A few nights ago, my white t-shirt was soaked with the tears of my wife. She buried her face in my chest and opened the floodgates of her heart as I held her in our bed. Seventeen years of glorious, painful struggle had come down to this night.
“I feel like I have failed him…” she sobbed.
“We have not failed. We have always sought what is best for him. This is best for him…this is best for everyone.” I replied, trying to convince myself in a parallel attempt to comfort my wife.
A few months ago Jake was enrolled in a special school to help him transition to more independent living in a special needs community as adulthood inevitably advances on his life. Much to our amazement, he thrived in this super structured environment.
The original plan was to get him toilet trained, work on his behavior skills, and then transition him back home with respite assistance.
He came home this past weekend for a visit and the original plan fell to pieces. A case worker from the school brought him to the house so we could celebrate his 17th birthday and within minutes of walking through our door Jake had regressed back to the state his original violent, miserable condition.
The case worker stood aghast as Jake messed his pants, crawled on the floor and curled up into a fetal position in the corner of his room. It took three of us to change his clothes and get him cleaned up—two to hold him down and one to scrub and clean.
“He is completely toiled trained at the Center” the case worker defended with a thousand mile stare. “I’ve never seen him act like this before.”
“We’ve never known anything different,” my voice cracking in hope-strangled disappointment.
Most of the visit went well; as well as one can expect with Jake. But the nervous pacing, incessant whining and repetitive compulsive behavior seemed to increase with each hour. As time approached for Jake to return to the school he became peaceful and calm again.
He hugged his brothers and sister; then dad and mom. Before walking to the car he picked up his small computer talker that he wears around his neck and said, “Goodbye”. He waved like the grand marshal in a ticker tape parade and blew us volley of passionate kisses.
I buckled him into the back seat of the care worker’s car. And just like that…he was gone.
For a brief moment I felt like a normal parent watching his 17 year old son drive away to college. Then, in almost a panic, it seemed like someone had just kidnapped our baby boy. Like a good cop and faithful father, I wanted to run after the car, catch the kidnapper and rescue my son.
Then I realized—this was the rescue.
Jake was moving to the best quality of adult life that we could offer. My selfish attitude of, “No one can care for my son as good as myself” faded into the submission and surrender of his future to the care of my sovereign God.
My wife and I sat on the front porch swing most of that day--wondering…grieving…resting. It was almost like a death in the family, except no one came with food and condolences. We were all alone.
I told a friend it was like we had just completed a marathon together, but when we crossed the finish line no one was there to cheer us on. Then we realized the race had been over for quite some time. All the lights were off and the crowds had gone home. There was no celebration, just exhaustion, weariness and fatigue. We embraced each other at the finish line knowing we lost, but still grasping for the hope that at the very least, we finished the race.
I really don’t know where to go from here. Perhaps this will be the final chapter in the book I now have time to write. Maybe I’ll get a hobby, go fishing, make some new friends and do whatever good friends do.
Or better yet, I think I’ll take my wife on a date and not have to worry about getting a call from the neighbors that Jake escaped the house again and was found wondering the neighborhood.
Maybe I’ll spend some quality time with my other three children who have been so patient and generous with their dad’s focus on Jake through the years.
Whatever I do, it will be very different than what I have done for the past 17 years. On one hand this is good—I have a lot to catch up on. On the other hand this is nearly impossible—as Jake has shaped my very character and purpose throughout most of my adult life.
Either way, I know this winter of our life is coming to an end. But at the same time a new season is blowing in like a spring thunderstorm. The storm will end soon, followed by milder weather, greener grass and lots of flowers. And perhaps now I will have time to walk with my wife, hold her hand, and smell them all.