A Wish Come Clear

Choosing Love, Losing Fear, & Finding Home

My Greatest Teacher in the Art of Acceptance: My Brother with Autism

This is the 99th published post here at A Wish Come Clear. With the 100th post around the corner, I’m thinking about another milestone that’s coming up soon: my younger brother Willie’s 25th birthday. (Willie has autism, as well as myriad creative gifts; he came up with the name ‘A Wish Come Clear’.)

Willie has been talking about his 25th birthday since, well, the day after his 24th. At regular intervals, he announces, “On May 10, 2012, Willie will be 25 years old!” And then, of course, we gently prompt, “I will be 25″, and he says it right back, proudly,I will be 25 years old.”

Though Willie and I have vastly different personalities (for example, at any given meal, he eats his favorite item first, and I save the best for last), and our love for (and anticipation of) birthdays is one of our shared traits. Growing up in our house, birthdays were a big deal.

My mom started a tradition of hiding my gifts the night before my birthday; she’d leave a treasure-hunt trail lined with Post-It notes. Each Post-it contained a rhyming clue to the location of the next Post-It, and the next, and then, at the end, the final note, with the cache of presents and treasures. (Royal treatment? Absolutely.) Later in the day, we’d go out to supper as a family, singing and celebrating in high spirits.

L’Arche also makes big deal out of birthdays. Each community member gets a celebration, a night of songs, gifts, and dessert. On the anniversary of each person’s time at L’Arche (i.e., their L’Arche birthday), they are anointed with water by their fellow community members. This simple ceremony is an intimate thing. It is a time for us to affirm to one another: yes, you matter. Yes, our love for you is alive.

I miss Willie more than ever as his birthday draws near. As it happens, I’ll be speaking at a local church on his special day, giving a talk entitled, “Not A Burden, But A Privilege” (You can view the event flyer here.) And it’s bittersweet to be giving this talk on Willie’s birthday; bittersweet, yet somehow, entirely fitting. If it wasn’t for Willie, I’d never have been a part of L’Arche, or discovered the amazing gifts of the people therein. My life would have been so different, and I cannot wish any of it away.

***

Since I won’t be able to celebrate with Willie, I took my time selecting a gift for him. I scrolled through the books available on Amazon, looking for one he’d enjoy. Willie loves dogs, so I picked a pocket dictionary of dog breeds. I chose the pocket edition because he likes to carry books with him wherever he goes (another similarity between us), and also because I knew that he might tear the book to pieces, and I didn’t want to spend too much on something that might end up shredded.

It was surreal, shopping for a present with calm acknowledgement that Willie tears up even his favorite books when he’s out of control. I was purchasing something I knew might not last, and, miraculously enough, it didn’t bother me. I was taking Willie’s meltdowns into account, and doing so was a form of acceptance.

That said, being with Willie when he has a meltdown is terrifying. I wish, hope, and pray every day that there might come a time when he’s free of their tenacious grip. But as I hit “Purchase”, I felt the truth of what I can and cannot do. I can buy a good gift for my brother, but I cannot control how long it will last in his hands. I cannot change Willie, but I can love him.

It was a moment in which the Serenity Prayer became real for me, a moment in which I was granted the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

Yes, I will struggle to accept Willie as he is. I will feel anger and terror and grief when he melts down. But those feelings are not my only truth. They are a part of how I feel, but they are not the truest part.

And so I plan to close my talk at St. Francis this week by saying what is most true:

Happy Birthday, Willie. I love you and I’m proud of you. You’re the reason I’m here tonight.

You, before anyone else, have taught me to see through eyes of love. Thank you.

***

What’s been your greatest ‘acceptance challenge’ this week? Tell me in the comments!

If this post spoke to you, please share it with those you love.

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About Caroline McGraw

I'm a would-be childhood paleontologist and recovering perfectionist turned full-time writer, digging for treasure in people and uncovering sacred stories in ordinary days. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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12 Replies

  1. Noreen

    I have accepted Autism but my son, not so much. He told me last week, he has one more year of Speech and then his Autism disappears : ) I guess he feels he will be “healed” of Autism. He is in a group of kids that are all over the Spectrum. There is another boy named Kevin in his group but my son tells me “he doesn’t use his words but he uses a computer”. I have to accept that Kevin may “hit a wall” or a few while developing. He was much more challenging before he could communicate and the behaviors have gone down substantially but I guess what I see is “impatience” everywhere. People who don’t understand that well, my son may not know how to open the car door from the inside, my child talks much slower and well sometimes he loses his train of thought, sometimes he’s talking about something completely unrelated and other times, he’ll surprise the heck out of you with a sentence or a perspective that is right on the money. I guess what I’ve accepted is the “unpredictable roller coaster” we are aboard. I’m hanging on for the ride but it is scary and down right frightening at times, other times, wonderful, magical and exciting. I only hope my son comes to the acceptance part. He’s still a young kid.

    1. Noreen, thank you for sharing from your heart and your family’s experience – indeed, it’s a roller coaster! You sound like a great mom, someone who will help both your son and the rest of the world to move toward acceptance. Glad to connect with you here!

  2. Metod

    Aren’t challenges often as blessings in disguise? What’s even more wonderful is to share these challenges and experiences and help others grow from them, like you do here on your blog. Give Willie an extra hug from us! Enjoy your talk at St. Francis. What an amazing way of honoring your brother…and as it happened, exactly on his birthday. :)

    1. Amen to that, Metod! Glad to share them with you. And thank you – I will definitely give Willie that hug! :)

  3. Melissa Javier-Barry

    Please tell your mom that I’m so impressed with her birthday tradition! How lucky you were to have someone take that kind of time the night before a birthday to come up with rhymes!! I will try to make my children’s birthdays special in similar ways. Thanks for her inspiration.

    1. Will do! Thank you, Melissa – I did feel so special on each birthday, and I look forward to hearing about the fun traditions you’ll start! :) :)

  4. Tiffany Lekas

    Really good post Cari. Brought a tear to my eye. I think that’s the hardest thing to do when you love someone and take care of someone…accepting the things you cannot change; especially when it’s something that brings harm to them. very true.

    1. Thank you, Tiff – I’m so glad you connected with the post. It was so good to talk to you this week; I’m blessed to be your friend. <3

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