SMALL SNIPPETS • Grandpa Charlie’s Final Lesson


It was an ordinary day–the first real day of spring after a cold and dismal winter. As I fought my two wriggling boys into their car seats, off to yet another full day of therapy appointments and school drop-offs, errands and the seemingly never ending messages that needed to be returned, I felt intuition’s first nudge.

"We should go to the park."

The impulse came in the soft yellow light of the sun and the robin’s egg blue of the sky. It murmured to me in the soft cool breeze on my face and the sweet trill of the birds in my ears.

"We should take the day off and go to the park. It is a perfect day for the park."

The impulse came again, louder this time, in the shrill disgruntled sounds of the boys unhappily buckled into their car seats and the exhausting pall of yet another over scheduled day.

"Just go to the park."

Unable to resist the impulse's siren call, I ran inside and grabbed our water bottles before I could give myself time to rationalize why we shouldn’t go. 'Let’s go to the park,' I said and was met with the jovial cheers of my little men.

I drove just to the edge of town when the impulse nudged again.

“Go pick up Grandpa.”

'I am already past his house. It is a lot of work getting him out,' I internally argued. Again a nudge. “Go pick up Grandpa. He needs to go with you."

When I think back to this day now, over two years later, I wonder if some supernatural force was at work, some form of precognition–if somewhere deep in my subconscious I knew that this would be our last adventure. Whatever the force, I listened. I turned my car around and cajoled my grandpa into going out and soaking up the spring with us. We went to my favorite park, Patriot’s Park in Greenville, a picturesque park set among the woods, full of trails and running water.

At the time I thought that the trip was a disaster. G was in rare form; rather than being ecstatic at the chance to play he screamed and kicked, refusing to go near the playground equipment. He kept running from us, across the parking area and into the adjacent soccer fields. I chased him and brought him back, chased him and brought him back. We must have cycled through this scenario at least six times before my Grandpa Charlie called me to him.

“Sit,” he said and patted a spot on the playground equipment next to him."Let him go, he will come back.”

He could see from my ever expression-filled face that I wanted to resist the command for stillness. One of my biggest fears, as the mother of an autistic child, is elopement. My need to please my grandfather was at war with my instinct to protect my brilliant boy, who is so defenseless in so many ways. I wanted to spit out statistics on autistic children and elopement. I wanted to remind my grandpa that G often doesn’t perceive danger.

“Sit. Let him go, he will come back,” my grandpa commanded, sensing my reservation. “You are the best mother to my boys but you worry too much. You are always so nervous. Sit here with me and let him go. I promise that he will come back.” (Later, he admitted to me that he wasn’t really as sure as he led on. But that was fitting of the old man–and the younger version too).

So we sat. We sat for an hour, and G ran further each time but he always stopped and returned to us. As I watched him I learned that, when necessary, G does know how to focus his attention, to look back, to assess for danger–that he needs to test his limits and that I need to let him. My grandpa gave that gift to me on our last trip together–the gift of letting go.

I wonder now if he knew the full extent of the lesson he was teaching me on that day.

"Let him go Tori, he will come back."

He died four months later. I think of that day often now and of my grandpa’s last lesson. I thought of it as his will and his body began to fail, as we nursed him and cared for him, as his home transformed into a hospital room. I thought of it as I desperately railed against the knowledge that I had to let him go.

I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately. I chalked it up to the fact that his birthday was a few weeks ago, Oct. 26. He shared a birthday with my niece Reagan, whose existence bound our blended family together. It was a big birthday for her this year, 13, officially a teenager and one step closer to leaving the nest we created for her. I assumed it was the birthday that kept him forefront at my thoughts, but now I wonder.

It wasn’t the memory of the park that kept popping into my mind. It was another spring day, years before when G was still growing inside me and I had fewer fears. We were walking and he was pointing out the tiny buds on the peach trees that lined his garden. He was teaching me how to prune them, to cut the branches so that the tree could sustain the fruit. Explaining that sometimes healthy branches needed to be cut to allow the tree to maintain its nourishment of stronger branches.

It is an odd memory for the fall, when winter’s chill is creeping into the air and pruning fruit trees is far from my to-do list. And then on Monday I got news that I have been dreading since March. G was being discharged from his out-paitent occupational therapy. He had already been placed on a consultation basis for OT at school because he was up to par. I should have been ecstatic because he is able to do all of the things we were worried he would never do when he started therapy. He can write his letters and his numbers as legibly as any five year old, he dresses and undresses himself and puts on his shoes with the same begrudgingly slow disinterest of any other little boy. He is able to follow direction and pays so much attention that he knows everyone in our family’s computer passwords or screen patterns by memory–which he uses to regularly hack us. Yet I embarrassingly burst into tears when I was told he was ready to be discharged, the old fear of what will happen if we remove his safety nets all encompassing.

When I got home from the meeting, I told Corey (who high-fived G) and said I needed some air. I went for a walk around the cemetery near our house, and as I walked my grandpa was with me. The memory of him teaching me how to better ensure my trees yield fruit, quickly followed by the memory of him holding my hand on a park bench while I nervously watched G test his boundaries and he nervously watched me battle my fear. I don’t know that I can ever really conquer my worry, but I do know that I can sit in it. And that sometimes, when I need it most, I can still feel the warmth of his hand quietly subduing my fear.


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