He had to get up every few hours to take pain pills.  Late one night when he got up to take medication, he found the kitchen of the house engulfed in flames!  He woke everyone up and managed to scoop my brother out of his bedroom next to the kitchen before the flames reached him.

The fire trucks arrived quickly and more than 1/2 of the house was damaged.  The house was burnt from the back bathroom, the laundry room, the kitchen, my brother’s bedroom, and all the way down the hallway up to the mantle of the fireplace in the living room where the fire damage had stopped.  After the firemen put the fire out and surveyed the severe smoke damage, they were struck by one oddity…the smile of the Tiki god was glowing bright white.  Everything around it was burnt or blackened by smoke, but the statue appeared to be untouched!

Our local newspaper did an article on this phenomenon and we were local celebrities for our 15 minutes of fame.   My mother insisted the Tiki statue was bad luck.  My father fell down the stairs and broke his leg.  His appendix had burst and he’d almost died.  And 1/2 the house burned down!  My father had another take on the situation.  The Tiki god was GOOD luck.  When he’d fallen down the stairs, he could have broken his neck instead of his leg.  When his appendix had burst, he could have gotten to the hospital too late and died.  And if his appendix had not burst, he would not have gotten up in the middle of the night to get medication and the whole house, including his family, could have burned!

The statue remained a fixture in my parent’s house as long as my father lived.  When he passed away ten years ago, my mom got rid of the statue, or so I thought…

Some of you may know that I have been dealing with the recent death of my mother. Cleaning out her house these past few weeks have been the saddest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life.  How does one begin to decide what to keep, what to give away and what to throw away?  Cleaning the kitchen I found the grinder she used to make bologna salad with.  Cleaning the bedrooms I  tenderly sorted through pictures, mementos, costume jewelry and I not so tenderly threw away her clothes that had become threadbare and worn.

I had managed to finish cleaning most of the house except for the basement.  I put that off until last.  In a family like ours without any wealth in “things”, I could only expect to find in the basement “memories” not worth keeping, but too sad to throw away.  All of the old Christmas decorations, the threadbare sheets, blankets, chenille bedspreads and curtains that my mother thought might “come in handy one day”, old televisions with rabbit ear antennas,  8 track tape recorders, posters from the 60s that had faded and crumbled with the moisture,  and a whole lot of other worthless “junk” that would cause me further sadness.  I was dreading cleaning it out!  As a working mother with kiddos who I have to drive back and forth to doctor appointments, soccer practice, friend’s houses and such, I did not really have the extra time I needed to devote to this depressing task.  Plus, I hated cleaning my OWN house and I resented the fact that this task lay ahead of me.

At work my husband called me frantic!  The water heater had burst in my mother’s basement and there was 2 inches of water everyplace!!!  I had no time to be bothered with yet another unpleasant task, I thought as I left work early to take care of the situation.  As I opened my mother’s basement door, I could hear the water gushing, and see items floating freely in the water.  “UGH!!!!”  I thought, as I started to cry, overwhelmed by the task ahead of me.  Now I not only had to clean, but I had to mop up the mess! When I got to the bottom of the stairs, I surveyed the damage…everything was dank, dripping wet and depressing.  Then, a familiar face smiled out at me through the dampness…the Tiki statue!  It was up on a shelf on a wall way across the room, but even through the darkness I could still see its smile!  I stopped crying in amazement.  It made me think.  I finally realized that this was NOT bad luck, as my mother would have said, but GOOD luck, as my father would have said.  With my mom’s basement flooded, her homeowner’s insurance company would pay to have it cleaned up!  I called them and they sent over a cleaning crew right away. With everything ruined, it would have to be thrown away, not by ME, but by the company which would haul it all away.  Suddenly the dismal vision of me standing in a foot of water and bagging after bag after bag of old, wet memories disappeared, replaced with a sense of giddiness! I don’t know why, but just the fact that this huge daunting task of cleaning her basement had been taken care of by this flood lightened my mood. Isn’t life strange?

Although some of our old stuff MAY have been salvageable, I knew it would just sit in my basement and become more junk for me, so I asked the clean up crew to clean it entirely because everything was “moldy from the water. They went in and scooped everything away and cleaned the basement spotlessly!  The thing I saved from the basement was the Tiki god.  Not that I “believe” in him, but I believe that sometimes luck is all in how incidents are perceived, and life is a whole lot less stressful if you can look at the lucky side of things!  I know my spirits were lifted that day…


Tag Cloud