Some of you know about what happened with my older son, but most of you do not. None of this was David related until he announced the mission. It was then that a cycle of pain and loss restarted in my heart, and now, after many weeks of processing it all, I felt compelled to share it, with the hope that it may help someone.
My oldest child, now age 12, was diagnosed with Autism at the age of two-and-a-half. He was a healthy baby and was developing normally until 16 months, when he received 4 vaccinations during a routine office visit. Within one week of that day he lost all his words, eye contact, and started to have severe bowel issues. I am not trying to start a debate about vaccines, I am just telling you what happened to my child. Thus began our journey into the pit of despair and heartache. Several doctors, tests, and hours of research later we began to understand what we could do to begin to try to heal his physical and sensory problems.
The first step was special education preschool. The district here that diagnosed him told us that he would never speak, dress himself, never be able to live alone or have a relationship. We were told to start looking into long-term care options. Words cannot describe the loss and devastation that we felt. I’ll never forget the first day of preschool. I had to take him there; I just couldn’t let him take the school bus; he just looked so tiny. I dropped him off, both of us sobbing. The teacher had to block the door to keep him from getting out. I went out to my car and cried and cried and cried. I didn’t want to take him there. He was supposed to be home with me. Did he know I was coming back for him? Did he understand what I told him about school and that it would help him? Would it even help him? I trusted no one. Who were they to tell me what my child’s future would be? I sat there in the parking lot in my car sobbing. When I finally went in to get him I was so relieved. He seemed fine. The thought of doing it again the next day was too much to think about.
His preschool day was two-and-a-half hours every morning. The longest two-and-a-half hours you could ever imagine. In the meantime we were working on special diets, vitamins, sensory therapy and lab tests to help with the bowel issues. I thanked God for credit cards and that we were able to get high credit limits. Everything we tried with him was very successful and immediate. We did everything outside of mainstream medicine with the help of a doctor who I know is an angel. We went through about 15 doctors before we found her. The preschool was awesome, and it truly was needed to help him catch up on things he had missed. But having him gone everyday, even though it was just the half day, was very depressing. It was a true loss. Then after preschool would come elementary school. I would never get those preschool years back.
I never did get those years back. But what I did get was something even greater. Our son began to speak again. He began to interact with us. He was able to handle sensory input. He has been in a regular classroom setting since Kindergarten. He continued with speech therapy through 3rd grade. He was able to stop the special diet after 5 years. He is now in 7th grade and has all A’s in school. He scored within his grade level on the MEAP test two years in a row now. He has friends, sleepovers, normal relationships and is an awesome big brother.
Over time I began to accept that this journey with my son was somehow meant to be. I ended up working at the sensory clinic that helped him so much. I was able to talk to and give hope to thousands of parents. I was able to work with the children and see them progress. I have been witness to the restoration of my son’s health and well-being. I have come from the depths of despair to the triumph of redemption.
When David announced his mission I was in shock. The next morning I cried for six hours. I had not cried like that since that morning at preschool. All the feelings of loss and fairness and right and wrong and why and how came rushing back. I was losing my baby again. I know he’s not a baby, and he’s not mine, but you all know and understand that is exactly what it feels like. Much like taking my son to that preschool, this was something that had to be done despite how I felt about it. It was going to happen, and all my tears and frustration were no match for it. I came to accept that just as I took my son and handed him over to strangers, I had to support David in his choice because what is best for me is not necessarily the best for him. I could have not sent my son to preschool and kept him home with me. But I had to do what was best for him, despite my own pain.
For those of you that have not experienced a loss, and even for those who have, David’s leaving is devastating. The routine and activities of the last 4 years will change. We will have to find a new normal. And we will. Nothing will stop what is meant to be for David. We must be strong and have faith that the future will bring nothing but the best of times for all of us. My journey with my son taught me that even though things seem impossible you can never give up hope.
We cannot get back the two years that he will be away. What we can do is be here to support one another, buy whatever music comes out, and take good care of the love we have in our hearts for him. One by one we were chosen to be on this journey, for reasons we may never know. His voice took root in our hearts. His spirit made our own start to blossom. Now we must tend to the garden while he is away.
Photo credit mzdinolatino