I saw him sitting on a bench in the distance, something about the way he moved caught my eye. We were walking the cobblestone streets of San Juan, Peurto Rico and it was a gorgeous sunny day. We had escaped our cold winter weather for a week.
As we walked, we had passed many homeless people, and one of them had a gaping, large, open wound on his leg. My stomach rolled, and I fought to keep my lunch down. I hate the site of blood. I was also in shock. This isn’t what I expected to see when we decided to deboard the ship and take a walk around the beautiful, quaint town.
The more we walked, the worse it seemed.
Then we saw the man on the bench in the distance, and I couldn’t put my finger on what was so familiar about him. When we were about twenty-five feet away, I realized what it was…he moved like my son Kyle.
Tears began to fill my eyes, and my heart was squeezed tightly. Vance was holding my hand as we were hoping to have a romantic walk together. I didn’t want him to know I was crying. The floodgates would open if he asked me what was wrong.
I was wearing sunglasses. My tears were hidden, but I would reach up and swipe at them as I tried to walk just a tad behind Vance so he couldn’t see me.
Kyle has severe autism, he is our oldest son at twenty-seven years of age. I have often wondered if Kyle had been born to a different family, in a different country, would he still be alive? Would he have been locked away, tied down and diapered?
I heard of another country that institutionalized all their special needs people. They tie them down in wheelchairs and wheel them into a room each morning, which has a drain in the centre of the floor, so they don’t have to diaper them.
When I heard this story, it ate at me for days as I thought of my dear Kyle having been treated in such a disgusting and inhumane way. Even animals are treated better.
I can’t even think about it. I could die of a broken heart.
Vance and I are familiar with Kyle’s feelings, and surprisingly we know a lot of his thoughts even though he doesn’t speak much. When he was being assessed by an occupational therapist, she was asking us questions about him. Chris stopped at one point and said,”You know more about Kyle than most parents do about their child with autism.”
We were surprised. Parents of kids and adults with autism carry a mountain of guilt almost every day. We never feel we are doing enough…ever.
There’s always more we could do.
In this picture below, taken in the morning, (sorry boys you look a little sleepy) Devyn’s is wearing a toque. Kyle snatched it off the kitchen counter later, and Devyn tried to get it back, but Kyle wasn’t giving up. Devyn gave in and let him have it.
Sometimes the fight isn’t worth it.
At the same time, we can quickly let stuff slip. We can lose our consistency and start allowing Kyle to get away with obsessive behaviours because, after twenty years, you begin to get tired and not care anymore. If they want to flick the lights a hundred times or pick the walls you let it go. You’ve grown weary and let behaviours slide.
I can understand why parents sometimes give up. They have nothing left. Parents are tired and have no answers.
In other countries special needs, adult children get thrown out into the streets to survive on their own. Kyle wouldn’t last a day on the streets, he’d be dead in twenty-four hours.
I wondered about the man on the bench. How long had he been on the streets? He had a severe mental illness and was rocking back and forth. Kyle rocks. His hair was matted and dirty. His clothes were torn. He was thin and hungry. He was talking to himself. Kyle does that.
The man on the bench had been someone’s child.
We were getting closer and closer. I was just about to turn to Vance and tell him we should get him some food when I noticed a girl hop off the school bus parked near his bench. She looked about fifteen and was wearing a school uniform with a checkered skirt, white blouse and navy sweater. She had dark, shiny hair and was a pretty girl.
She walked toward the man with her hands held out in front of her.
The girl reached down and handed him her pizza. My breath caught in my throat as I was mesmerized by the scene before me.
He looked up at her and gently took the pizza from her young hands. They smiled at each other. She climbed back on the bus. He ate his pizza.
My heart was filled with gratitude. Another hot tear slipped down my cheek.
She was an angel of mercy…she had fed my son💗
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Matthew 25: 35-40 NIV