There’s a phenomenon that began in the autism community several years back whereby parents of kids with autism began to refer to themselves as “Warriors.” Indeed, “Warrior Moms” and “Warrior Dads” became both a very common term on social media and cottage industry for the sale of various products. For me, personally, I never believed having a daughter with autism made me a “Warrior Dad” so much as a “Dad” but, hey, that’s just me and if somebody feels better about themselves because he or she fancy his or herself a “Warrior”, rock on, Warrior. But with Mother’s Day upon us, I would like to write about two Moms who I believe to actually be Warriors.
The first Warrior I know very well because she gave birth to me. My Mom had a childhood filled with horrors kid should have to endure, the type that often create adult monsters according to statistics. My Mom didn’t become a statistic, though. She instead built a life on saving kids from monsters—be it as a foster mother, adoptive parent, or social worker for both DSS (now DCF) and then MCB. Her selflessness and pathological need to take care of everyone else unfortunately created a situation whereby she never really took care of herself and poor habits ensued. This is why, in 2003 when my daughter Skylar was born and she quit her two-pack-a-day menthol cigarette habit, I was ecstatic.
The ecstasy didn’t last.
As so often happens when a person gives up one addiction, others take hold. For my Mom, this meant surrounding herself with stuff, particularly food. Lots and lots of food. I hoped it was a temporary replacement behavior for the smoking but it wasn’t and, unless an apocalypse hit, she was stockpiling her life away. I was temporarily encouraged when she hired somebody to help her remedy the situation a couple of years ago but when that person left, so did her desire to dig her way out.
About three months ago, I left my Mom’s house and broke down during the car ride home. People have long criticized me both directly and indirectly for not “fixing” her issues and I’ve largely taken it in stride, as she’s a human being with free-will who has outlived many people who died in perfect health, not a project to fix. Odd compulsion or not, my Mom seemed generally content to me so who was I to violate her home or give intervention-like ultimatums that would break not only her heart but my own and those of my kids when the terms weren’t met? It wasn’t that I never offered help or said what I thought needed to be said but, at the end of the day, it wasn’t my life to live, it was hers and I was okay with that even if others weren’t. That visit changed my perception. For the first time, the weight of my lack of forcefulness hit me hard. My Mom was in desperate pain and life for her struck me as too much to bear for the first time. She rejected my attempts to provide more help and even informed she’d stopped using the young woman who’d been cleaning and organizing her house. She also said without saying she’d never be leaving her house again and had the dead car in her driveway to prove it. It seemed obvious she’d given up and I was felt as though I was to blame.
I try to call my Mom almost every day but I had to stop. Talking to her was just too depressing, as every time I did so, I now wondered if this would be the last time I’d ever speak to her during the entire conversation. Of course, such a thought eventually stirred a more productive one—why would I let an opportunity go by when it could be the last one— and, thus, I sucked it up and began her calling again. One subject that often came up was the fact my wife Jen and I are in the process of starting a non-profit organization called Diamond Is the Sky. As we discussed Diamond more and more, I could hear my Mom’s enthusiasm growing. Her input was invaluable and, when I’d get discouraged or overwhelmed, she’d point out that the skills needed to run such an organization were ones I’d been developing my entire life. When I’d vent about petty annoyances, she’d hear me out before getting me back on a positive track. Due in a big part to her, one of my dreams is becoming more and more of a reality. It’s plainly obvious that, even at the age of 42, I still need my Mom.
I think she realizes this. I’m proud to say my mother has made an amazing comeback over the past two months. She has welcomed the young woman who’d been helping her out back into her home and her house now teeters on clean. She also started and has remained on a diet to improve her mobility and health. She even plans to come to our Launch Party in a month, meaning I guess she’ll be leaving the house again after all. No matter what becomes of Diamond Is the Sky, if this adventure in any way played a part in my Mom, yet again, getting off the canvas to kickass in life, it’s a success in my estimation.
I haven’t known Liz as long as my Mom. Actually, I’ve only known her and her husband Matt for about six months. Matt joined the Board of Directors for Diamond Is the Sky in January and has been an amazingly productive, passionate contributor with great ideas. I knew Matt would do well but what I didn’t realize was that while all of his spectacular voluntary efforts on Diamond’s behalf (on top of his full-time job, raising twin daughters (one with autism) in kindergarten, and moving to a new house) were also taking place with his wife being sick.
My first recollection of Liz was hearing about how she’d run a long distance race for the first time in her life after having endured 15 knee surgeries. I marveled at her toughness in handling such adversity but her running exploits don’t even scratch the surface of her grit. Liz was also having major health issues and, a few months ago, was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer. Even though I didn’t know her well, it hit me hard, as I, too, have young daughters (one with autism) and about the only things I fear in this world are something happening to them or something happening to me whereby I can’t be there for them.
I’ve gotten to know Matt and Liz better these past few months and now consider them to be good friends. I’m absolutely blown away by the way they’ve maintained normalcy for their little girls and the positive way in which they’ve carried themselves. Like my Mom, Liz clearly puts others first and her amazing kids are evidence of this.
Today, Liz began chemotherapy. I’m fortunate enough to say I’ve never had cancer and I can’t imagine what she is about to endure emotionally and physically. This morning, while walking Skylar to school (a task I’ve spent the better part of the past 5 months ridiculously bitching and moaning about because the temp wasn’t to my liking), I passed Matt and Liz. My heart immediately froze, as I knew her next stop was chemo and, yet, there she was, bringing her beautiful daughters to school just like it was any other day—for their sakes. When I got into my car, I broke down again but it was out of awe, not despair. I have no doubt Liz is about to kick the living shit out of cancer because people that strong ALWAYS win in the end. I learned this firsthand from my being around my Mom.
Our website www.diamondisthesky.org is currently under construction but should be operating in the near future. For the time being, to learn more about our organization, please visit www.facebook.com/diamondisthesky. Of far greater importance currently, if you are interested in doing something relatively inexpensive and simple to help Liz, Matt, and their girls, please email me at email@example.com and I’ll give you the link and code to a website where you can sign up to provide a meal (homemade or takeout) for the family during their time of need.