I was hesitant to write this (because it seems so typical of blog posts around this time of year), but I feel it's more important for me to be grateful than to be original (especially since hardly anything is truly original nowadays).
Therefore, I'm going to list the things I'm grateful for. It may not be profound, but simple gratitude is enough.
I'm thankful for Scotland, because my husband is Scottish, and he's proud of his heritage. I'm thankful for my husband, who has been there for me through everything, including my recent hernia surgery. He's the best caregiver I could have asked for; both gentle ("Go to bed and get some rest") and firm ("SIT DOWN and quit doin' stuff!").
I'm thankful for my children. I'm thankful that they are shining lights to me, despite the shadow that neurofibromatosis tries to cast on things. I'm glad that they are here with me, and that I am able to help them by fighting for them to make it to their appointments.
I'm thankful for facebook. Not only do I have some amazing friends, but I also recently connected with my uncle on facebook.
You see, when I was eight years old, lots of changes came to my family all at once. In the same year, we moved 2 hours away, my grandmother died, and my uncles came to stay with us. One of our uncles was just out of prison, and the other had a very tough time grieving my grandma's death. Before she died, my uncle Darren started to behave differently, but it was further aggravated by her death. He began talking to himself and sounding paranoid. As an eight-year-old, I didn't quite understand. I didn't know why he would stand in the same spot all day, muttering to himself. Finally, my mom got him to sit down... and so he sat all day. He only got up for food and to relieve himself. I didn't understand why, when I asked him to do his "Donald Duck voice" which I cherished, he responded with a heart-rending, "I can't do that anymore." The anguish in his voice penetrated even my young, naive heart, and I chose not to ask him anymore... because I didn't want to hear him in so much pain again.
My mother was concerned for my uncle, and she debated over what to do. Finally, one day, she gave him an ultimatum, believing it would be a wake-up call to him. "Get help or get out," she said. She was sure that if it meant he had to leave, he would get help instead. She didn't realize how deeply his paranoia went, and was shocked and saddened to see him pack his things and be gone that morning. From that point on, we saw him maybe once... and then never again for eight years. All we knew was that he was homeless somewhere, in Orange County. Through that time, I forgot all the negative, unpleasant aspects of what was happening to Darren, and remembered only the good, and the fact that he couldn't do the Donald Duck voice.
Finally, when I turned 16, we decided to check and see how he was doing. We were worried he may not have even made it all those years, but we inquired at a police station and after he was cited for jaywalking, they let him know we were looking for him, and he agreed to meet us. We drove to see him in anticipation: my dad, mom, uncle Dean, sister, and brother. When we saw him, we were pleasantly surprised by how good he looked. Dean commented that Darren looked even better than he did, which was true (Dean had lost a few teeth since Darren last saw him). I had always loved Darren's gorgeous dark, curly hair, and it was dark and curly as ever... and he looked clean and well-fed.
We were so excited to see him. My dad said, "Where do you wanna go?" and Darren responded, "I could use a drink."
They chose to take him to a pizza parlor, since they usually serve alcohol in big pitchers for their customers. Unfortunately, the place started to get crowded. It was then that I was reminded of what it was like at eight, all over
again. Darren, who had appeared completely sound of mind, began to
mutter to himself. Dean told Darren, "Don't listen to them, man...
listen to us. We're your family, and we love you." We then took Darren to a bowling alley, hoping that leaving the crowds would be good for him. He didn't do much better there, though, because as my mom sat in the bar with him, she heard Darren telling the voices, "I can't do that... she's my sister!".
My mom and dad decided it would be best to tell Darren goodbye at that point, and we all told him we missed him and loved him, giving him hugs. My dad made sure Darren had a phone card and some money (just in case) and we left...
Since then, I have wondered about him. Through the years, any time I've run into a homeless person, it feels like there's a gaping void in my heart there... it's like I'm looking at Darren. People have commented before on how kind and generous I am to the homeless, but it's not true. In reality, I'm being quite selfish. I feel an intense need to help the homeless, because I fervently hope that someone, somewhere, is taking care of my uncle. Those people have stories... lives they've left behind. It frustrates me that, sometimes, people don't see or care about that.
When I was young (perhaps ten), I had a dream that I was on my street, getting ready to take the bus to school, and I spotted Darren. He was holding a stack of packages, quickly walking somewhere. "Darren!" I called out, but he didn't answer. I wasn't able to get to where he'd been with the packages until later... and by then, he'd already gone. He left behind that huge pile of Christmas presents for us, though... one for each one of us. These gifts weren't just any gifts, though: they were spectacular, expensive, thoughtful gifts. It was as if he knew exactly what everyone would want for Christmas. In the dream, I was thankful for what he'd given me, but I was so saddened that I couldn't just be with him. I didn't know why he left those gifts there, without a word, but I so deeply felt like I wanted to give up everything he'd given me... just for him instead.
This year, I finally got that gift. He is not with me in person... but I can talk to him. I can call him up on the phone. I can finally KNOW where my uncle is... how he's doing... instead of wondering.
And for that... for THAT, I will always be grateful.