May 162017
 

Remarks from Carl Shepherd’s wake, May 14, 2017– Maureen asked me to share a few words tonight. My name is Amy Abbott, and I’ve known Carl for about ten years and known Maureen for nearly thirty years.

The day that Carl and Maureen married was a happy day. I think everyone can agree they each found a fantastic partner.

Carl was, of course, a farm boy from White County. When I met him, we immediately connected as three of my four grandparents lived in White County. My maternal grandfather was born in Reynolds, and my paternal grandparents “set up housekeeping” in Idyville (or Idaville if you are not a local.)

Carl lived a rich rural childhood that influenced his entire life, and he brought these characteristics into his marriage with Maureen.

As a teenager, Carl was an officer in both 4-H and FFA. For those of you who don’t know, 4-H is a national organization, primarily for rural children ages ten to eighteen, that promotes community service, integrity, and learning.  The four “Hs” in 4-H stand for head, health, hands and heart.

While it pains me praise that University in West Lafayette, Carl obviously had to have the smarts or a brilliant head to get through Purdue University.

He struggled with health challenges, particularly in the last year, but he kept his mind healthy and active.  A good fishing outing, dinner with any of his many special friends, traveling with Maureen (which often including fishing, be it on an Arkansas lake or the Gulf of Mexico), studying the Bible with his men’s group, or enjoying his beautiful yard.

The last two hands and heart fully speak to me about Carl’s life.

To build things is a gift.  Carl was gifted.

In all his business dealings, he enjoyed his work and what he could do for his customers. Not everyone is blessed with hands that work in this way.  I know he was on the roof of Brenna and Jamie’s garage just a couple of weeks ago, giving his gift.

When Carl died, the doctors told us his heart was large.

His heart had to be that big for all he held dear.  His lifelong friends who supported him through Shirley’s illness and other challenges. I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone who had so many friends and knew so many people.  Several days after he died I was having lunch at Jaya’s with several business associates who didn’t really know each other and represented different organizations that had nothing to do with Carl.  Both of them knew him.

His love of the arts which was evident in his home and in conversation and in community support.

His family, both his family of origin and the new one he fully embraced when he married their mother.  His heart was big enough to become Grandpa Carl to Addie and Michael Dylan, and an excellent stepfather to Michael and Brenna.

Just weeks ago, he stood at the altar of Holy Rosary with the family as Addie made her First Communion.

His heart brought things to Maureen’s life that I could have predicted.  Like chickens and an ornery and loud rooster. He encouraged and supported the grandchildren in 4-H and showed up at their events, coming full circle to his own childhood.

Carl was not perfect.  I sometimes questioned his fashion choice of cargo shorts, and he often told some questionable jokes.

My father and brother, being graduates of that University in West Lafayette, really enjoyed Carl.  I won’t forget one day when my dad called me and said, “You won’t believe who we ran into at the Louisville Sheep Show.”  You guessed it, Farmer Maureen and Carl.  I didn’t see that one coming.

We will miss you, Carl.

Carl’s obituary is here.

 

 

May 062017
 

Published on Medium, May 5, 2017 — A friend and her husband traveled on a cruise ship to celebrate their April birthdays. A week ago my friend’s husband died near the Bahamas.

I do not wish this horror on anyone. Not do I speculate on the whys and wherefores. For the record, I don’t think things happen for a reason.

My friend is home now, surrounded by loved ones. She prepares for her husband’s wake and service, handles his business affairs, gets back into the routine of daily life.

We who love her have no idea how to help. I’ve ordered pies for next weekend when her extended family show up. I’ll make a huge kettle of vegetable soup she can use now or freeze for later.

I stumble over words for her and for her local family members. I listen and send “I love you” texts and ask what I can do.

Writers often tackle grief in all its glory. For me, the best description of this personal sorrow came from a non-writer who wasn’t trying to be introspective. After a nasty divorce, a family member helped me understand that I cannot walk in his shoes.

He asked me, “Do you remember how you felt when your basement flooded?”

I remembered. Until we got a commercial grade pump, we grappled with several basement floods. We spent thousands of dollars on special gutters, a systems dug into the floor, finally buying the Mother of All Pumps.

He asked me how I felt when I received little sympathy about my flooded basement. I told him it made me so angry because people didn’t have any idea what an inch of water can do to a basement, running under drywall, sometimes ruining the carpet and pad, dislocating tile, and even ruining appliances. Just an inch of water can spread out of an entire basement seeping into hidden places.

I got it. Grief is like that.

No one can see where all the water goes. No one but the person with the clean-up job sees the full impact of the event. One can easily overlook the veiled places. If your basement has never flooded, it’s easy to just gloss over the entire event.

