My Special Needs Cousin...

I am no stranger to special needs individuals.  My first "real" job as a married woman was at a state facility that housed special needs people.  It was an entire community that I came to understand and love.  I worked there for two years.  However, before that time, I already had a special needs person in my own family.  He was not born that way but as a fifteen year old it was thrust upon him and our entire family.  Here is the story of Patrick.

Patrick, or Pat as I referred to him, was only a year older than me.  The son of my mother's sister, Pat and I spent lots of time together as children.  And yes, we fought as though we were siblings.  I, the baby of my family and he the baby of his, our lives were intertwined with demands of getting our own way.  But it was fun for me to have this cousin of my own age, for I lived the life of an only child since my sister was fifteen years my elder.  Pat lived in Texas and I in Louisiana but we visited back and forth quite a lot.  And as we grew older, our fighting became less and our camaraderie more.  It was us against the adults, as it should be with any young adolescent.  When Pat was fifteen and I fourteen, the last visit I had with him before the accident, we got along better than we ever had.  So much better that even the adults commented on it.  And then it was all over.  In one evening, my dear Patrick was no longer the same.

It was a vehicle accident that took the childhood buddy I knew and loved so well from me. Pat was walking home from an FFA meeting one evening with a friend when a vehicle struck him, throwing his body across the road so far and hard that it knocked his boots off his feet.  When my mother and I got the phone call, we immediately left for Texas, being told that Pat would most likely not live more than a few hours.  But live, he did.  For two months, Pat slept almost peacefully in a coma.  We prayed and prayed that he would awake.  And, I, in my youth, prayed that Pat would wake up and be the same cousin I knew and loved. 

When he eventually awoke, it was clear that Pat was no longer the same.  At the time I did not know what a closed brain injury was or its effects.  I watched as the medical professionals worked to manage Pat's medications and his family struggled to adapt to this "new" person that none of us were acquainted with.  I'm not sure why, but somewhere along the way, Pat even decided that his name should no longer be Pat but Wayne, his given middle name.

There was quite a long period of adjustment before Wayne settled down and into his new life.  And an adjustment, it was.  During those first days, months and years, my aunt had to watch Wayne every waking moment, like one would "keep an eye" on a toddler.  It was clear that she was becoming very weary from this and that's when the search for a state run group home began.  That search took many, many years because, although it took a lot of energy to keep this now young man at home, Wayne was quite a high level closed brain injury patient.  He was definitely teachable and it was clear that he needed more intellectual stimulation than could be provided at home.

Whenever, a group home was eventually found, Wayne's mother reluctantly sent him, for who wants to send their child away anywhere?  Even if that child has now become a grown man?  It was not an easy decision.  However, it was the right one.  The group home that Wayne went to live in was only within a couple hours of his mother's home and boy did Wayne ever thrive there!  He got a little job that he went to each day and even participated in Special Olympics in bowling, one of our "old" favorite things to do together. 

Over the years, whenever someone comes in town and wants to visit with Wayne, the group home arranges it and drops him off for the day.  Every now and then, I get the opportunity to be there when he comes for one of those day visits.  A couple of weeks ago was one of those times and I so enjoyed getting to see and talk to Wayne.  He is such a happy guy, laughing and joking most of the time.  His sister, Gayle was in from Texas and she took him to the store to purchase some playing cards.  This day, she was out to teach him a new card game...
                             Here, Gayle was explaining the rules of the card game to Wayne.
I watched them play this new game and Wayne grasped the rules pretty well and really enjoyed playing it!
Here is a photo I found of Pat and me as children, playing in the dirt.  The date on the picture says 1968.  I would have been six and Pat seven.  On this hot summer day, we would have never dreamed of the twists and turns life would take.  And yes, I just referred to him as "Pat" in this picture.  Because that is who he was here.  Pat was my childhood cousin who played with me on those long summer days in the south. 
Before I left the other day, I asked "Wayne" if he would take a quick photo with me and he was more than happy to, saying he would like a copy of it himself to keep in his room with his other photos.

Looking back, I must admit that I think Pat's self-imposed name change was appropriate, although at the time I resisted it.  I didn't want him to not be Pat any more;  I wanted him to be the same person I had always known.  But he was not.  However, over the years I have gotten to know this "new" person, Wayne, and I must admit it is now like having another cousin that I love just as much as the other.  Yes, he is different but he has some really great qualities that I adore and I can truly say he is always a joy to be around, making me smile and laugh out loud when I otherwise may not feel like it.  This is my cousin Wayne and I am so glad to have him in my life.

1 comment