By Cyndi Frisch
In life there are very few spoken words that are truly life changing. Thirty eight years ago I stood in front of family, friends and God and promised to love my husband until death do us part. I said ‘I do’ and I still do. Those words were a vow, a commitment to God, they were important to me. Until 13 years ago those were the most important words I ever declared, until I said, “what’s one more?”
I was 43, my husband was 48 and we were living in the down-sized home we purchased to live out our golden years…the years with no children underfoot. Our lives were once again ours to do with as we pleased and it was going to be great. Our children were grown and out of the nest, although at times they left their children with us and would be gone for days, perhaps even months at a time. Our daughter, newly divorced found herself the single working mother of a 2 & 4 year old and she had to work long hours to keep a roof over their heads. We did our part by babysitting the girls and many nights the girls just stayed with us so as not to disturb their slumber, especially on school nights.
Then our son, 20 who has severe ADHD and emotional handicaps, received a phone call telling him that a young woman had a baby boy who was being removed from her care. She told the authorities that he was the baby’s father. Bryan, our grandson, had been removed due to severe neglect, as well her two other children. He spent a month in foster care while paternity was determined. We picked Bryan up one month later, the day he turned 7 months old. His foster mother said she did not normally care for infants but he was great. She said he never made a sound, then laughed and said in fact, “you could have left him in his crib all day…he never cried.” I picked him up with only the clothes on his little body and three diapers−no favorite toy or blanket, nothing that was just his. He had no emotion, didn’t make a sound. I couldn’t get him home fast enough to rock and hold him but he didn’t seem to care.
In many ways Bryan was like a newborn and very delayed. At 12 months my sister in law told me she thought he was retarded…oh how I hate that word! She did put me in touch with specialists who could evaluate him and soon we began occupational, speech and physical therapies. It was during this period when we heard the word ‘autism’ for the first time in reference to Bryan. I refused to believe it. I had seen movies that showed autistic children, even Rain Man. Bryan had quirks, yes, including banging his head very hard on the floors and walls, but autistic? That just could not be.
Bryan’s journey is a long story, one filled with many battles and also filled with much joy, more than anything it is a journey filled with a lot of love! I’m his grandma, not his mother, and I am raising him. We had no idea when we took him in to help our son that this was going to be our life-long commitment.
To be honest, we might not have done it even before having the autism diagnosis. Perhaps that is why we just don’t know some things in life ahead of time, thank goodness. We were in our empty-nest years. We had done our job and our kids were grown and gone. It was their turn to handle the end results of the actions they take in life. Despite all that we have always had Bryan and two years ago, when we were 54 & 57, we made the decision to have legal guardianship for Bryan the rest of our lives. That was the most important and biggest decision we have ever made. We are getting older and Bryan will always need to be taken care of, but we believe the best place for Bryan is with us, where he is loved, secure, very happy and thriving.
Raising an autistic child as a grandparent is different. One, we are older! We had our children when we were young for a reason. It is very hard to chase down a running child when your knees are giving out. We don’t eat out. We don’t travel and we don’t have friends…just family. On the flip side our life is filled with love. It is never dull and it keeps us young. At 13 Bryan still believes in Santa and the Easter Bunny. Everything is new through his eyes and he has taught us more about love and giving then anything or anyone else.
Nothing in our life has changed us more than Bryan. It’s an unexpected journey and one we feel blessed to be walking on together.
**This is a from-the-heart personal essay from Cyndi Frisch, a grandmother raising her autistic grandson. She and her sister make weighted vests, weighted lap pads, and weighted blankets and you can find them over at A Thread of Magic on Facebook.