Man Card played; Man Card lost

Tonight I have to surrender my Man Card.  I’m crying on and off.

Yes, it’s anticipation of our younger son moving into the special needs group home tomorrow and not being around here.

Yes, it’s relief after a couple of decades of care giving.

Yes, it’s just all kinds of pent up, ignored, overdue and otherwise not well processed feelings.

Started the day in a manly way.  My older son and I went to the local gun shop and looked at manly guns.

We went on the manly range and I rented a reasonably manly piece and shot some almost manly groupings on my targets.

We went to a manly brasserie and had manly fare including manly beer (fourth one from the top scrolling down).

Now I’m sitting around crying on and off.

I leave this here and sign off:

One plan and many question marks

The staff at our son’s new group home are encouraging us to have him there full time instead of just weekends.  People with autism benefit from (heck, generally insist upon) predictable order, and Joey needs greater regularity in the new place.

But for our part, Melissa (mom) had a good insight for keeping him close at this time of the year.  Joey loves Christmas, and to let him spend time in familiar company, decor and activities showed him “that things he loves are not going away.”

He’s having a very merry Christmas.   I can’t remember one more smiley and less moody.  Last night his brother and sister-in-law took him to dinner, and this picture reveals how much that meant to him.  He’s not one to smile for the camera, after all… Joey Tim Carly

Later they went out to visit some old friends and he was not happy to see them go.  He opened the drapes and watched them get into the car and even verbalized feelings about wanting them to come back in.

We get it, this inevitability of change.  But it is going to be some hard going in our hearts in the short term.

below zero


Accenting the emotions is an Arctic cold front sitting on us for the time being.  At first it was just our usual hard winter cold with blue skies and bright sun, but yesterday it went to bleak gray along with… with… well, I’ll let my Chevy do the talking.  I could start a post with “It was a dark and stormy night” and be only a tad melodramatic.

Work is kicking my butt.  We set a sales record in my little department but my body is not what it was and the aches and pains never seem to go away.  I’m not sleeping well stewing about Joey and work and bills and and and and.

But that’s another point in favor of making Joey’s transition happen.  Melissa and I are not getting younger and our skill set and energy for care giving are not going to improve.

The church family from our last place in California is suffering through several members’ deaths in recent months.  These were folks around our age and younger, and two were without warning.   So that’s more pull on our hearts and our minds are grappling with this life’s impermanence and fragility (yes, yes, another point in favor of getting on with Joey’s transition).

Then there’s the coming transition in our marriage.  Don’t even have my heart and head fully wrapped around what empty nest will be like.  How will we be when all the decorations come down and Joey is moved out and the flurry of holiday happenings is over and we’re sitting here staring at each other across years of deferred relationship?

Might as well end this with that question mark, since there are so many things in process, unfinished and unknown swirling through our lives right now.


Miss me yet?

Nah, if your life is like mine, you’re up to your posterior in reptiles.  Who cares if some dork blogs about stuff when you have more stuff than you can handle?

About a month ago I wrote happily about our son’s move into a group home.  Reports from the staff continue to be positive.  Heck, last weekend Joey was selectively communicative but smiley just the same when we asked him about the group’s trip to see Disney on Ice. (Random thought: with temperatures dropping here I could probably show a Disney movie in my backyard and call it Disney on Ice.  But I digress).

For now, we have him stay at the new place Friday night through Monday morning.  He spends the “work week” here with us.

So, what’s this like, this zone between empty nest and care giving?  It’s a bit of both.  No, a lot of both.  A word that my wife taught me comes to mind: Transition.  Of course I knew that word in some contexts, but she taught me about it as applied to childbirth, 

This is the hardest phase but also the shortest

Well, let’s hope it’s short.  I mean, the last “phase” was 23 years so this should be a flash in comparison.

