Susan's Blog

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sweet Nathaniel

Seem to come and go…
— Allmans

As I write this, I feel vomity guilt rise in my throat, but it is true: I go through my days mostly not thinking about Nat, except stray moments. I walk past his door and notice how he makes his bed now that he’s been living at the House. I see his empty chair at the head of the table, where we put him back when Ben could not stand to face him, so bad was the hate, anger, grief, whatever stew of emotions he felt.

When I suddenly do think of him, my heart lurches. How did I not think of him, that moment before? How can I have dropped the thread?

I always felt bad about the seat-change in our dining room. I know how Ben felt. I don’t know how Nat felt. Did Nat pick up on Ben’s hostility? I think Ben made him skittish, at very least. I never knew what to say to ease the pain between them. I did a terrible job of it. The flood of happiness and little-boy bounce that Ben exhibits is just golden to me, a light laugh, a blessing from God. My own happiness, my freedom. Max’s freedom to just be the crabby grunting teenager, no guilt. It was all born of Nat leaving, which just rips me open, like Prometheus: always healed the next time I’m with Ben, Max, or teaching my class, or changing plans just like that, or letting lights stay on and handbags stay open. I’m always freshly lacerated when I think of why.

I have the pressure of tears behind my eyes and my brow has been furrowed most of the late afternoon, my lowest time. I think that what happened was I went for a run and as I rounded the two-mile point, “Sweet Melissa” came on, which was the first song on my Labor Tape. I know I’ve said this before. That song, that song. It is the song that reminds me of my early labor, the Braxton-Hicks, the warm-up contractions prior to giving birth to Nat. I wondered if I was having a girl, contrary to all signs. I had seen him in a dream — laughing, with bright blond hair, in my sister’s bedroom in my parents’ home in Connecticut — yet I still thought I was having a girl. We never had the later-term ultrasound, I don’t know why. We had so much confidence in my baby’s health, and mine.

So Sweet Melissa, in late October, is my Nat song and my Nat time of year. His birth day was November 15, 1989.

I ran around that bend and I felt my face clench into misery, even with the bright blue sky and the light rhythmic breathing of a perfect run. The tears I cried mixed with my sweat and I kept clearing them away because I didn’t want people to see, and wonder about the idiot who cried while she ran.

Just like maybe some of you wonder about the idiot who just can’t get over that her firstborn moved out. Mawkish, maudlin me. But I don’t care. I still worry. I still hurt. I still think of things he might be thinking. And I don’t know, I don’t know. This isn’t about evidence, reports from the staff, his teachers, my own eyes. This is in my stupid fat unseeing heart. I don’t know if he’s wondering if he’ll ever live fulltime at home, ever again. If he’s wondering why I gave him so little warning about moving out. I was so selfish, thinking only that I wanted to preserve the peace and not get him all anxious and aggressive again. I am so afraid of the return of the aggression. The absence of the aggression means that so many doors are open to him. He can go anywhere, outside, do anything, with others, and it seems to me that he likes that, the way he smiles when I drop him off at Social Group. Those are his dudes, his peeps.

But I don’t want to think about the aggression. I can’t stop thinking about Nat and how it still hurts, the parts I didn’t get right for him. And just missing all the parts, all of him.


Oh, Susan. You sound very much like one of my (online) friends who lost one of her (two) autistic sons. Her feelings were so very similar to yours (even though your situations are very different): relief mingled with intense guilt and pain when she noticed how much easier everyday life had become since her son’s death.

I’ll tell you the same thing I told her. Take all the time you need to feel what you are feeling, to work through the grief. Every feeling you have is valid. As much as I know how illogical your guilt is (you did nothing wrong), I understand it and can sympathize.

Just know that it’s okay to enjoy the peace that has come to your family since Nat moved out. It is okay to exhale, to enjoy the simple things you couldn’t enjoy before. It doesn’t mean you love Nat any less. It certainly doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or a bad mother.

