I’ve just come from a meeting with my mom, my siblings, and a counselor, with whose help we are trying to help Mom (widowed for 30 years and in the beginning stages of memory loss) make the transition from her big, four bedroom suburban home to a beautiful retirement community. Mom realizes she needs to make a decision, but she’s ambivalent about giving up what she is used to. “But, I love my full basement! I love my two car garage! Kroger is just 10 minutes down the street. My doctor and dentist are nearby. I love my big yard! I know my neighbors. When I come home, the house is familiar. I know where everything is!”
“Why?” I wonder from my couch across the counselor’s room. “Why can’t you see all the wonderful things that are in store for you at this fantastic community we’ve found? The ever-changing vista of field and sky (hundreds of acres right outside the door). The center, just up the street, where you can take any kind of class you’re interested in—quilting, memoir, writing family history, poetry, music history. A full-time staff to take care of the never-ending upkeep of house and yard. A community garden where you can get your hands dirty all you want, with friends, no less!
I come home, shoulders tight with tension, and sit on the deck, breathing in the fresh smell of spring, listening to the birds, soaking in the sight of neon green grass.
Why can’t she see the advantages?
Suddenly, my mind jumps to Joel’s upcoming move. Joel, at 25, is our youngest son. He has autism. Joel is moving, in May, to Safe Haven Farms, a community of choice for adults with autism (www.safehavenfarms.org). We’ve dreamed of a place like this for Joel for years. A tranquil place away from the hub-bub of the city. A place where he will have the freedom to ride his bike without worrying about traffic (he has no sense of danger). A place where he will participate in meaningful work; planting and harvesting vegetables to eat and sell at farmer’s markets; a therapeutic art studio where he can build birdhouses and squirrel feeders to give as gifts; a learning center where he will be coached on the computer; a therapeutic riding program where he will ride regularly as well as learn to care for horses on a daily basis.
Then why this creeping anxiety? Why this little voice whispering, “Who will make sure he gets back under the covers when he gets up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night? What will it be like in the mornings when he’s no longer here to wake up and get ready for work? Will the support staff brush his teeth long enough? What about his diet? Will they feed him a lot of junk food? Will he gain weight? What will the weekends be like, without him here? What will it be like when Wally (my husband) travels and I’m here at home all alone?”
Just like my mother, I find myself ambivalent over a major life transition. Change is hard. There’s no getting around it. For Mom, it’s the thought of giving up a full basement, two car garage, and familiarity with her surroundings. Suddenly, I understand where she’s coming from. For me, it’s being used to Joel’s presence, as difficult as that can sometimes be. I’m used to hearing the toilet lid crashing down in the middle of the night; hearing about his day when he walks in from work; tucking him into bed on the weekends; taking him for a ride to Parky’s Farm to “wave at the horses.”
The trick is to tear our eyes away from the familiarity of the past to the abundance that awaits us in the future.
For Mom: What a vista out that new window, the clouds rolling across the sky! All those new friends, just waiting to be made. Not to mention all those new learning opportunities. For Joel: His very own horse to care for. Vegetables to grow and harvest. House-mates that hopefully will become his new best friends. For me and Wally: the long held dream of opening a retreat center. Books to write. Furniture to make. Mission trips and vacations to plan.
On my perch on the deck, overlooking the just-greening woods, I inhale a deep breath of spring. I no longer feel quite so squeezed. Before my eyes, the future has just opened up, full of new life just waiting to be born.
Kathleen Deyer Bolduc, MA, is a nationally recognized author and speaker in the field of disability ministry. The mother of a young adult son with autism and moderate intellectual disability, she has shared her inspiring story in His Name is Joel: Searching for God in a Son's Disability (1999), A Place Called Acceptance: Ministry with Families of Children with Disabilities (2001), and her new book Autism & Alleluias.