Friday, November 27, 2009

Letter from the past

I found one of my cousins on Facebook, and we post on each other's wall occasionally. This week, she celebrated her birthday (which I forgot about, sorry, Cuz! Happy Birthday, even if it is belated!) But she wrote on my wall that she found a letter from the past, which was written from my mother to her mother, who were sisters. The letter was a congratulatory letter on Cousin's J's birth, from sister to sister.

I had kind of forgotten about how the blending of years of my cousins and my brothers and sisters occurred in time. My parents had 5 kids, and I was the oldest. I knew my cousins were close in age to my sister, but had forgotten that the second cousin was born just 2 months after my youngest brother was born.

This last little addition to our very large family was a special child. Back in the day, there were no words for children like him. Retarded comes to mind, but he was much more than retarded. You see, his little body was wracked with a host of physical problems, and they didn't expect him to live long. He had a severe heart problem, and had other metabolic issues as well. These problems kept him fom growing, so he was not only severely mentally retarded, but physically retarded as well. Diagnosis was not strong in those days, and the usual way of dealing with children like him was to put them in some sort of facility and forget about them.

My parents could not do that. But caring for a perpetually non-growing infant did take its toll. They did keep him and care for him for the first 6 years of his life. He lived his life as a quiet but perpetual infant. Bottle feeding, diaper changing, never changing from the needs of an infant. He didn't react as a usual infant did to stimulation, he didn't like to be held, and preferred the comfort of his hard little crib matress to the warm arms of family members. Finally, a decision was made, to find a good place that would care for a chronic invalid child, and they did this and placed him outside our home with a heavy heart.

So, my cousin's letter revealed my mom's way of dealing with life's burdens, with cheer and always looking on the bright side. She told her sister that she was getting a new washer and dryer-- a highlight for sure! There were no Pampers in those days, and little brother certainly went through his share of diapers while he lived within the family. She also told of the few quiet moments she got when the 4 kids under 5 were all napping. This was a quiet moment when she was able to write the letter to her sister.

She also told of my preparation for directing a Christmas puppet show for the family...perhaps showing at age 10 my love for theatre! I remember caring for my little brother, and mother alluded to that also. "J (SewWhat) is a big help to me, and if, as often happens, P gets hungry while I'm preparing dinner, she takes over and at least starts him off on his bottle." I was 6 years older than my next sibling, and the next four were born within 5 years of each other. So I did do my share of babysitting. I remember that for sure.

What memories this letter brings back to me! I wish I would have had it yesterday to show my brother and my children, but it will be put away into a safe place to be shared at Christmas, when all siblings and children are gathered together.

Our little brother, who wasn't expected to live past infancy, did live to be 26 years old. He was lovingly cared for in a group home in his last years, but never did grow much past the size of a 6 year old. He never could do any self-care, couldn't sit up or walk, couldn't feed himself. But he had a perpetual smile on his face, and his caretakes were devastated by his passing. His was a simple life that was part of my life, but on the periphery because he wasn't in our home. I often think, if he had been born 20 years later, his life would have been different, because we do care for the most delicate of those among us in a different way now, offering them an opportunity to learn to whatever capacity they can learn, to learn self-feeding, observation and some movement control. But that was not to be for him, but we cherish his memories as our little brother, as my father referred to him, "Our Littlest Angel".

(Taken from a book "The Littlest Angel", which was written near the time P was born, it was a book that inspired my parents to look upon his birth as a special occasion to be cherished, not to be mourned.

See Kenadie's story, primoridial dwarfism, on YouTube, this is what my brother looked like, but his mental handicaps were compounded with the physical issues of a type of dwarfism.)

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