of our senses are bombarded as we walk – leaf mold tickles our
nostrils, leaves crunch underfoot, and above us, brittle, brown sycamore
leaves applaud the day. A taste of smoke sits on the tongue as a wood
fire burns in the nearby campground. A wild flutter erupts in my chest
as thousands of grackles take flight in front of us, their feathers
flashing purple and black against a patchwork of blue sky.
hike single file. Leading the way, I am exhausted and moody despite the
beauty of the day. I almost declined when Wally suggested a hike, but I
felt a yearning to soak in this gorgeous day before autumn turns to
winter. It disappears so quickly, this splendiferous glory of autumn. I
know it could disappear overnight with the first passing storm.
Behind me, Joel our youngest
son, walks slowly and tentatively through the leaves. He has balance
issues and is afraid of tripping on a root. Wally brings up the rear.
Joel’s manic chatter has subsided, and we are quiet. Our feet do the
talking as we scuff across the yellow-carpeted forest floor.
I hear Joel’s footsteps
quicken, and turn from my ruminations on the fleeting nature of time to
see him approaching at a near run. Surprised, I stop. He grabs my hand,
looks me in the eye, grins, and pulls me forward. I wait for him to drop
my hand, as he always does, but instead he squeezes it and swings my
arms, his grin widening at my delight. For a moment, it feels so right,
his hand a perfect fit in mine. A jolt of joy shocks my body. This is
what my dreams are made of, this kind of connection with my son – dreams
of eye-to-eye contact, deep conversations, arm-in-arm walks through the
This full-body joy is
answered, almost immediately, by my mind, which says, no, don’t go
there. My logical mind tells me there are no happy endings with
twenty-six-year-old sons with autism. There is no happily-ever-after
when they move away from home and you are left, not with “this is the
way it’s supposed to be,” but with guilt, sleepless nights, and often,
And yet, here we are in a
dream-come-true scenario. Joel holds my hand tight, matches my gait
stride for stride, steals sideways gazes, his eyes playful, a smile
flitting, now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t, across his handsome face. He is
perfectly beautiful, my heart sings.
Joy and sorrow play tug-of-war in my heart.
For a month Joel has been
constant motion, constant chatter. He lashes out at staff with his
hands, sometime his feet. He spend hour upon hour walking or running
around Safe Haven Farms, the sixty-acre farms for adults with autism
that we helped to establish – where he now resides. No one can stop him
from walking. I worry about his feet, which are cracked and blistered.
My heart breaks as his anxiety escalates and erupts into aggression. I
sit through behavior meetings once a week, where the aggression is
charted. Manic swings, which we thought he’d left behind for good with a
gluten-dairy free diet and a change of medication, are manifesting
again, keeping him awake at night. Unable to sleep, he knocks on doors
of his housemates, waking them, as well. Everyone in his house on edge,
waiting for behaviors to erupt, with no one sleeping soundly.
Dreams die hard. Our third
son’s adulthood will never be what we expected. We think we’ve moved
through depression and anger, denial and guilt into a place called
acceptance when yet another transition takes place and we grieve all
over again. Letting go of this son is nothing like letting his big
brothers Matt and Justin go. That was the natural, normal progression of
life; it was something to celebrate, knowing we did our jobs as
parents, giving them roots and wings. This feels like an amputation, so
deep is this son’s need, so intensive our care-giving, more than a
quarter century’s worth.
Joel’s hand, still clutching
mine, is warm and sweaty. I leave my doubting mind behind for a moment.
Allow myself to totally inhabit this present moment. Become pure body,
pure hand, pure connection.
Friends tell me I must cut
the cord, not hold so tight to this beautifully whole yet broken
boy-man. But this connection – this fleshly hand in mine – tells me what
my gut already knows. This cord is a living cord, a cord of
flesh-and-blood. Unlike an umbilical cord, this cord can never be
severed. Yes, like the towering maples, beech, and sycamore along this
trail, we will experience all the seasons of life. We have known green
and growing times, and we will experience them again. We have lived
through times of autumnal beauty that signaled the end of an era, and we
will know them again. We have suffered and waited through fallow
seasons where it seemed as if nothing would ever grow again, like this
past year, with Joel’s move away from home, a seeming death for him, for
me, for his father.
Every October I mourn the
passing of autumn’s glory. Dread the dark, dank days of winter to come.
Today I want to stay pure hand, hold onto this moment forever. But my
heart calls me to remember that spring always follows winter. Spring,
when the sap flows upward, bringing with it new life, new sweetness, new
possibilities, new ways of being.
This is what is true: I am
Joel’s mother. He is my son. And we are walking up a hill, hand in hand,
through sunlight streaming golden through a canopy of maple, sycamore,
Nothing, unless I allow it, can rob me of this present joy.
I choose joy.
- In what situation today might God be calling you to change the way that you think?
- Joy and sorrow often play tug-of-war in our hearts when we parent
children with autism. Which is winning the game in your life today? Read
Psalm 42, and take your sorrow before the Lord, ending with a time of
praise. You might even want to write your own psalm.
- Reflect on a time of “winter” in your life on the spectrum, and then reflect on the “spring” that followed. What flowers bloomed in that particular springtime? Write them down on a notecare, and tuck the notecard in your Bible so that you may revisit it on dark days.