Tuesday, June 2, 2015
Those everyday champions in your child's life
I found out yesterday that a neighbor of ours had passed away. He was elderly and not in good health, so it wasn't entirely unexpected, but of course still sad. He was a sweet guy who had always been so warm to both me and Max.
In general, his family kept to themselves; I haven't much spoken with his wife over the years. But from early on in Max's life, Mr. W. was supportive. His last child has Down syndrome and so, to some extent, he got it. Whenever he saw me, he'd asked how Max was doing. When he was sitting on his front porch and he'd see little Max zooming by in his gait trainer, he'd shout "Go, Max! You're doing great!" When Max informed him that he was going to be a fireman when he grew up, he responded, "Young man, you'd be a wonderful firefighter!" In recent years, Mr. W. readily noted to Dave and me how well Max was doing. He knew just how far he'd come.
At times, Mr. W. was also my cheerleader. When we'd get to talking over our hedges, and I'd mention concerns about Max's development, he'd encouragingly tell me that he had plenty of potential and many years to develop ahead of him. We compared notes on local programs for kids and adults with disabilities.
Between our family, friends, Max's school team and his docs, he has plenty of champions in his life—but it was wonderful to have a cheerleader next door. I always welcomed Mr W.'s words of wisdom, and his mere presence. As I've said here before, I've found it comforting to not be the only family in our area with a child who has significant special needs. Mr. W. helped me feel less alone.
Max saw me looking sad last night and asked why. I said I was sad that Mr. W. had died. Max offered a suggestion: He could come back. I explained that when you die, you do not come back. Max pondered that, then pointed to himself. "Max, everyone dies but you are only 12 and you have lots of years to live," I reassured him. "We were lucky that Mr. W. was our neighbor for a long time. He was a nice guy." Max nodded in agreement.
I last had a conversation with Mr. W. in April, when he called to ask about our neighborhood recycling schedule. This was before I announced my pregnancy. But I knew that he was ailing, and I told him our secret. "Congratulations!" he said. "It'll be good for Max to be a big brother."
I read Mr. W.'s obituary online. The family requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Special Olympics or The Arc. I'm so glad to do that in his honor.
When someone passes, you inevitably regret the things left unsaid and undone. I wish I'd told Mr. W. just how much I appreciated the pep talks. But then, maybe he knew.
R.I.P., Mr. W.
Posted by Ellen Seidman at 6:39 AM