Life’s Lessons Come Wrapped in Many Packages

By on March 1, 2012

By Barbara Briggs Ward –

Life’s lessons can come in ways we don’t expect them to. They come at any time, even when we think we have it all figured out. And when that figuring out involves a child, lessons and their realities are sometimes hard for us to accept. But once we do, lessons turn into blessings from above.

Our second child was born on a humid Sunday morning in August. Labor and delivery had been hard but once we held our nine pound beautiful baby boy all of that was forgotten. What would he become we wondered? He was perfect in so many ways.

That perfection lasted but three months. Pneumonia, bronchitis, ear infections and croup crippled him-one episode after another. At six months of age, he underwent an emergency tracheotomy. He was in the hospital more than he was home through age four. School became a disaster. Labels stuck on him like glue. He dropped out by the sixth grade. He found alcohol and drugs and landed in rehabs and treatment centers.

But nothing had prepared us for that rainy, windy March evening when at seventeen, he came screaming through the front door with glazed eyes cold as steel. He frightened me. I didn’t know this mad person flailing his arms and jabbering uncontrollably in a language I’d never heard. A crushing diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia would come six long months later. My role changed instantly from mother to caretaker.

My son is thirty-six now. His father and I divorced when he chose drinking as his means of accepting his son’s brain disease. When mental illness hits home it affects everyone in the family as each tries surviving a chaotic situation. My son’s siblings withdrew. They hated him. They hated everyone. They were embarrassed and ashamed. They learned-as I did-who among those considered friends were true friends; who in the extended family really cared. Diseases of the brain evoke deep-rooted stigmas in our society; hidden away as family secrets.

We’ve been lucky for slowly, very slowly with the passing of time and the gifts of understanding and acceptance we as a family have evolved. We’re stronger now. My oldest daughter speaks on a panel of mental health professionals in Colorado. I’ve been appointed by the Governor of my state to a Board overseeing the safety and concerns of the mentally ill in our area. My ex-husband has become my best friend.

The term caregiver evokes images of adult children caring for elderly parents. It’s the rhythm of nature. Roles reverse. But when a parent becomes the caregiver of an adult child roles remain intact. It’s not the way nature intended-or is it? After all, parenting is an on-going role even if it includes caretaking.

My son is a talented artist although he hasn’t drawn since taking anti-psychotic medications. He spends his time doing jigsaw puzzles and gardening. He gets up the same time every day; takes his pills, listens to his music, and waits for me to come in and out. He continues to be troubled by a distorted body image; continues to think others are listening. On weekends we cruise the countryside peppered with Amish. We consider them friends as we stop for bread or cookies. One farm in particular caught our eye years ago. While they’ve never had a stand out front, they did have an old horse we affectionately named Brown Boy. He’d always be grazing in the same spot whenever we went by. One day Brown Boy wasn’t there. We rode the rest of the way home in silence.

When I read the call-out from Chicken Soup for the Soul for stories from people who take care of family members at home or in outside facilities I sat down and wrote, “A Brown Boy of Our Own.” I am proud to say my story, along with 100 others, was selected to appear in the book which will be in stores March 13th. Joan Lunden was the force behind it which includes contributions by Leeza Gibbons, Jill Eikenberry, and Gail Sheehy.

To say the journey we envisioned for our baby boy is not the one we’ve travelled is no exaggeration. But I no longer see him any other way than what God has given us. My son reminds me of life’s frailties while at the same time, life’s blessings. It’s a life lesson wrapped in unconditional love and jigsaw puzzles numbering 467 and counting.

 

Barbara Briggs Ward has been published in McCall’s, Ladies’ Home Journal, Highlights for Children and is the author/illustrator of the Snarly Sally picture book series. In October, 2010 her short story, “In Anticipation of Doll Beds”, was included in the Chicken Soup for the Soul book-“Christmas Magic.” Barbara’s heartwarming Christmas story for adults, “The Reindeer Keeper” as honored as a Mom’s Choice Awards Gold Recipient in Adult Fiction,  http://www.thereindeerkeeper.com.

Barbara Briggs Ward

About Barbara Briggs Ward

Barbara Briggs Ward has been published in McCall’s, Ladies’ Home Journal, Highlights for Children and is the author/illustrator of the Snarly Sally picture book series. In October, 2010 her short story, “In Anticipation of Doll Beds”, was included in the Chicken Soup for the Soul book-“Christmas Magic.” Barbara's heartwarming Christmas story for adults, "The Reindeer Keeper" “Honored as a Mom’s Choice Awards Gold Recipient in Adult Fiction” http://www.thereindeerkeeper.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Life’s Lessons Come Wrapped in Many Packages