Anything But Simple
All children surprise you, and those with Down syndrome are no different.
I have to admit that being the parent of a special needs child, I’ve often fallen into the trap of thinking that Charley is too simple to understand as much as he does.
For one thing, he has no idea why there’s a big deal made of celebrating New Year’s Eve. Charley has no concept of time. To him, New Year’s Day is simply another day. While the rest of the country sits in front of the TV watching the crystal ball fall and then plants good luck kisses, he sits in front of the TV in his room watching The Lion King, clapping and singing in his tone-deaf way.
It’s always somewhat of a shock to look a new year in the face and wonder where the old one went. And yet, just as soon as it began, it’s gone and another takes its place.
It’s shameful, I know, but the holiday I looked forward to most this year was New Year’s Day. Anything to get past Christmas and put 2012 behind us.
You see, we said goodbye to Dad this year. After a year of struggling to stay with us, he finally left us in June, and by the time Christmas knocked on the door, Dad had been gone for six months and this would be our first Christmas without him. I’ve often heard the first is the hardest. All the way to Louisville (Kentucky), that’s where we are from, I wondered how I would make it through Christmas without seeing Dad with that grin, hugging me and standing back to take a good look, saying, “You’re lookin’ good, kid.”
Dad was the one who made the house chuckle. His hearty laugh filled the room and if there was any fun to be had, he wanted to be right in the middle of it. How he loved every part of the season, especially the candied apples at Christmas dinner, and having the family all gathered in one spot. I didn’t want to see the house without him or open presents without him. But I did. We had a nice family gathering despite the loss, and Dad’s spirit was felt among us.
The next day Brad, Charley and I went to the gravesite to wish Dad a merry Christmas. I hadn’t seen the grave marker yet, and since Dad couldn’t come to us this Christmas, it seemed only right that we go to him.
But first, a visit to the grave of my friend Barbara’s mother. Barb and I grew up together, and since she is now in Pennsylvania I visited on her behalf.
It was awkward at first. I wondered how Charley would deal with it all. Would it freak him out? Would he run back to the car? Or worse, run through the cemetery? Charley has a way of doing things like that when something spooks him.
Who knows what he was thinking? After all, he never met Barb’s Mom. I was surprised when he didn’t ask questions; rather, he went with us and waited quietly while Brad said a prayer. As I stood in the cold at a loss for words, Charley showed us another way. His way.
You see, he simply leaned down and kissed the tombstone.
Next stop – Dad’s resting place.
Once again, there were no words. Only the three of us, and as we huddled together, I zeroed in on the American flag placed on the grave. Dad was a patriot, a proud testament to uncommon valor, and a member of the greatest generation, as the journalist Tom Brokaw refers to it. Anything but a simple man.
And there, once again, standing beside me at the grave of his Grandfather, his “Grobbie,” was a twenty-two year old man, who, because of his Down syndrome, most would consider simple. But they would be wrong. Because this time when he leaned down and kissed the tombstone, he had tears in his eyes.
And from where I’m standing, that’s anything but simple.