Empty Nest Weekend #1

Our son with autism spent his first weekend in his new group home.

It was a flurry of activity for mom and dad; writing rent and utility checks, buying furniture (hint – if you have a used hotel furniture place in town, you can save a ton), hanging curtains, buying extra clothes and toiletries…

Joey bed frame LOL

This sign on the bed frame box made me laugh.  It is the mockery of all of our precise planning.  You just KNOW it can’t be true.

Still, the reports back from the staff were more than encouraging.

Joey slept well in the new room.  That’s big.  One reason we’ve been unable to travel much with him is that he can’t sleep in strange places.  He gets up and wanders all night, then inflicts all of the consequences of sleep deprivation on us the next day.

Joey room Thurman

It helped that he’d been to this place on a past respite weekend and that we brought in some familiar furnishings from our house, such as his own blankets, the desk for his laptop, his rolling office chair and the cross you can spot in the middle of this picture –>

 

 

Joey chose to socialize rather than isolate.  Even with his computer and a VCR available in his room, he hung out in common areas with the other guys.  That news did our hearts good.  He’s going to have a community there.  He’s not feeling lost.

Of course we spent our first night as empty nesters fretting and pacing and crying.

Nah, actually, we went out for sushi.  And a Sake Bomb.  Proud to say I downed mine faster than a young husband and wife competing with me down the bar.

Caregiving.  It makes you hardcore.

Joey post move Sake Bomb

 

The Hamper of Love

Our son’s move to a group home is becoming like a wedding, with the exception that our family has someone moving out instead of in.

Like a wedding, the big plans all looked great on paper, but as the day draws near the details multiply like pick-your-favorite-thing-that-overpopulates.

Today was shopping for toiletries and some extra clothes for him to have at the new place.

20171104_160224Here’s the pile at midday.  I was proud of finding some sales and bargains.  I also rented a truck (no, it’s not in the laundry basket) to move furniture next week.

This morning was sweet.  His older brother and his wife were in town en route to a real wedding, and we all went out to breakfast.  Joey sat between them and smiled a lot.  Melissa remarked on how adult he’s become about social settings.  He doesn’t have to sit bookended by mom and dad.  He uses his fork and spoon like a pro (still don’t trust him with knives).  He interacts, in his own way, with those around him – when his orange juice arrived he wanted to use a straw, so he handed one to his sister in law to unwrap for him.  Yeah, he’s never gonna be cool with fine motor skills.

The weird thing is that as his moving day approaches, he’s increasingly fun to be with.  Is that just because we know the day is at hand and we’re relaxing?  Or, does HE know and is he angling for a sympathy extension at our place?

It’s on

Here’s the latest on our 23 year old son with autism’s transition to a group residence:

Yes, we have a pre-move team meeting next week and a move in date of November 1, per this message from the Case Manager,

Hello Team,

Joey and I would like to invite you to his ISP Pre-move meeting.

Date: Friday, September 22nd, 2017
Time: 3:30pm
Location: XXXXX Conference Room 3

The purpose of this meeting is to discuss supports Joey will need during his transition to the XXXXX house.

Melissa (mom) is working with Joey on feeling more comfortable with his new computer, which will move with him. He hates change so this was a heck of a time for his old desktop to go kaput.

His most recent antic was to unplug the new laptop, take it off the desk and plop it by its purchase box to say, “Send it back.”

Melissa coached him on being more at home with it, and they had a good discussion one recent morning before his bus arrived and a good hands on lesson last night.

I’m off today and we are planning to go to a sports bar that Joey likes because it is roomy and has great burgers.

Which gave Melissa leverage when he didn’t want his computer lesson. All she had to say was “Working for cheeseburgers.” He complied.

It’s on. The computer is on. The move is on.

Meanwhile the dog did some neurotic paw gnawing last night, opened a wound, and thus cancelled her scheduled bath and grooming.

That’s care giving. Deal with one issue, and the next one comes up from somewhere, somehow.

Don’t Call Us

Our publisher’s site features a bit from our book today.

If you are grappling with frustration, especially if it’s born of perfectionism and the constant setbacks of care giving, you might find this little selection useful.

pathetic-7If our efforts to raise houseplants have been hit and miss, imagine some of the misadventures of raising a son with autism. Caregiving provides instant and constant experiences of inadequacy. Just as we’ve tried various strategies to keep the plants growing, we’ve sought out an array of therapies, settings, medications, specialists, diets and more to bring out the best in Joey’s life. And even with all that help, there are plenty of withered efforts to report.