Here are some stray things I’m observing and processing.  Hope they might be helpful to you if you are thinking about or in the midst of this kind of transition:

  • Yes, some chores go away.  But others pop up.  He’s technically a tenant now, so I’m writing his rent, utility and activity checks.  So all of a sudden I get extra of one of my favorite tasks, bill paying.  Yep, there’s a flurry of new paperwork in my life.
  • The peace and quiet and laid back pace when he’s not here are wonderful.  All that stuff you hoped/are hoping for?  Yep.  No middle of the night interruptions.  No bathroom accidents.  No holes drilled in your head by verbal perseveration about this and that.  No structuring your day around care giving routines. Coffee tastes better, hot strangers ask you out on dates, the moon is in the seventh house…  OK, I’m exaggerating.  But this big change is a real and overdue blessing.
  • Life continues to dole out rations of crud.  All the other stuff that you were ignoring comes into focus.  Our years-past-the-average-lifespan-of-her-breed dog is having various symptoms of her advanced age.  And so we have the discussion of spending lots of bucks to keep her going or to play the bad guy and have her put down.  Yes, the new freedom is nice.  But life continues to do its thing in your face.
  • Emotions bounce around.  And I mean for all of us.  The other day Joey kept bringing up “donuts and pizza,” a sweet dad and son routine we’ve been having on Saturdays for years.  He misses it.  When he vocalized it, it went right to my heart and it frigging tugged.  No, not tugged.  Applied a wrestling finishing move.  Mom reads the emotions in Joey’s eyes.  She can see he’s struggling with the change – not that he can’t handle the routines and activities of the new place, but that he’s homesick for our place.  So is the lesson that providing a loving home will come back to break your heart?  (Man, sorry, now I sound like sappy pop “Christmas” muzak.  But I digress, again.)
  • Challenging discussions come up.  Should our response to his objections be to immerse him into the group home more aggressively or to prolong his weekended status until he stops lamenting?
  • Holidays are a mixed bag.  The house is filled with familiar decorations and activities that Joey loves.  Having him home much of the week is, we hope, reassurance that life as he knows it isn’t over.  We’re still including him in fun with people he knows and adores (and who reciprocate that affection!)  But the emotional upheaval of a big transition in these tender times adds pangs of pain.  (Dang, this does sound like childbirth).

In other news, Joey brought home some seasonal arts and crafts pieces from his day program, among them this little wreath ornament:


It’s the only ornament on our tree right now.  We are having a bunch of friends over on an upcoming night to have pizza and other good stuff with Joey and to help us finish decorating the tree.

The green holds the hope of spring against the winter gloom. Transition is the short, painful phase that gives way to the birth of a new life.

Hope to share more soon.  Meanwhile, my prayer is that you find blessing in all of your transitions.

No, you’re not crazy.

Well, maybe you are.  But since care giving puts a whuppin’ on body, heart and mind over time there’s no surprise that our lives reflect the damage.

I’m currently reading Being Mortal but Atul Gawande.  The author is a surgeon who also writes outstanding prose that invites the lay person to look at medical issues and medical professionals to look at the human impact of their work.

Yesterday, I read his description of an adult daughter caring for her father,

Taking care of a debilitated, elderly person in our medicalized era is an overwhelming combination of the technological and the custodial… The burdens for today’s caregiver have actually increased from what they would have been a century ago.  Shelley had become a round-the-clock concierge/chauffeur/schedule manager/medication-and-technology troubleshooter, in addition to cook/maid/attendant, not to mention income earner.  Last minute cancellations by health aides and changes in medical appointments played havoc with her performance at work, and everything played havoc with her emotions at home… 

She felt her sanity slipping.

Misery (or is it madness?) loves company, and I was reminded of what I wrote in the intro to Raising A Child With Autism,

Maybe you are an amateur trying to be caregiver, therapist, clinician, advocate, mommy, daddy and everything else to a loved one living with autism. You feel like a lone idiot with a leaky hose when the job needs a landscape company.

So if you’re out there feeling depressed, or enraged, or exhausted, or or or or… just repeat after Dr. Sheldon Cooper:

sheldon not crazy

Flashing before my eyes

Not my life, but my son’s life.  That’s what flashing before my eyes.

Today we have the meeting to set up his move to a group home.  All of the staff will be there, both the folks from his day program and from the house where he will live.

It’s a positive thing, of course, something for which we’ve (my wife and I) waited for a long time.

