Sunsets and Storms

“How long do you think I’ll last? I mean, when do you think I am going to die?”

Ethan’s questions still sometimes catch me a bit off guard. I am not sure I ever give him answers that satisfy or even make sense to him.

I had to come up with something. “Well, Grampa is eighty. You could live a very long time.”

“Grampa eats fruits. If you eat a lot of fruits and healthy stuff, then you can live a long time. I don’t eat that many fruits.” He went back to what he had been doing before. The conversation was enough for him, though to me, rather unsettling and incomplete.

There are times when nothing makes sense…to anyone…at all.

I had hoped to hide from my embattled reality for at least three minutes. Just as I turned the lock to the bathroom door, I heard the skip that is unmistakably Aaron, embodied, bounding upstairs.

“Mom? Are you up here?”

He knew where I was; there was no hiding, no refuge to be sought. I was glad that he spoke first, before my annoyed retort for befallen peace sent him away, certainly without skipping this time.

“Mom? It’s a beautiful sunset. You should come see.”

That’s why he had come upstairs. That’s what he wanted to tell me: that the sunset was beautiful. He wanted me to see.

My little son knew that tonight’s fleeting gift of God’s creation would be worth more to me than a little time alone in the bathroom.

My birthday is coming up again. I am keenly aware that I am at the brink of the manifestation of the sunset of my life. While the future had once been something to envision from a great distance, that tide has now caught up to me, and my steps are not defined as I had expected that they might be. They melt; they disappear into a million grains of sand, indiscernible from the tracks of those who have gone before.

I wonder how my son, my child who views the world through a black and white lens, would make sense of the loss of a child. I wonder how anyone would.

The behavior specialist from Ethan’s school called last week. After analyzing the data from the past year, she was pleased to report that though the incidences of physical holds had increased, the overall challenges with his behavior had decreased to the point where he would be dismissed from her caseload. This, for us, is a type of victory.

Are the days that follow the second half of what has already happened, or is it a new start? Is it the end of the beginning, or will there be an entirely new purpose?

Olive Chickens (thanks, Elliott, for the middle name) does not appear to know where she is going in a given moment. Her feathers hide her eyes, and one wonders how well she can even see. Somehow, though, she finds her way home, or close to it, at night. Once, though, she almost didn’t.

I had taken Ethan to the specialist out of town. The driving rain made travel hard, and it was well after dark when we finally returned to the farm. Dan and Aaron had locked the other chickens down for the night, but Olive, who had been with us for just a handful of days, was nowhere to be found. She was certainly scared, cold, wet, and tired, if she had even been spared. After what seemed an eternity in the darkness of the still-stormy evening, I heard her unmistakable peep. I was a child on Christmas morning: Olive Chickens had wedged herself in a less-than-two-inch wide space between the coop and the run. She was trying to get home. She was scared, but she was okay. With the help of a rake and some urgent prayers, she was soon safely perched with her coop mates.

The boys were waiting for me when I finally made it inside. Ethan was first to approach. “Mom, you really care about that weird chicken.”

If only he knew.

So when the storms are inside, coming from a now medium-sized boy, and they overtake an hour or a day, I remember that we have come far. I remember that the beautiful sunsets had been further between. I only hope that we won’t run out of time before we make it home.

When I am gone, when my days are done, I hope that someone will be glad that he is alive, that someone will search for him when he is lost in the storm.

Here’s to eating lots of fruits, always finding our chickens amid the thunder and lightning, and never, ever missing out on a beautiful sunset.

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Going Home


It could have been a driving snowstorm, or maybe the thickest, most dense fog that I had experienced; I don’t remember the precise conditions, but the fear will never leave my memory.  I’m a nervous driver anyway, but this night, travel would have been unsafe even for the seasoned race car driver.  I should have stayed at my friend’s apartment, but I was eager to make it home after my night class.  I was so afraid, once in the thick of it, gripping the wheel as tightly as I could, that I might not make it home.

