“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)
I was worn out from teaching all day and trying to take care of all of Ron’s needs, so in January of 2019 I began the lengthy process of enrolling Ron in the County Agency for Seniors and Aging (COSA). Eventually, Ron qualified for 77 hours a week of nursing care and we moved him and a hospital bed into the dining room since he could no longer walk up the stairs. While the aides were not always reliable, their presence did allow me some breaks away from spousal caregiving. One Friday night in July, I kissed Ron good-bye, told him I loved him, and drove to Rehoboth Beach with my daughter Bonnie to visit my 91 year old father.
We walked the boardwalk, listening to the roar of the ocean, enjoying this too-rare respite, when I made a confession to my daughter.
“I don’t know how long I can go on doing this for your father,” I told her. “I’m exhausted. This could go on for another twenty years. I don’t know if I can do it.”
Always the voice of compassion, Bonnie put her arms around me and said, “God knows how tired you are. You will do it as long as you have to do it because you have always counted on God for your strength.”
We left Rehoboth around 7PM and arrived at my house about 9:15. While she usually said good-bye to me at the car, this time Bonnie came in to say good-night to her father.
And we found that God had called Ron home to heaven.
Dennis, Bonnie, Allen, and I were unprepared for Ron’s sudden death, but we knew that his suffering and pain was at an end. My heart had a giant hole in it that God needed to fill.
The years of serving in the mission field of hospitals had come to an end. God opened up a brand new chapter in my life, and set me on another journey I had never expected to take. My youngest son Allen, an adult on the autism spectrum, could not grasp the finality of his father’s death. The week after Ron died, Allen informed me that the trees in the park were whispering Ron’s name and saying that Ron was still alive.
Allen was convinced we needed to find his father.
There is very little research about how adults with autism react to death. Lacking information and aware that Allen needed to prove to himself that his father was now in Heaven, we began a search for Ron that led us to parks, and beaches, and rivers, and railroad stations. One night we even set up a telescope in the front yard so Allen could try and find the location of Heaven.
This journey took eight months and while Allen looked for places where his father might be, I began to remember Ron as a young man, long before he became so ill. Eventually, Allen came to understand that while his father was now in Heaven, both God, his heavenly Father, and Ron, his earthly dad, still loved him. And I was able to say a proper good-bye not just to the sick man Ron had become, but to the funny, loving, and wonderful man he had been. I chronicled our grief journey in my blog, and recently completed a book called Finding Father: A Journey of Faith on the Autism Spectrum. My hope is that any who read this book will know that there are many ways to grieve. God accepts them all.
I am on a new journey now in my walk as a widow and as the mother of an adult on the autism spectrum. Part of that journey led Allen and I to the Church of the Atonement in Claymont, Delaware, and to share our story of grief and healing with others. Along with writing the weekly blog for Atonement and sharing our lives on my blog on Substack.com, I long to help others tell their own God stories.
The journey I shared with Allen was unique, but God hears the echoes of our hearts.
All of them.
“Write all the words that I have spoken to you in a book” Jeremiah 30:2