By Cathy Jameson
Last week, I shared how Ronan’s youngest sister made the realization that she lives and performs many of the Corporal Works of Mercy right here in our home. Usually, those works of mercy are done outside the home, but after reading through an old coloring book that highlighted those simple acts of kindness, she saw a constant theme – do small things with great love. On a daily basis, she’s doing lots of things with tons of love for that brother of hers! Some of what she’s doing comes naturally and would be expected of any sibling, but with how disabled Ronan is, she goes a step further. She continuously and selflessly pitches in.
After reading through that section of the coloring book, I could reflect on what we’d read only for a few minutes. Thinking Ronan might be done listening, I had put the book down. Ronan wasn’t done though. He was glued to the review lesson and completely lost interest in watching the movie he’d just requested. So we kept turning pages. We kept reading. We kept talking about our faith. We kept sharing what it means to perform other works of mercy, the Spiritual Works of Mercy. It was utterly amazing.
One per page, we reviewed the 7 Spiritual Works of Mercy. We read about what it meant to Admonish the Sinner, to Instruct the Ignorant, to Counsel the Doubtful as well as how to Comfort the Sorrowful. Then, we read about how to Bear Wrongs Patiently and why we need to Forgive All Injuries. Finally, we went over the importance of Praying for the Living and the Dead. My daughter was beginning to get distracted, but those other 7 works of mercy hit me hard. It had been a while since I’d really studied them, and with Ronan sitting next to me, I couldn’t help but think about why we do the things we do—it’s because of what happened to him.
Admonish the Sinner –We do this when we speak out about someone who has done something wrong. I’ve done that more than a time or two right here on AofA! I’ve done that publicly by calling out politicians, the medical establishment, and the pharmaceutical industry. I do that privately when I have conversations with new parents about our family’s experience. Plenty of parents have joined me in keeping those conversations going. Until children are no longer harmed in the name of Science or sacrificed for the greater good, we need to keep those important convos going.
Instruct the Ignorant – Ignorant is not a derogatory term. Here, it describes one who is unaware, uninformed, or who may be lacking adequate or correct information when asked to make a decision like so many of us were. Now, I happily provide resources, state facts, tell our story, and put information out there so others can be less ignorant and more informed. Some may think it a bit depressing when I say, “I share out story so that others will be spared what we were not,” but I mean that from the bottom of my heart. Learn from me, from my son, and from my friends. Don’t make the same mistakes we did. Instead, do the opposite. You’ll be better off. I promise.
Counsel the Doubtful – Doubt, worry, what if. I used to live my life with a steady stream of what ifs when it came to caring for Ronan. What if we do this? What if we don’t? What if he doesn’t respond? What if he does? The stress of analyzing and overthinking my son’s every move, every bite he ate, every behavior he displayed, every word he attempted to utter, and every protocol he was using spilled into every aspect of my day. Letting worry and doubt rule my thoughts became a habit – and a bad one at that! I needed to shake that habit. It wasn’t easy to give up the worry or to begin to live in the moment, but I kept at it. Practice makes perfect, so when those nagging thoughts would begin to cloud my head, I’d stop. I’d breathe. I’d pray. I’d begin again. What a gift it is to get to try, try again.
Comfort the Sorrowful – The simple message from this passage brought me to tears. I didn’t cry in front of the kids, even though they’ve seen me shed tears plenty of times, but the text was just spot on: “People are helped in sad times by [the] friends who love them and [who] stay by them.” Just knowing that our friends, especially the one who’ve become family, are a quick call/text/email away gives me strength. That’s because bouts of sorrow and sadness are part of life. That can be true for anyone. It’s especially true for parents like me. Even though we strive for more joy-filled, happy moments, other kinds of moments can creep in, too. To deny that is dangerous. To recognize it, though, and to be able to muster through it can be lifesaving.
Bear Wrongs Patiently – Oh, to have the patience of a saint. I am the first to admit that I do not yet have that, but I strive to keep my thoughts positive and my actions toward others encouraging. Surrounding myself with other positive-thinking people keeps my spirit upbeat and motivates me to keep going in a forward direction. I’m happy to have those people in my life. I’m incredibly blessed to have them in my children’s lives also.
Forgive All Injuries – As I read that page out loud, I wondered to myself, All injuries? Must I really forgive all of them? Yes. Yes, I should. Years ago, when the sadness and anger about what happened to Ronan was still so fresh, I shared that I thought I would be able to forgive others, but…but… But I would never forget. I wasn’t doing that to hold a grudge. It was to remind me to remember what happened to Ronan. I didn’t see the red flags then, but looking back, I can now see the transformation of him developing into independence to slowly falling onto the non-verbal autism spectrum disorder. I don’t ever want to make the same mistakes or miss those cues about my child’s health again. In my mind, I’ve forgiven those who caused unnecessary harm, but I honestly cannot forget that all of this happened. I don’t think I ever could. I don’t think other parents like me could do that either.
Pray for the Living and the Dead – I do this frequently. I do this when I pray at home, in the car, and when I’m able to get to daily Mass. I do this when I pray for Elias’ family and for Avonte’s. The living inspire us with hope. They give us a reason to believe and can do so right now in the present. Living in the present can be so enriching! We must never forget the dead though. The dead remind us just how very precious life is. So that we never forget them or what they meant to us, as a family we light candles, we offer Masses, we do good deeds in their honor, and we say thankful prayers – sometimes through tears, for the very special life that they lived.
My kids, who are slowly starting to vocalize just how different their childhood has been compared to other kids they’ve met, know that and understand that our life journey veered off the path. That happened years ago when Ronan got sick. Since then, we’ve all gone through ups and downs. Sometimes the siblings go through stretches of really good days where Ronan is thriving. Unfortunately, these last few weeks haven’t been easy and have put a strain on our entire family. But, God love them, the kids have made a choice to keep plugging along. Without realizing it, too, those siblings added more opportunities to perform several Works of Mercy in our home again like they did during the last rough patch.
My children are more resilient than I sometimes am. They continue to give, to guide, and to perform meritoriously acts on behalf of their brother. After they’ve helped him, I reflect on just how much they’ve done and how different it is for me. As the parent of a special needs child, it’s not random acts that I perform; they are necessary acts. But what Ronan’s siblings do for him daily are not so random. They are heart-felt, loving acts of pure kindness. Seeing them keeping strong through the tough times as they draw on their undying love for their brother has been one of my biggest blessing as a mother. That, and holding onto the faith that I cling to daily, keeps me hopeful. As long as I live and breathe, I pray that I will always remain hopeful.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.