I can’t speak for her feelings, and I can only guess at our son’s, so I’ll shift to first person here.

I realize that my role in my son’s life is not over, but much of what I can do and shape is.  I’ve formed what I can in his life, second guessed myself to the point of agony, been critiqued and judged plenty from without, as well as encouraged and supported at precious points along the way.

I can look back on…


JOEY Yucaipa


…who Joey was…



Daves mom and joe



…who he’s become…







…and ponder who he’ll be.





Something of me travels with him, of course.  And I pray that it is whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable (Philippians 4:8).  God knows and every day reminds me that there’s plenty of me that needs to be ignored and forgotten, and I can only pray that little of that drags along with Joey.

So a new leg of the journey commences, over territory we’ve not been and over which we’ll have ever diminishing control.  But ain’t that life.

An old priest I knew always included a warning in his message at the baptism of a child.  You (parents) know that you’re handing your child over to God now.  You’re no longer in charge of the outcomes.

As my life flashes before my eyes, and Joey’s plays across my imagination, I’ll trust that warning, and know that all of our lives are in the hands of the One who’s cared for us beyond all deserving.

 They will declare,  “The Lord is just!  He is my rock!  There is no evil in him!”  (Psalm 92:15, NLT)

Killed by life

The idea of grieving the living isn’t new to me.  A grief counselor opened it up at an autism conference I attended years ago.  There are crossovers between disability and death – dreams are lost, so are familiar comforts and joys.

Today I bumped into a good article on this topic, from the American Academy of Bereavement.  In a 2015 piece entitled Unconventional Grief: Grieving Someone Alive, AAB shares good insight,

jesus-weptThis form of grief, just like grieving someone who is deceased, does not change the level of attachment to the person. Simply, this person is no longer acting how they were before and have had a dramatic shift in personality… Unlike when someone dies, you are unlikely to experience positive emotions while grieving someone alive. When someone passes, you are surrounded by the comfort of their loved ones and are often able to look at the joy of their life. This rarely happens with unconventional or ambiguous grief. Just like when someone dies, you are likely to be overcome with sadness. However, the reminder of your sadness is constant…

The article focuses on sudden change in an adult, such as drug addiction or the onset of mental illness.  For caregivers of children with developmental disabilities, the loss isn’t so much who the person used to be, but who you dreamed of them becoming.  There’s grief either way.

Read the whole thing.  There are some positive suggestions for the grieving caregiver, including this one which has been so true of living with our son’s autism,

Open yourself up to change. One of the hardest parts of grieving someone alive is that you are forced to accept a changed relationship that you do not want. It may be difficult for you to look on a loved one in a different life, but you may be able to experience a rewarding relationship with them in new ways than before. Focusing on finding joy in your new relationship will help keep your mental state positive rather than gloomy.

Finding joy in Joey-as-Joey, rather than as the Joey of our daydreams, has been an essential care giving tool and its own reward.

And Jesus opened his mouth and taught them, saying:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  (Matthew 5:2-4)


Stop and stare

Today’s e-mail regarding a residential placement for our 23 year old son with autism:

Unfortunately, from speaking to XXXXX there will not be any pre-move meeting to discuss potential dates to move Joey into YYYYY. This is due to being short staff and not having staff in place at YYYYY to best serve Joey safely. According to XXXXX, staffing should be figured out by mid October I was told.

It was only a few weeks ago that we were given a tour of a place, told we had five days to decide, decided, and then received an offer for him to move in.

Now, the whole thing is


How about a little One Republic while life’s on hold?

Stop and stare
You start to wonder why you’re here not there
And you’d give anything to get what’s fair
But fair ain’t what you really need
Oh, can you see what I see


Just caught some stats from across the pond,

  • Research by Sense has shown that up to 50% of disabled people will be lonely on any given day…
  • A report by Carers UK revealed that 8 out of 10 carers have felt lonely or isolated as a result of looking after a loved one.

That’s right, half of people with special needs experience loneliness in the course of a day.  But on top of that, 80% of those who care for them feel lonely or isolated – and care giving is cited as the source of the emotion.