You have to work through the grief. Take all the time you need. Just know that you are a good mother and that feeling good about Nat moving out is also okay and perfectly normal.

— added by ASDmomNC on Monday, October 27, 2008 at 7:16 am

All I can say is I am 100% certain I’d be feeling those same things in your situation. When I read this my own heart ached far beyond reason. Reason is just one kind of intelligence,yes? The heart has it’s own. Like ASDMom said, you gotta feel these feelings, sit with them. Also IMO some of it will stay with you always, but it won’t burn as much,it will become part of the quilt of your life. If you shove those feelings down inside somewhere it’ll make you ill.

I wish you all the best of everything as you live and, yes, move, through this passage.

Em’s Mom

— added by Anonymous on Monday, October 27, 2008 at 7:49 am

You guys are real friends, thank you.
M – that birthday card, that poem…! xxxox

— added by Susan Senator on Monday, October 27, 2008 at 8:24 am

asdmomnc and Em’s Mom sum it up beautifully. You are showing love to your entire family by prompting Nat to spread his wings. Look, we all love to curl up with a Disney movie, but Nat’s life is evolving to include so much more. Two jobs, social groups, running, domestic routines, phone conversations – it’s miraculous.

I’m an adult and still struggle with my older son’s agression, but how do those redonkulously difficult times impact my 7-year old? Thomas oozes empathy, but will howl in frustration when his brother goads him. That’s troubling to me and we work on those feelings all the time.

On a brighter note, both the boys have begun drawing (with extreme gusto)in the last year, and showed their drawings alongside my husband’s paintings on Friday. Both the boys’ teachers attended and it was wonderful to watch them show their art with pride.

Buck up Susan, important, tough things are never easy. I prescribe dance, chocolate and cocktail, in whatever order is appropriate, repeat as needed. Lisa

— added by Anonymous on Monday, October 27, 2008 at 12:28 pm

To me, guilty feelings are a huge part of the whole motherhood package…adoption guilt, autism-sibling guilt, did-I-somehow-cause-their-autism guilt, and so on!

It’s still all worth it, and we are still good mothers.

— added by Mom to JBG on Monday, October 27, 2008 at 8:48 pm

Breaking into the ugly cry while running only makes you look like a serious athlete. It’s the whole painful grimace,sweat pouring down your face look. I’m sure people are admiring your intensity from afar…

Or at least that’s what I tell myself when it happens to me…

The first mile is the hardest, that’s what I’ve always been told. Breathe deep and the pain will go away soon…

— added by Judith U. on Tuesday, October 28, 2008 at 7:42 pm


This is beautiful-so raw and honest. You have done good by him girl!! You and your family continue to inspire me.

On a lighter thought I have an idea for Nat. We know he likes to ride his bike (from your fab book), we know he is an accomplished swimmer and now he is a runner!! Swim + Bike + Run= Triathlete!!! Go Nat!

Molly from MN (mom to Ben, Isaac, Caleb and Max)

— added by Anonymous on Tuesday, October 28, 2008 at 9:51 pm

I’m not a usual blogger but was surfing and felt your pain down here in the Sunshine state. My son, 16, is not happy and schools are awful. He keeps getting kicked out, misplaced, etc. He wants to go to school. When my husband and I take a few hours for ourselves, we just feel sad that he is not with us but we need to re-fuel and be strong to fight for him and his rights. I keep feeling we should have moved north and wonder if this is part of his and our destiny, God’s journey for us or if we should be doing something else. I am constantly fighting for his right to learn. He is so lonely. I am constantly sad. My strength comes from my friends, my husband and my fire within to never quit and to teach him where school has failed. Your blogs make me feel I am not alone but your son is doing so well. Rejoice that he is not alone or sad or unhappy as my boy is. I just want to heal his pain. This state is unempathetic and my county is awful when it comes to special needs kids and their rights. I am going to fight to the top and change this for my son and others. Wish me luck.

— added by B&D on Sunday, November 2, 2008 at 2:36 pm