Divorce has touched a multitude of people I care about deeply. As the years go by, more and more couples are breaking up. Some of them have been like family. And as much as we'd like to pretend that nothing will change in the friendships after divorce, it often does. The ex-spouses have the biggest loss, but those around them lose too.
I have seen people act differently when they were going through a divorce. Some were kind and compassionate, even if they felt they’d been wronged. Others became unrecognizable, as if I’d never known them. Regardless of the circumstances, I always mourn and weep over both parties and their families.
That's not to say that I don't think divorce should be an option. Had Mom stayed married to Dad, an alcoholic, it would have been detrimental to me and especially to my brother. He lived with Dad longer since he was older, and he endured more. Mom knew she would have lost her son, in more than one way, had she stayed married. She did the right thing for everyone.
Last time I checked, the divorce rate for those raising a child with autism was at 85 percent. I'm not sure what it is for the general population, but either way that's a pretty high number. So my husband and I meet many single parents through our support group. I admire them for all that they are doing to help their loved one with autism have a better quality of life.
One such man was Joe. He was a great dad; we could tell just by listening to him in the meetings. He was always asking questions to learn how to help his young daughter. We tried to encourage him, and we were encouraged to see a dad who was so loving. He was also a heartbroken dad. We could tell he was struggling, so we gave him an abundance of information to help him navigate him through various services and therapies available.
People come and go in a support group; it's the nature of the group. When their children are younger, caregivers tend to get involved and gather information. But when life gets more difficult, sometimes the last thing we parents want to think about is getting someone to watch our kids so we can go somewhere else and talk more about autism. At those times, many parents are dressed in battle fatigues and armed with artillery they will need to fight for their children’s rights; they’re in survival mode, each one a Rambo of the autism world. Another meeting at the end of a long day can become the last thing on their lists of things to do.
It had been a while since I'd seen Joe, but I thought of him often. I decided to give him a call and see if there was anything he needed, how his daughter was doing, and if he was getting some answers.
An older woman answered the phone; I assumed she was his mother. I knew she was very involved in their lives and a support to Joe.
"Hi. Can I speak to Joe, please?"
"Who is calling?"
"This is Kim Lindquist. I'm with the autism support group that Joe has come to a few times. I was just calling to check on him and see how everything's going."
A pause, and then, "Oh no, Joe killed himself," she said in her thick Spanish accent.
"No. Oh no...." This mother had just told me her son was dead, and I couldn't breathe. I was sobbing, and she was so kind to explain what she had probably repeated hundreds of times.
"When?" Not that it mattered, but it's just what came out when I finally opened my mouth again.
"A couple of weeks ago."
A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO! Not months ago, not years ago, a couple of weeks ago. The words echoed in my head.
She continued, "You know, he just tried so hard to help his daughter, but he just could not. He wanted to help her. It was so hard for him."
Nooooo, I screamed in my head. Any reason but that!
And then the mental barrage started. What if I'd called sooner? Why didn't I help him more? WHY DIDN'T I CALL SOONER?
I managed to choke out, "I am so very sorry" and thanked that strong woman. Then I hung up and shattered into a million pieces.
I remember it like it was yesterday. And I still fall apart.
You were a great dad, Joe, and you helped your daughter just by being here. I know you couldn't see that at the time. But we all saw it.
And so, we continue to try to help others - all the other Joes who need more hope. Maybe we'll help prevent some casualties of parents who are grieved to the core.