Five years ago on Father's Day, my mother died. Mary Hancock had broken her arm several weeks before her death, and her health just started to go downhill. The medical professionals had trouble managing her pain. I think she just decided enough was enough. I suspect she thought to herself, “I had a great life, I believe in God, and I know I will be in a much better place.” Her last week alive was spent under hospice care. The care was great, and it took place in the little one bedroom apartment in the facility where she had lived for the previous several years. I stayed there with her 24/7 for that last week. Sleeping on the couch in the living room, wondering when I woke up and went into her bedroom if she would be alive.
During her final week, my son Charlie was able to visit her a few times. My how she loved him. I recall exactly where and when I was when I told my Mom by telephone that Charlie was going to be a boy. Before Charlie was born, in 2005, my Mom had four wonderful grandDAUGHTERS, but no grandSONS. She no doubt loved them like crazy, and, they all were, and are, amazing kids. All now, actually, amazing women each with multiple children of their own. I asked my Mom that day, "So, what do you want, a boy or a girl?" Never too afraid to speak her mind, she exclaimed "I WANT A BOY"! I told her, "You got it"! And I cried like the baby that was to arrive within the year.
During the last several days of my Mom's life she was not able to speak. She was failing. Time was running short. The hospice workers kept telling me "I think this will be her last day." This went on several days in a row. Two days before Father's Day, in her room, holding her hand and talking to her, I asked her "Please wait (to die) until Father's Day." I know this might sound very odd to many. But I had my reason. Maybe a bit selfish, perhaps not.
I knew when I was 10 years old that I wanted to be a father one day. Sounds a bit crazy, I know. I just recall experiences like being at the community pool in the summer, and really enjoying entertaining the younger kids. I also played plenty with kids my own age as well. My son Charlie has an autism spectrum disorder. Two days ago he completed the 6th grade. I guess you could say that he is "high functioning." Though, I am not a fan of labels. No two kids with autism are alike. Most of his autism-related struggles concern comprehension of information, social skills, and the ability to "understand" what is happening around him. He at times struggles. And as a parent, when a child struggles, WE struggle.
Charlie is my only child, so over the years without perhaps a "typical" child to compare him with, I have been trying to help him overcome certain hurdles and struggles by trying to recall when such things happened to me. But I am discovering I really need to adapt this strategy, as what maybe worked to help me get through certain things as a kid, are not necessarily helping Charlie. Or maybe they are. That is the thing, we never really know. Thing is, to me many things he does resemble certain behaviors of mine exhibited when I was about two or three years younger than he. I know this is not unusual for kids on the spectrum. And, trust me, I have many friends with children on the spectrum who have challenges much more severe than Charlie. I feel deeply for them. And often have feelings almost like "Survivor's Guilt." We are no doubt part of a "community" that any of us would have ever elected to sign up for. But, here we are. And, of course, we all have our own unique struggles and can only do the best we can.
So after living for several days beyond what the hospice personnel predicted, my Mom passed away when I was with her in her room. I was actually talking to a family friend who was there, we were standing on each side of my Mom's bed. My friend said softly, "Chuck, I don't think your Mom is breathing anymore." She was right. And, it was Father's Day 2013. She honored my wish. I truly believe that.
When Charlie was born, my Mom was instantly in love with him. Maybe because he was her first grandson, but, I think maybe even more, because he was MY son. My Mom and I, always close, had become much closer as I got older. I believe she saw how happy I was with Charlie, and like most parents, became happier because I was happy. But, my oh my, when Charlie was with her, you could just see her heart swell. Her eyes sparkled. I'm certain every hour with Charlie added a week onto my Mom's life. The sheer joy and pride was always evident.
I will be 60 in August. Charlie will be 13 about three weeks later. As a single Dad, I have tried to not worry about not being here for him, trying to banish thoughts of mortality from my head, and have mostly succeeded. Until now. But with this looming birthday, I must say I am wavering a bit. All parents, maybe especially those with kids with an autism spectrum disorder or other special needs, have similar thoughts I imagine, regardless of how old we are. Just a bit more odd now, particularly since I'm also now, for the past almost two years, an "orphan," in the respect that both my parents and both my older brothers are no longer living. I have no cousins even. Weird. It is just me. And Charlie. I just know Charlie needs me. Though not even close to as much as I need him. An unexplainable feeling comes over me when I think of me not being here for him. It truly petrifies me.
Luckily, it does not take Father's Day to make me realize being a Dad is the single best thing to have ever happened to me. I am convinced God intended for me to be Charlie's Dad. I genuinely love making him breakfast, especially with flashbacks in my mind of my Mom telling me she was not a "short order cook." Makes me smile. Speaking of breakfast, as I am writing this, running back and forth to the kitchen, Charlie asks me to scratch his back. He never does this. One of my fondest memories of my childhood is of my mom scratching my back. I would of course direct, "Higher, to the left, down, yes, right there." I have told Charlie about this several times. For him to ask me to scratch a particular spot, with accompanying directional requests to the exact spot of the itch, and today of all days, was a sign. I truly believe that.
The emotional roller coaster of being Charlie's Dad is truly incredible. In a blink of an eye, he can go from total happiness and contentment to full blown frustration and meltdown. I only remember two or three short conversations between me and my Dad. I am sure we talked more, but not much more. Sign of the times I think. Generational perhaps. Conversely, Charlie and I talk all the time. I want to know his feelings, how he is, and what is going on in his life. Having just concluded 6th grade, in a school where he moved between seven different classrooms every day, the transition for him must have been daunting. But, he did great. Charlie genuinely craves friends. While this is awesome, he is at times misunderstood by his peers and, sadly at times, perhaps taken advantage of. I sometimes wonder after one of our talks if I got through, if anything "stuck." Maybe, maybe not. Middle school is so challenging to kids, and Charlie is not an exception. Academics aside, the social parts can be so complex and confusing. I try to help the best I can, but like someone I respect greatly once told me, there are things that he will just have to learn "organically." True, but still so difficult to watch occur. For many years now the last thing I tell him before he goes to school is "Be nice, and do your best." I think he mostly does.
If you have seen my Facebook page, you might know I often refer to Charlie as the "Boy Wonder." He just truly amazes me every single day. And, on less days, makes me a bit crazy. My Facebook page I suppose is mostly a running commentary on the life Charlie and I have together. Not the usual food, party and vacation photos, but more like, for example, an impromptu photo of his patented "off to school bedhead" look. True confession, I am an "overposter" on Facebook when it comes to Charlie. I own that. And, oh well. While the events of the past couple of years have been, for lack of a better word, surreal, having Charlie in my life I am truly convinced saved me. Yes, I am "the luckiest."
So why did I want my Mom to wait until Father's Day to die? I am as sure as anything that my Mom was thrilled beyond belief when I became a Dad. I know she knew how important it was for me. At that time, like today, it allows me on Father's Day to truly think all day about how much my Mom loved me AND Charlie. In terms of a biological family, it's now just me and Charlie here on Earth. But, on Father's Day, it's like Mom is back here with us. If for only a day.
We love you Mom.