We get that here.  Care giving wipes out spontaneity, for one thing.  A friend calls and says, “Hey, wanna go down to the bar and watch the game?” and all you can say is “I can’t” or, at best, “Well, I can watch the first quarter but then have to get home.”

Social life withers because the needs of the people in our care keep us pinned down with tasks or plain old being “on watch, just in case.”

When some neighbors invited us to join them around a fire pit on a cool evening, Melissa and I had to take turns. One of us stayed in to watch our son, the other socialized, then we switched. We couldn’t have fun as a couple.

And many folks are uncomfortable coming into a care giving environment, and friends or family who are willing can come only so often without being turned into exhausted, lonely care givers themselves.

Tony Gaines Starz

Tim (right) and his lifetime pal.

We just enjoyed a great weekend.  A childhood friend (of Tim’s) and his wife spent two days here as part of their drive around America.  They didn’t ask much of us – in fact, they were clear that they wanted to see us, not go sightseeing around Sioux Falls.

So we relaxed and shared great memories and ate and laughed and talked about what was on our hearts and minds and… were anything but lonely.  It was wonderful.

Melissa StarzOur son with autism, Joey, was his usual self, staying on the periphery until he was comfortable with the strangers.  You can see the “I’m not sure about this” posture in this picture.  But notice that he’s not detached – he’s looking right into the camera (eye contact is elusive when autism is in the house).  Melissa (middle) is obviously not feeling lonely, stressed or like a caregiver for the moment.  (Note: being a caregiver doesn’t mean you can’t be cute, too.)

The point is that any and all of you who know families in care giving mode – and by that I don’t mean just with autism, but Alzheimer’s, chronic illness, aged parents, disability and just about any situation that can confine one person and others to provide care – have great power to intrude on loneliness and isolation.

YOU are a gift.  Yeah, it’s great when a neighbor clears my driveway in winter.  That saves me some stress and strain.  But even greater is time to laugh and talk and BS about stuff.  All of that human social glue that care giving dries up, you can spill afresh by your time with caregivers and those in our care.

And don’t forget the goatherds.  They get lonely, too.


You open your email and…

On behalf of the Placement Committee, I would like to offer a tour at [a special needs group home] to Joey Fountain.

I like to write but all of the descriptions of my reaction to this message get trite. You know, my jaw hit the floor, my eyes popped out of my head kind of stuff.

Joey, our son with autism, is 23 now.  We’ve hoped for and dreaded this opportunity for years.  I can’t blog a whole lot on it at the moment because our thoughts and emotions are bouncing off the walls (man, this is getting cheesier by the keyboard stroke).

[Let me throw in one practical suggestion.  If you are a Google user, Google Docs is a great resource.  My wife started a document with our growing list of questions and stuff to get done as we approach the transition meetings and the move itself.  It auto-saves, so you can’t lose stuff by closing it in an emotional haze.  You can use email to invite in others (you know, your spouse and other care giving ally types), so they can open it on their screen and add to it as well.

If you are awake all night stewing about the issue (as are we), you can just add to the document and your allies will be able to see it when they open the document later.  No need to make copies and then more copies as you revise – you can all be online editing together in real time.]

In Raising a Child with Autism, I shared a lovely little vignette about Melissa raising gardenias and then wrote,

Giving away gardenias hardly compares to the “giveaway” in our future.  Joey is on a waiting list to move into a group residence.  It is uncomfortable to think about looking into his bedroom, just down the hall from ours, and seeing an empty space.  Like Melissa’s gardenias, he’s grown in beautiful ways.  And the time is coming to let him go.

That was composed in reflective calm, when the “waiting list” was just a vague background reality, something that wouldn’t really mean anything until…  until a couple of weeks ago when I opened my email and there it was, specific, real and hulking in the foreground of our lives.

I’m sure Melissa and I will share more here as we walk through this together.  Your prayers and encouragement mean a great deal.

For now, here’s a sweet picture of Joey, taken one 4th of July in Sioux Falls.  We know holidays can be a challenge for caregivers – here’s hoping that your family “fireworks” stay far off in the sky.

Smiling Joey