My own words played incessantly in my head: so many years, so many services and specialists, twenty medications, and no answers.  I wonder how we have landed here, in a place of self doubt, where we feel lower than the last few nuts that the squirrels have abandoned along the exposed tree roots on the frosty ground as the inevitability of the cruel cold looms just ahead.

This time, it was driving rain and, more than that, the emotions screaming from inside my head, that obstructed my vision and made me wish I could just turn around, or that I could just keep driving and everything would come clear.

“I’m not sure psychiatric hospitalization is the answer.”

This was the doctor that eight days before had sent us home on a safety plan because no hospital within three hours had a place for our little boy.

What, exactly, then, is the answer?

I am pretty sure he didn’t know.  I am pretty sure nobody does.  No, hospitalization is not the answer, but it is an all too necessary step along the arduous journey.

It was, on this day, to be the course, though certainly not the answer. He must have known, because the fight left him for a good while, and he walked to the ambulance from the school.

It dawned on me that I should put the finch feeder away for the season.  No finches would be coming, at least not until springtime, when the torrent will have subsided and the birdsong will play vividly through the open window.

The baby crib, for decades a fixture in our home in one form or another, has also been taken down and stored away, for its season is now behind us.

What if we are destined, as beings that walk this earth, to be good at one thing?  What happens, then, when that one thing is done?  What happens to us?  Does our purpose fade?  Can we take what we have been, what we have learned, and offer a new kind of energy to our spent course?

There was a bed this time, at a hospital  not far away and on a unit for children with autism.  He would be transferred soon.

It was all too much for this boy, or he was too much for them.  It was as if the driving rain continued within the walls of this emergency room.  There were four people, all wearing scrubs of the same blue, jumbled together as one mass.  I couldn’t see their heads, or perhaps I did not look at them.  In a flash, through the screams of angst, one of the headless figures pumped the shot into my son’s soft pink flesh.

They left the room with the same fury as when they had entered.  Nobody noticed my tears; maybe nobody noticed that there were any emotions at all.

I tried hard to listen to his stories; his speech was rapid and his tone was convincing.  He spoke of Lego figurines and of how the mother of his classmate was going to take six months leave from her jobs, which included helping people that had wheezing, working as both a doctor and a computer programmer, and managing a company that fixes basements.

My own thoughts, though, interrupted his spoken stream of consciousness and distracted me from honoring him with my full attention.  I couldn’t really hear what he was saying.  I wondered what any of this was even about.

Who will help him in the bathroom?  Will he like what he is offered to eat?  Will someone sit in his chair at the kitchen table while he is gone, or will it serve as a lonely reminder of the demons that continue to invade his childhood?

“I’ll be in the hospital for two weeks…,” he piped matter-of-factly,  as though he was accepting of his fate.  “We can build our castle then, when I get home.”

Yes, we can.  And it will be much better than any video game.

I remembered the donut store from another time.  It had closed at midnight, less than fifteen minutes before the end of this ten hour ordeal, when I had found my way to the storefront with hopes of bringing breakfast for those at home.  The  door was locked, but the lights were on.   There, proclaimed in red and blue neon letters, was a tiny saving grace after a day of sadness and humiliation: “DRIVE-THRU.”

So, there would be donuts after all.  Ethan doesn’t really like donuts anyway, which is good, because he wasn’t going to be home to eat one.

We have seen him a few times now, and he has let us know, through his  no-nonsense descriptions of the rhythm of his days at this new hospital, that he is doing okay.  Today, as we make our way through the season’s first snow on the way to visit, we will be hopeful: hopeful that the new medication may be the one that helps, hopeful that he will be home soon, and hopeful that there will be new paths on the horizon.

No, it’s not the answer, but it helps, if even just a little bit, to guide us home through the storm.

Blessings for a safe and joyous holiday season, at home or wherever your journey leads.