We ran into a good friend this morning at Mass. Her face was red from crying. She explained that her father-in-law had died. I told her how sorry I was, and asked how her 12-year-old son was handling losing his grandfather. She said, “his faith is so much stronger than ours, and so he is handling it well. He knows his grandfather is in a better place.” I knew just what she means.
I lost my own father in 1995, and then my mother in 2002. Movie Boy never knew his grandfather (he was born two years after he died) but he had a remarkably strong relationship with my mother, his Grandma. Which was quite a tribute to her, as we lived 6000 miles away from her and most of their relationship was built on phone conversations. Which is quite a feat when you are dealing with any 5-year-old child, but an autistic, mostly non-verbal child? Remarkable. My mother would quite literally carry entire conversations as Movie Boy just listened on his end of the phone. No one else did this for him. They preferred the give and take of a usual phone conversation, they needed the feedback to feel like they were getting something out of the conversation. And, admittedly, it was hard to tell what he was getting out of the conversation because he did not provide any significant feedback. And so the few phone conversations he had with peopl would be short. But my mother had the patience of a saint with her only grandchild and forged a relationship with him on that phone line. She knew it was communication even though only one of them was talking.
About the time he turned 5, I approached our then-Parish Priest about Movie Boy’s sacraments. We are Catholic and most Catholic children start a two-year cycle of catechism in the first grade that culminates in receiving the Sacraments of Reconcilation and First Communion at the end of second grade. I wanted this for Movie Boy. The Parish Priest told me it would probably not be possible for Movie Boy to receive his sacraments, because as a child with autism he was “probably not capable of the intuitive thinkng required for understanding faith.”
I was incensed. I immediately switched parishes, where we found a much more welcoming community and inclusion. We attended this parish while Movie Boy was in kindergarten, and then we moved to Virginia where he started catechism in first grade with his peers. I didn’t want my son in an environment that didn’t fully accept him, and we have been careful to choose where we worship.
But I worried. I worry about a lot of things with Movie Boy, and that priest’s words rang in my ears for months.
In the meantime, Ben Ten was born, and he was baptized at our new and welcoming parish, and my mother came to the ceremony. I have wonderful pictures of her with her two grandsons outside of that lovely church.
A month after she returned home, I received word that my mother was in the ICU. We flew home to be with her. After three long weeks in the ICU, my mother passed away. Movie Boy was in kindergarten. He spent these weeks knowing his grandmother was sick, stuck in the waiting room of the ICU with his 2-month-old brother and stepfather while I sat vigil with my mother. It was a sad time for everyone. I wasn’t sure if any child could understand the seriousness of what was going on. Movie Boy didn’t say much, but he really never did say much about any those days.
The night my mother passed away, after we all hugged and cried and discussed what-comes-next, my husband and my sons and I all got in the car for a long drive in the cold New Jersey night back to my mother’s home. We were all in stunned silence, even Ben Ten as a baby seemed to understand the weight of the moment and was quiet.
Light snow flurries began to land on the windshield. For a moment, I considered pointing them out to my Hawaii-born Movie Boy. But I just did not have the strength at that moment to break the silence. So I watched quietly as the flurries covered the windshield and then were wiped away.
And then Movie Boy spoke up.
“Grandma is in Heaven. She sent the snow to let us know.”
In that moment I knew that priest was so wrong. I also knew that my mother was in a better place. Movie Boy’s faith was so strong, he knew better than all of us what was going on, with or without the words to tell us.