Tears of love, loss, and joy
My little sister got married a few weeks ago. No, this does not give you the right to ask me when I plan on getting married. Like most weddings, her special day was full of touching moments – those times when you feel that all is well with the world. I bawled my eyes out, because I was happy and growing up seems to require tears. But this post is not about my sister and her husband’s love, as lovely of a topic as that would be (pun intended).
After I toasted to my sister and her husband’s marriage, I opened up the mike to those interested in speaking. My elementary aged little brother came up to the front and took the mike. He shyly looked at the ground as he spoke. He expressed his love for our sister, and his dismay that she was leaving the house. Occasionally, he would peek up at his audience. As he finished, he gave our sister a hug, handed me the mike, and ran back to his front row spot with the rest of the kids.
A seemingly insignificant display of affection between siblings. How sweet.
Yet, for me, this meant so much more. You see, six years ago I wasn’t sure he would ever stand up in front of a group of people, let alone be capable of forming sentences that weren’t movie quotes. My brother was a beautiful happy baby. I’m not biased or anything; he was definitely one of the cutest babies I’ve ever seen (my other brother is the only baby that can rival him in cuteness). As he grew, he was always sick – ear infections, fevers, colds, antibiotics. He was never feeling well, which is why he was no longer happy. He quit eating, he quit talking, and he quit playing. And then came the doctor’s visits. Words like “developmentally delayed”, “stimming”, “scripting”, and “autism”. Eventually, he got a real diagnosis, the official stamp that he was autistic. A label for what we had lost, but no reasons or answers. An uptight, anxious therapist visited our house once a week. My mom threw her heart, soul and health into the murky pages of the internet looking for answers. Searching for hope.
Our house involved a lot of tears at that time. Tears of worry, anxiety, love, and loss. He won’t look at you, he can’t speak to you, and he constantly cries tears of frustration and fear. He spends hours rolling his Thomas the train back and forth, back and forth while he stares at the wheels. You can’t open the sliding glass door, because he will insist that he open and close it for hours. In the happy moments, he smiles and asks, “Are you suuuuure you’re a heffalump?” He will have the exact rise and fall of Roo’s voice, but there will be no understanding in his eyes. He doesn’t think he’s funny; he’s trying to communicate in the only way he knows how. You will love him as much as you did before his diagnosis, but your heart will ache for his misery.
An average day at home. My dad is cooking a complicated grain-free, dairy-free, sugar-free meal in the kitchen. My mom is sitting on the couch with my brother on her lap. She has the quilt that my grandmother made for her years ago wrapped around him. His face is tear-stained, and he is leaning against her chest, exhausted. My mom spent a good portion of her daily life helping my brother cope with the mundane – waiting for dinner, riding in the car, moving from his crib to the living room.
And now, this little boy, who used to scream and hide in the bedroom every time a friend visited, stood in front of a group of strangers and friends. He expressed emotion verbally. He was happy, and so he smiled. And he looked absolutely adorable in his green shirt and Toms.
Little things become very precious when you thought you would never have them.