Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Imagining the unimaginable

On Friday I received a chilling set of Twitter messages from my friend Alexandra:
I went, I read, I left a message. Words, just words, but they were all I had. No one could do what we all wanted to: turn back time's hands and undo the undoing of this boy.

I cried and cried for a boy I didn't actually know, the son of a woman I had never met. But whose words I knew. A woman like me: a blogger, a mother.

The mother is Anna See, of the blog An Inch of Gray.

Her son is/was Jack.


Now, forever.

He was playing in his friend's yard. A back yard just a few houses away. Just a typical boy, at play. The creek had breached its banks. He tumbled in, was swept away.

And just like that, a light is snuffed out, a life is gone.


But not to me, the mother of an autistic son.

Tragedy is not distant, but in fact stalks me. It's the shadow that walks by my side always, the fear that because of his autism, because he understands the risks of the world so much less than a typical child of his nine years, my son Jacob will be lost.

Swept away.

That chasing a pigeon or ball bounced wrong he will run into the street...

That drawn to water, as so many autistic children are, he will step into a river too rapid, fall into a pool too deep...

That with his friendly, too trusting nature he would walk off with a seemingly kind stranger without a backward glance...

That, strong, willful boy that he is, he will loosen himself from my hand when we are in the ocean and be carried out to sea...

That, large boy that he is, he will walk up to an armed police officer, saying and doing something innocent but seemingly provocative when he is no longer a still cute 9 year-old but a six-foot-plus seeming adult teenager...

That, curious boy that he is, he will take one step too close to a raging, flood-swelled creek, and be swept away.

I know, I quake, that one short twist of fate could put me right into Anna's awful shoes.

So I weep for her, and for all the mothers who have lost their young.

And I hug my sons a little tighter, watch over them a little more hawk-like. Knowing it can never be enough. That the unforeseen moment of disaster can not, by its own nature, be seen, known, avoided.

But still, the instinct is there. The magical thinking: "I can keep my children safe."

But I live with these statistics: Autistic kids are often bolters, runners, escape artists. Approximately half of all autistic children wander, at least once. And the number one cause of death among autistic children that wander? Is drowning.

We like to think this cannot be us, our family. But it can be. In the blink of an eye, a moment's distraction; a step taken into exactly the wrong place at the wrong time.

Anna is an incredible woman, capable of tagging her memorial post for her son "thank you for loving us" as well as "heartbroken."

So go there, now, leave her family your love.

Write your own post for Anna, and link up here, where Kate of The Big Piece of Cake is gathering them all. (And read them.)

Our hearts pull toward Anna's. We offer words of solace knowing they can never fill the empty son-shaped space on this earth.

But they are what we have to offer her.

Our words of love.

Our prayers, from those who pray.

Our sisterhood, no less real because it is digital, ethereal.

As her son is no less real, now that he lives on in memory, in spirit, and on Anna's blog, smiling his incandescent smile.

Beautiful boy.

Forever 12.

(Anna, you and your family are in my heart, tonight and forever.)

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