Life and Death and The First Home Visit

Life and Death and the First Home Visit

I still can’t believe how fortunate we were last month to have our son visit our Northern California mountain cabin. He had not been back in California for fifteen months. He was now Level 3 and earned it over what seemed like a really long period of time! His therapist was the main force behind making this milestone visit take place when it did. We had our scheduled Parent Days on tap in October in Utah, so we thought, well maybe we will just wait until then to see our son. But our therapist said, “I really think you all should take this opportunity right now”.

What a huge statement that turned out to be. One week after that wonderful visit, our son’s grandmother passed away. It was sudden and somewhat unexpected. Her health was challenged a month earlier with a “mini-stroke”. Her memory wasn’t as strong as it once was. But, she in fact rebounded from that August event and was such a trooper as we all picked up our much more mature son (now 17 years old) at the Sacramento Airport on a Friday, for our long weekend visit last month. Grandma and Grandson were very happy to see each other and picked up with their playful ways without a missing a beat, after a very long absence of not being together.

She asked him how he liked his school. He told her about the horses, running 5K races and his classes. She asked if he had made some friends and he shared some of their names with her. He was a 2.0 version of himself: much calmer, much happier and more at ease. We all played cards together and there was work on the puzzle, in the main room of the cabin, that was always set up and ready for action. We reminded him to speak up so she could hear his answers more clearly and he was pretty talkative for a non-talkative kid! She told me how “sweet” a boy he was. She was happy he was doing well in school, in what was one of our clearest conversations in a long time.

How lucky we were to have no regrets! She was happy up until the end and basically went to sleep one night and didn’t wake up. Most of us would trade large amounts of gold for a serene scenario like that. The timing was such that we were able to tell our son, during our weekly Skype call with his therapist, that she was near the end of her life. He took it as well as could be expected, but was definitely quiet in his processing of the sad news. He saw us cry and we saw a bit of a lip quiver from him. That was quite a moment that we shared.

We agreed with his therapist that he should join the weekly “Grief Group” at the Ranch to help him get in touch with those sad feelings. When we arrived for Parent Days a couple weeks later, we were able to share stories about Grandma and talk about our good times together. We didn’t expect what happened next.

As the date for Grandma’s memorial was being set, the treatment team all agreed that it was very important for our son to attend the memorial, back at home. Originally, he was just going to come back with us to Marin County after Parent Days for just three days, since it was his first home visit. Then, they suggested he stay for an extended time, which ended up being a whole ten days.

“How are we going to manage this?”
” Are we really ready?”

After taking some deep breaths and talking it through, it became very obvious that he needed to be home with enough time to acclimate, before all the “hub hub” of lots of family and the memorial actually took place. We took it one day at a time. We had our nightly family meeting. We talked about what the “triggers” for all of us might look like. We supported each other. Most importantly, he participated.  The rules were the same as other visits: no cell phones, no internet, stay with us at all times and get school work and therapy work done daily. And foremost, enjoy each other’s company.

The activities started slowly. We were greeted at home by a couple of our son’s Aunties. We did some cleaning up. We went out to dinner. As the days went on, more relatives showed up. He visited with his local same aged cousin for an hour. We stayed close by. Things were going well.

To describe the faces of each person who had not recently seen our son, greet him over those ten days, would bring a large grin and possibly a tear or two, to anyone who watched. I was so proud to see him navigate ALL the bonus attention he received! The two most spoken comments about him were, “You look so good!” and “I am proud of you!” He heard those wonderful words over and over again. How powerful is that? We took lots of photos and tried not to overwhelm our son with too much. But how could it not? He was part of the family once again!

That’s where he really surprised us and made us reflect. He was growing up before our eyes and had made many positive changes over the past year. We celebrated that! He may still be a “man of few words” but he was respectful and helpful with all that we had to do, to host a memorial for over two hundred people. He watched and listened and took important steps towards a new life with his family. We sent him back to the Ranch and felt the sadness of his leaving. We are working on a Thanksgiving visit for November!

Feeling at peace,