It’s not all gloom and doom.  Some of the spiritual uplift (we hope) of the book comes in as well.

Hoping you have some good growth and blooming amid all your fails and weeds today.

A dish best served with a smiley-face flower

The news is that agency staffing issues will delay our son with autism’s move to a group home (which seemed imminent about ten minutes ago) until mid-October.

Meanwhile, he’s descended upon us with increased nagging and bargaining for his Christmas list (yes, he starts early).  Mom and Dad are both on the ragged edge right now after bouts of illness and long work hours, so the din of his demands is a mental and emotional pummeling.

Yesterday we began to dish up a big ol’ plate of vengeance.  He came home from his day program with this very sweet guide to respectful communications:

20170824_173707THINK Before You Speak

T – is it True?

H – is it Helpful?

I – is it Important?

N – is it Necessary?

K – is it Kind?

BTW we stipulate that this is sound advice, not just for empathy-impaired people with autism but also for married couples, workplace relationships, social media, etc. etc. etc.  The world could be a much better place – Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29, The New Testament)

And yes, that’s a rack of his daily meds at the bottom of the picture.  I’m so tired that I gave up on the photo cropping function and I don’t much care.

So we used this against him with great delight,

Joey:  Be a good boy there will be presents?

Hateful parents:  Joey, is it NECESSARY to talk about presents today?

Joey:  When it’s winter there will be presents.

Atrocious parents:  Joey, is it HELPFUL to talk about this before the snow comes?

Joey:  When the snow comes there will be presents.

Should-be-arrested-and-executed-parents:  Joey, is it KIND to keep talking about presents?

Hey, you find respite where you can get it.  That’s care giving.  And it makes even a smiley faced flower stink some days.

 

What’s left

We are almost sitcom laugh track worth ’round here today.

Joey, our 23 year old with autism, has a nasty cough and is home in a NyQuil haze.  He’s intoning Disney movie lines in a voice that sounds like the audio of a slow motion replay.

Melissa (mom/caregiver) is suffering from a double shot – one shot of staying up all night to care for Joey and the other a shot of recurring pain from a chronic illness.  She’s closed her eyes for a few minutes (btw I think she’s pretty when she sleeps but that’s just editorializing and so I’ll move on).

Tyrion Aftermath-of-the-attack

Tyrion Lannister visits our living room today.  From here.

I (Tim – dad/caregiver) am sittin’ here typing this while my eyes keep closing and head drops on the verge of sleep.  I have the day off but I’m sleep deprived from some kind of phantom leg pain (possible arthritis although disc problem is another one the doctor threw in to consider).

We are all beat up in one way or another, but not by one another.  If anything, there’s a tenderness in the house that is surprising given how cranky pain can make any one of us.

When all else fails (and hey, what doesn’t when you’re a caregiver?), your kindness remains a gift to those in your care.  On days when all of you are hurting, you find out that everyone in the household is a care giver and a recipient of care at the same time.

Letting another’s head rest on your shoulder is a successful intervention, “How are you?” is deep communication and “Sit down, I’ll get that for you” is heroic service.

Sometimes what’s left is you, and you’re plenty.

I sent a prayer request to a friend in the midst of our family sick day, and what he sent back says it pretty well,

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)

Taking the show on the road

Sunday I preached at a church in Watertown, South Dakota.  That’s about 2 hours north of us.

Because our son with autism has had a string of sleepless (read active, boisterous) nights, and my wife has been up with him so I could sleep enough to work, I decided to chance some chaos and take Joey on the road with me so Melissa could sleep.

The risk is that Joey is an excellent traveler but a terrible arrive-er.  He’s fine on a long car ride or even a plane flight.  He loves looking out windows-in-motion.  But once at the destination, he starts saying, Go back to Joey’s house and doesn’t want to take part in the doings at the new location, at least while it’s strange to him.

On the way up to Watertown, I played music he likes.  He’s a big fan of The Guess Who.  He likes all kinds of music but he’s especially attentive to vocals, and Burton Cummings is no slouch.  I’ve had this Guess Who collection to play in the car for him for more than ten years.  It was important when we moved halfway across the country back in 2004.

