This week we was a very sad week. We had to say goodbye to some great friends. While for the Menzo's, saying "goodbye for now" has become somewhat familiar, this time, we were on the unfamiliar side of being left, instead of being the ones to leave.
Their life's journey is taking them to Indiana (actually the birthplace of your hoosier sister, Clara). While this is a very emotional and sad time for us, there's an acceptance that this is the right path for them, and for that we have peace.
We met our friends -The Griffin family at the beginning of this past school year. Dad - Steve, Mom - Katie, Baby - Maggie (in mommy's tummy), and their wonderful son - Dylan who was your friend and classmate at Oakview, AU1.
There's a uniquely beautiful thing that happens when you're the parent of a special education student, like you my dear. Often times you have to walk up to the school and wait for the teachers to come and bring you and the other kids into the school. At our current school, carpool drop-off wasn't an option for you or the other kiddos, so we would all gather together and wait. It wasn't a bad gig though, because we got to meet some truly fantastic people. People who had journeys very similar to ours. Not the same, but parallel in many ways, so the connection was truly special.
We didn't need to explain anything about why are child would stimm, jump, or burst out screaming or yelling for no apparent reason. We'd just exchange stories and laugh about some of the challenges we each were facing. We'd even rejoice together to celebrate the tiniest of milestones our kids made throughout the year. There was no judgement in sharing our fears, and we developed a unique bond that blossomed effortlessly.
It's a beautiful thing when you find others that understand the "we just do what needs to be done" mentality in life. We don't see ourselves as stronger than others, we are "just doing" because that's what our kids need.
I found myself instantly connected to Katie, and although I didn't get to see Steve all that often, I was lucky enough to have had the opportunity to know him and even be on the receiving side of his advice related to you, my dear.
"Never stop fighting for what you think she needs!"
Steve was in education, a teacher at Fort Bragg and was very familiar with education rights for our kiddos ;)
Katie was pregnant when we met, and we'd often find ourselves comparing stories of when we were pregnant before. Talking about how we thought Dylan would react to being the big brother and just how the family dynamic changes once you go from one to two kiddos!
Katie and Steve (and Dylan too) welcomed baby Maggie into the world this past March! She was (and is) the most preciously perfect little baby girl (just like you were when you were a baby)! We had a running joke - who was going to have their baby first, Katie or April the Giraffe! Katie beat her by more than a month! That poor giraffe.
I remember seeing Steve at drop off & asking him how Katie and Maggie were doing. The look of pure joy on his face when he said "the girls" were doing well - priceless. Then he went on to be the perfect husband bragging about how awesome Katie did through it all and how perfect baby Maggie was.
Life would settle in and everyone was happy...
Unfortunately, life has a way of making harsh turns in direction - sometimes without a moments notice. It's heartbreaking to say, that our wonderful friends had such a jolt shortly after the start of Maggie's 2nd month on Earth. On April 12th tragedy struck this loving family and Steve was unexpectedly, and cruelly taken from his sweet family.
Katie's world of predictable unpredictability and structure as she knew it was gone. Completely unrecognizable.
In a split moment, she had lost her best friend, the love of her life and the father of her young children without any warning.
I remember that night just hugging her and crying as she just kept saying "how am I suppose to do this without him?"
I didn't know. I didn't have the answer. My response of "I'm so very sorry" was so true, but seemed so empty in the moment.
I sat on her couch that night snuggling a sleeping baby Maggie while Katie was getting Dylan to bed. I asked "why" a thousand different ways in my head, all while trying to hold on to my faith while nothing seemed to make any sense.
This wasn't suppose to happen, not to this family. Not to anyone.
If there is one thing I've learned about raising you my dear, it's that there is no rule book. There's no rule book in life at all, actually - and moments like these truly reinforce that fact.
Katie would do what she knows. Her little ones needed her. She had no choice but to "just do."
Planning, decision making, and just getting from day to day consumed her. She had to keep moving from point A to point B. Moving was inevitable & there was comfort in that.
I watched an amazing troop of people - friends, family, teachers come together to support and "just do" with her. Helping her navigate the unfamiliar waters, trying to help keep the structure that Dylan and Maggie needed.
Katie determined that the best place for her "new" life was to be back in Indiana where there was abundance of friends and family.
With just a few days left in the school year, moving day was creeping closer and closer. We went to visit them one night after dinner. The intent was not only to steal every ounce of time I could before they moved, but to snap some pics of her precious cuddly (seriously cuddly) kiddos before they set out on their journey north. Side note: A common misconception of autistic kids is that they don't like contact or touching, but that simply is not true and Dylan (or you for that matter!) is one of the snuggliest kids around!
Luck not being on my side, my camera bailed on me. BUT, it turned into an impromptu play date that I will never forget (and God bless cell phone cameras!).
What's really fascinating is that you typically have a hard time seeing people out of context.
A teacher at the grocery story - panic!
Mom or dad in your classroom - massive anxiety!
Katie and I stood witness to you actually playing with one another. You have a friend in Dylan, and he in you. Very special. You Looked at one another and communicated in your own way. You were having a real play date! My heart swelled with joy! You were both directing your own play and we didn't dare try to intervene. It was absolutely beautiful! I didn't want it to end...
I was trying not to be sad that these days were numbered, but instead that we had them at all.
I'll admit I selfishly wanted them to stay. But I knew that wasn't possible.
I remember leaving and calling daddy to tell him all about what had just happened! There was no disguising the excitement in my voice and he was overjoyed as well!
Our paths were meant cross!
Dylan is your friend Addie, as Katie is mine. We both found a connection to this wonderful family! Our journeys brought us together, and I'm so happy they did! While our time together lasted less than a year, a friendship happened that I pray will last forever.
So Addie, perhaps instead of thinking of this as a goodbye, it's more of an "until we see you again!" They will be greatly missed and loved here in NC. But...
Look out Indy! We'll be visiting!
"Life knocked you down, but in time you will get up again and move forward. It may never be the same, and your path will be different than what you envisioned, but happiness lies ahead. The sun will shine. You'll eventually feel peace, find your footing, regain your strength...maybe even at a moment when you least expected it. It will get better."
- Steve Griffin
(Cherished words Steve once wrote to help some students who were going through difficult times.)