When I was younger and I heard the word disabled, I never really felt that tug at my heart or that compassion I saw so many others portray. In fact, other than Paul, the guitar player at our church with Down Syndrome, I never really had the opportunity to interact with someone with a disability.
Growing up, I didn't consider Paul disabled. In fact, it was our opinion as kids that he was the coolest grown up in the church! He was the only one who would speak up and say exactly what we, the children, were thinking, which usually translated to "how much longer are we going to stay here, there's sunshine out there." Paul was so honest and so full of hugs, smiles and helping hands, I just never thought of him as disabled. Nor did I ever consider his 70-year-old grandmother, his sole caretaker, as an "angel just waiting to get her wings."
There is a popular insurance company with the slogan, "Life comes at you fast." I have adopted those words as my personal motto. After growing up, I married my childhood sweetheart; we had three awesome kids with exuberance for life you wouldn't believe! Nevertheless, life comes at you fast, so fast that you wonder will you ever stop spinning from the shock. In the fifth year of my marriage, my husband had an accident. Then an allergic reaction to medication during the treatment process led to a grand mal seizure that eventually led to irreversible brain damage.
At the age of 31, my husband was declared disabled by the Social Security Administration. The last few years have changed my perspective on life, on those suffering with mental, emotional and physical disabilities. That tug at my heart that I never had the opportunity to experience has now become a constant wrenching, pulling and yanking.
My husband is not the man he used to be physically or mentally. According to his doctors, he now has a mild form of mental retardation and the inability to remember. So we often have to repeat the same thing each morning, sometimes throughout the day. He has learned to dress himself again, although sometimes his outfits may not be the best choice. His problem solving abilities are now defunct. There are moments where he has behaviors similar to that of a temper tantrum like our kids. I watch him some mornings and I long for understanding. Some days I still cry before getting out of the car. Even more some days I feel as if I can no longer handle everything that's going on. But then God sends his subtle little reminders.
They say that the husband and wife are one, that one should complete the other. I say, they are right! According to society, my husband is a disabled person, not quite up to par or the same as others. On some level, they are correct. He is not the same as others. He wakes up grateful to be alive, grateful for his family. He doesn't complain. He is full of hugs, smiles, helping hands and unconditional love. It takes both sunshine and rain for a flower to bloom. There are some good days and there are some not so bright days, but I have been given the gift of growing. Each day life allows me to grow into a better person. I am afforded the opportunity to see unconditional love in action, so I can learn how to achieve that same level of love.
Is this the dream life that I fantasized about as a little girl? Not even close! Will I probably become overwhelmed again and wipe tears on the way to work? More than likely. I am human. The good news is when I do walk into the house and my husband tried to clean, tried to prepare dinner and tried to do whatever he could to make our family happy, all the frustrations fade. Life comes at you fast! I have learned to find the good and make the best of it. When I feel I have given all I have to give and I am drained down to nothing, he reminds me that he has given a lot more. I am also reminded that it was a lot harder for him to give so much and it took a lot more effort. I am also reminded of Paul's grandmother, who showered Paul with so much love that it radiated across the room simply from his smile.