By no means am I comparing a household mess to the loss of a loved one.

My friend will likely be okay. She has dealt with other horrendous losses in her life, and remains a strong person.

Over the next months and years, she will explore the hidden places and find the damage. I will listen and not advise. For better or for worse, my partner is alive. I do not walk in her shoes today. I will bring pies and make soup.

Apr 042017
 

April 4, 2017 — Today is our son’s 27th birthday. What richness Alex has brought to our lives! He is a wonderful person, full of laughter and intelligence and compassion and love.

As we celebrate his birthday, I’m also reminded of another anniversary.

  • Twenty-five years ago today, we took our son to the Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center for the first time.
  • Twenty-five years ago today, we heard the word autism for the first time.
  • Twenty-five years ago today, our lives — and his — changed forever.

A much-wanted baby, he took his sweet time, showing up nearly two weeks late. His infancy typically processed until eighteen months.

We visited my brother and his family in Iowa. Our nephew, three months younger, was running circles around our boy. Our nephew came early and weighed four-and-a-half-pounds, but at 15 months was stronger, faster, and even said a few words.

While it is never a good idea to compare cousins or siblings, seeing the boys together punched us in the gut. Our nephew nearly solved equations, compared to our son. Alex, the larger of the two, was awkward and had no cogent vocabulary.

Jerome

Sitting in a high chair during our visit, he looked at my brother’s video camera and said what sounded like, “Hello, Uncle Andy.” That was the last thing we understood him to say until several years later.

That trip woke us up. We noticed Alex loved ceiling fans and watched for minutes at a time. He was highly impatience if he lost a particular toy, his precious Toddle Tots. We named all of them. He had more than one “Jerome,” which he clung to so tightly he rubbed their eyes off. He drank only from his red sippy cup with a particular lid. His eye contact was poor, and while he interacted with others at daycare, his play patterns were unusual. (Later in his pre-school days, a teacher told me he liked to have “meetings.”  She thought this was odd. I thought it was normal for the only child of two parents with lots of meetings.)

I consulted our family doctor who told me I was “a nervous mother and I should get over it.” Over the next few months, our son’s behavior and actions differed from the other children we knew.

After several similar visits with our family doctor, I had had it. I sought a female physician (whom I still see). On our first visit, she suggested we have our son evaluated for developmental issues.

On April 4, 1992, we walked into the Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center for a lengthy evaluation. Alex was screened by a visiting neurologist from St. Louis Children’s Hospital (whom he would see several more times) and physical, occupational, and speech therapists. The specialists felt he had PDD-NOS, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified. In 1992, the word “spectrum” had not come into use.

All we heard was the “A” word, autism, about which we knew nothing. We left the Rehab Center with more questions than answers. Would he ever talk? Did he understand the language? Would he always live with us? What was his ability to learn?

The Rehab Center recommended weekly therapies, and within a year, he also started their therapeutic pre-school. He improved, slowly.

At the Rehab Center, all three of us learned more than Alex’s therapies taught. Our son was by far the least impaired person in his classes.  Many children had severe physical defects, used wheelchairs, and lacked support at home. I am certain Alex’s empathy as an adult derives from learning about others with differing abilities and backgrounds as a small child.

Language came fully along by age four. The child who screamed for his sippy cup now read everything to us, from words on television to signs at Sam’s Club. Many of his behavioral issues may have been caused by his frustration. We believe he fully understood language and read very early, but his inability to communicate made him furious.

At his pre-school graduation in 1995, he spoke to the crowd. “My name is Alexander Abbott, and I’m going to kindergarten at Chandler Elementary School.” His vocabulary was well ahead of his years, yet his ability to speak was still halting and stilted. He stayed in special education until second grade, also receiving an IEP for speech until fourth grade.

His challenges were more social after early elementary school, and those are his stories to tell. We are grateful he had friends from Scouting, who sometimes pulled him out of a bully’s harm. I neither want to maximize or minimize his issues.  Likely, he has Asperger Syndrome, with its bundle of impaired social skills and understanding.

Today he is a college graduate working and living in Washington D.C. His life is rich with friends and activities, kayaking and hiking on weekends, enjoying baseball and board games and nights out with pals. Early intervention from the Rehab Center gave him a self-awareness most neurotypical people lack. He knows his limitations and works through them, which is more than most people do. Unless you know him well, you likely won’t know he is on the spectrum.

On my desk, I have his last Jerome, a late model with eyes intact. I keep it there as a reminder of how fortunate Alex was to have dozens of teachers, therapists, and mentors who care about him.

Happy birthday, son. We love you, as the song says, just the way you are.

 

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