20170723_100133Soooo… we arrive at church and Joey is calm but not social.  One person said, Joey, you can sit down wherever you want.  Which of course led to him sitting in the pastor’s seat, unwilling to budge.  The folks weren’t bothered, and they got me a matching chair.

Joey was calm throughout the service and endured listened to my sermon.  I sat next to him when other people offered readings or prayers, and he was responsive to my requests that he use indoor voice when others were speaking.

20170723_110957After the service, he wasn’t interested in visiting, even when pastry appeared.

<–This picture presents Joey’s version of what church-types call fellowship.

Again, he wasn’t agitated.  He just looked out onto the sunny day while the rest of us swilled coffee.

He was patient while I signed a copy of my book for a church member and visited with folks for a few minutes.

I was blessed by one person’s account of having worked at a state facility.  She pointed out the great changes in a very short span of years – it wasn’t long ago that such facilities were, by design, a way for families to keep members with special needs out of sight and out of mind.  Now, family caregivers are more active participants and advocates in the lives of their loved ones, even those who are in institutional settings.

I offered to take Joey to lunch, and listed some of his favorite foods to help him choose.  He resonated with quesadillas, so off to Guadalajara we drove.

20170723_114044Here’s Joey downing some tortilla chips while waiting for the quesadilla to come.  Glad he was in bright primary blue – he fit right into the restaurant’s decor.

We had a very nice lunch and drive back, with more Guess Who.

All in all, it was a sweet day.  Mom got some overdue and well deserved rest; dad and son had an enjoyable road trip.  The fear of chaos didn’t pan out and a few minor misadventures at church were more humorous than anxious.

In case you’re wondering, here’s Joey’s favorite Guess Who track,

Loneliness

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

Medical Meet & Greet

I need you to soothe my head
Turn my blue heart to red
(the late Robert Palmer. More later)

Our allies in care giving are precious. The folks who coordinate and provide services to our son with autism (Allies! Yay!) were quite helpful with recommendations for a new primary physician (Allies!  Yay!) to see our guy. I want to distill some of that experience in ways that I hope will be useful.

  • Let the person in your care help direct the search.  Note his/her day to day preferences.  Is your loved one more comfortable with men or women?  Younger or older adults?  Will the distance to the doctor matter – how does the person in your care tolerate travel?  Any and all subjective impressions can help you seek out the right doctor.
  • Know your needs.  We wanted a younger doctor who with potential to take care of our son for years to come.  We wanted a practice where every appointment would be with that actual doctor, not a Physician’s Assistant. (That’s not a knock on PAs, it’s just that our son does better with familiar people rather than serial strangers).
  • Ask around.  We do it all the time for all kinds of goods and services, so ask for recommendations.  We made an appointment to meet a particular doctor based on recommendations from professional staff we trust.  Friends who are caregivers can give you good insights from their experiences, too.  (You can tell I’m an aging caregiver.  I prefer old school “human intelligence” gathering to online stuff like Yelp.  I want to know the source of a review or recommendation, and I’ve had professional friends burned by crummy reviews made up by crummy people.)
  • Schedule a meet & greet.  Start building a relationship before there’s an emergency or acute problem.  We made an appointment for our son just to meet the new doctor.  I don’t want to be flippant about this.  I realize that for some of you, insurance issues might inhibit you from making appointments of this sort, especially if you are going to check out more than one doctor.  Our son’s disability coverage made this doable for us.
  • Ask questions and share info.  Don’t consider any question rude or stupid, or any anecdote about the person in your care to be trivial.  My wife was clear about our son’s resistance, up to and including violence, to short tempered people or while in a post-seizure state, and she asked the doctor about his ability to remain calm and patient.
  • Observe.  The person in your care needs to be at the meet and greet.  You will sense dynamics with the service provider right away.  The new doctor did the normal stethoscope thingy on our son’s back and chest.  Our son pushed the stethoscope away – but with a big smile.  That is our son’s way of bonding.  He goofs on people he likes.  He wasn’t pushing it away in discomfort or anger, but in order to establish a kind of play time with the doctor.  This was a good sign.

I hope some of this is helpful.  There’s the saying about “being your own advocate” when interacting with the medical world.  Caregivers need to practice that for those in our care as well.

OK, I said I’d get back to Robert Palmer. Here’s your dose of 70s music: