Monday, February 2, 2009

A Numb Heart Melted

Image: Taken at my aunt Bess's house during Christmas 2007 shortly before the two moved into an assisted care apartment. Here my cousin Max had just made a rare request to have my oldest son, who has autism, sit on his lap. My usually reluctant son agreed. The matching outfits and demeanors were a complete coincidence.

And the Tears Flowed

The tender heart of my youngest child (not pictured above) touches me. He cried when his goldfish that he had all of two weeks died in mid-January. To me it was just a goldfish and I would have rather flushed the da*n thing down the toilet rather than create a little casket for my young one to decorate before finding some earth near the house that wasn't too frozen to dig a shallow grave. We had a short graveside service. Tears slid down my dear one's little face while mine stayed dry as I said a little prayer and sang a little song. All I really wanted to do was get out of the frigid air and into my warm house and go on with life.

As a child born to two parents who were 43, I've said too many graveside goodbyes to people I loved to get upset by the loss of a goldfish. In fact, I've said so many goodbyes in my 37 years that my tears have frozen up. I never knew my grandparents on my mom's side. My dad's father died when I was three. My paternal grandma died at age 91 when I was nineteen. My mom died a painful death of cancer when I was 24, a tough loss. My last uncle died five years ago and my last aunt died last February at a time when the weather made the roads too awful for me to make the three to four hour drive in order to attend the funeral.

For so long, I've been numb to the pain of losing someone. I admit I cried some when my dad died unexpectedly last May. But it didn't seem like I shed as many tears as I should have given the circumstances. All I can say is the dam didn't break. Though my heart felt broken, I cried a little when it first happened and that was it.
Today though something happened. I didn't 'turn anything on or off.' The dam let loose. Tears rolled down my face and they just wouldn't stop for the longest time. I'm feeling the loss of my 73 year-old cousin Max, whom I only saw two times per year--at Thanksgiving and at Christmas time. Max was what the world called 'special.' He couldn't see well, had a mix of cerebral palsy that froze up his 4'11" frame (in a painful way) and also had cognitive impairment that that sometimes manifested in autistic like ways.

When I was five Max started calling me (then a tiny girl with long wavy brown hair and big hazel eyes) 'Princess Firefly.' Of course I never objected to that--never questioned it as strange. When I became a teenager, I was honored when he wanted to grab onto my arm so that I could walk slowly with him and help him get to from church into his mom's car parked in the handicapped section. I smiled this past Christmas when he seemed to take to the glittering little snowman attached to a shiny red bell that I tucked in with homemade goodies I brought him. He kept asking me if its name was Frosty. His sister said he'd probably keep talking about it through the rest of the holiday.

Max was the one who taught me the patience that is necessary to being a successful special needs mom. Every time I saw him, he would ask the same questions over and over again like when my birthday was or what color my eyes were--hazel, the same color as his. Sometimes he would ask me a question and I would say something along the lines of 'I don't know Max, you tell me,' and then he would answer his own question correctly.

He loved football, cars, and getting postcards and Christmas cards and swimming in his care facility's therapy pool. Up until about two years or so, he lived with his mom in a two story white house in the country. When his elderly mom became too frail to care for him, his sister and family found a retirement village that had an assisted care apartment where he resided with his mom until she died and where he continued to live until he became sick a day or so ago with congestive heart failure.

I never thought one would live long without the other and that is the way it happened. My aunt died eleven months ago. Max couldn't tell us how he felt about the loss of his mom, but I wonder if he died of a broken heart.

It's winter, so I don't know if I'll get to go to his funeral. So today, through the watershed, I'm taking time say goodbye to a guy who rarely gave hugs, but did give a lot of love, gave kisses that were way too hard, and made a joyful fuss when getting a peck on the cheek. Today, in my heart, I said goodbye to a guy that seemed to feel a connection to my son with autism. Today, my numb heart melted and I finally cried while saying farewell.


Casdok said...

Brought tears to my eyes reading this. I am so sorry for you loss.

Hugs to you.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for your loss. I hope you were able to make it down for the funeral.