Oh, hai there, dear Nate is Great fans! I posted a wee note on our Facebook page back in December noting that this blog was going on hiatus for a little while. (Hope you all saw it and didn’t think we abandoned you!) We’re finally surfacing from a very difficult past several months and I’m ready to start writing again. And the reason for our absence? My Dad, Nate’s Super Grandpa, died several days before Christmas.
I won’t get into details about my Dad’s illness or passing, only to say it was quick and that my Dad lived a very full 93 years on this earth. We didn’t fly home to see Dad before he passed away, though I asked if he wanted me to come home every time I spoke to him. (He always responded, “Stay where you are and take care of the little guy!”) We had a lovely week-long visit with him in August during which Dad really got to know Nate. He didn’t necessarily understand Nate’s diagnosis or why Nate doesn’t talk but he was greatly impressed with how Nate speaks through an iPad and devours bacon with glee.
At the start of the new year, we headed to Hawaii to start dealing with Dad’s house and estate and plan his Celebration of Life. Before we left, we reached out to Nate’s current teachers/therapists and our darling Dr. Syd to find out how to explain to Nate that Super Grandpa had passed away. And, as usual, they delivered with really great responses. My biggest concern is Nate not having a way to articulate any concerns this might bring up, like what death is or where someone goes when they die or if Chad and I are going to die, too. Nate’s teacher, Ms. Linda, suggested we emphasize that Super Grandpa was old and not mention “sick,” since Nate gets sick, too. Using his many years of expertise as a doctor, and his more recent experience as a grandfather, Dr. Syd had sage words. He felt that five year old kids — neurotypical or not — tend to respond more to our current emotion than to the situation as a whole. He suggested we explain my Dad’s passing through the lens of our own religious convictions and be open to responding to Nate in the moment, moment by moment.
During our trip in August, we had breakfast every day with Super Grandpa. Driving to his house before the first meal of the day was part of the routine that we constructed. Now we were returning four months later and that routine–and the person integral to it–was gone. Before we got on the plane, Chad and I explained to Nate that Super Grandpa died and we wouldn’t be able to see him anymore — but he loved Nate very much and continues to care about Nate from heaven. Though Nate giggled hysterically as Chad and I cried, Nate apparently understood what we said. During our two weeks on Kauai, Nate regularly asked for his teachers, classmates, and family on the mainland. He never once asked for Super Grandpa, even though his picture/name was on the same page as the others on Nate’s iPad.
We had a lot to deal with when we went home and very little time to accomplish it all. We had two weeks to accomplish what should have easily taken two months: plan and execute a public celebration of Dad’s life, clear out Dad’s house, and start dealing with the estate stuff. We managed to accomplish it all with the help of amazing friends and family. People poured out of the woodwork and offered very specific offers of help and we took each and every one. And, while it’s difficult to say if someone’s generosity trumped another’s, we were most humbled by our dear Ms. Katy’s offer to join us for a week on Kauai to help with Nate. (You may remember her as one of Nate’s spectacular Birth to Three therapists. She was also on the team that diagnosed Nate with autism.) Sure, we gave her an all-expenses paid trip to Hawaii in the dead of winter….but it was an all-expenses paid trip to watch Nate in Hawaii and Nate is anything but an ideal tourist.
True to his nature, Nate isolated Ms. Katy as a person who comes into his home and stays in his home–because that’s who she’s always been to him. Nate refused to get in the car with Ms. Katy to get a treat or go to the beach. Despite numerous attempts, Katy only managed to get Nate in his stroller once or twice to go in search of a shave ice. In fact, Ms. Katy only got to enjoy the warm weather and sunshine from the confines of the property where we were staying. It did have a lovely pool, complete with slides (but Nate doesn’t do slides), a lazy river (which Nate will only do if you’re carrying him), and a keiki (kids) pool with a sandy bottom–but it wasn’t quite the same as fully taking in one of the world’s most beautiful places.
Don’t worry though — we made sure Ms. Katy got to see all of Kauai, even if it was compressed into an hour’s time. Whenever a friend visited from the mainland, my Dad made sure to treat them to a helicopter tour of the Garden Island. It was something Dad had wanted Chad to do, too, but Chad never had the chance. So, first thing on a Thursday morning, Nate and I dropped Ms. Katy and Chad off at the airport and they flew high in the sky while Nate and I visited with our estate lawyer. (Guess who had more fun…?) I also took Katy out for a girls’ night (perhaps more needed by me than her) to our favorite restaurant, Duke’s, where she had her first (and second) mai tai.
Katy stayed with us for a full week. She left on Saturday on the last flight out after Dad’s service. It was an incredible luxury to have someone with us on island who knew Nate, who we trusted completely with Nate, and who Nate adored. Chad and I had a plate overflowing with questions and issues and concerns and people who needed things — never mind the grieving process. To never once worry about Nate’s happiness and care is a gift beyond measure.
The trip itself was relatively rough on Nate. The flight is long, the seats are uncomfortable. Tourism is booming and we had to move five times on three different hotel properties in order to have a roof over our heads during two weeks’ time. As soon as we unpacked, we were packing again and Nate wasn’t really sure which end was up by the end of the trip. (Truth be told, neither did we.) The jet lag nearly did us in when we got back to the mainland. Nate missed several days of school after our return because he couldn’t sleep — and that was on top of the four weeks of school he missed prior, two for Winter Break and another two for Hawaii. After he got on the time zone, he got sick. And then it started snowing and school closed for that, too. We’re all craving routine on any level but, at every turn, we find anything but.
So all this to say–that’s where we’ve been, dear friends: in the land of life. On top of work and caring for Nate, I’m now dealing with estate stuff, too. But I want to return to blogging because Nate’s little mind is crackling with growth and new talents and we need all of you to cheer him on! Thanks for sticking around, internet friends….