Good news seldom seems interesting to most people. Oh, but bad news like the Kennedy Assassination or the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, well it has a way of attracting a large audience. Why? I don’t know; but I sure am attracted to reading it. However, when it comes down to writing about bad news, I’d much rather write about good news. The birth of my three children, that was good news, and certainly I could write with a fervent passion about that sunny spring day when my eleven year old son Esraiel, hit his first home run for his Chatsworth little league team. Maybe that’s because I believe the best persuasive writing comes from personal experience and bad experience is something I would much rather do without. But sometimes bad news simply cannot be avoided. When that time comes it is perhaps better to write about a disturbing or depressing moment that was the result of bad news than to keep it buried within the inner confines of your soul. Recently, I was given some bad news that will have significant consequences on my entire life. It was communicated to me by way of a doctor’s carefully worded prognosis, yet it shattered the dreams, aspirations and plans that I had held for Christian, my six months old son, since his birth. In just two brief minutes I went from proud father to an emotional noodle.
As I turned the corner heading home from my Hebrew class at the Kings Seminary, I can still remember the language Dr. Keith Utley used while speaking with me on my cellular phone. Two words stuck out more than any others: Permanent damage. You know, doctors have a way of being vague or abstract at a time when we most need them to be concrete and specific. So before I let Dr. Utley take me down that road of confusion I popped the all-inclusive question. “Is it permanent?” I interjected. “Is the damaged to my son’s brain permanent?” I just had to know. All those technical terms doctor’s believe are necessary in their communication with non-doctors to describe a person’s ailing condition was for me the last thing I wanted to hear. I just wanted to know that my worst fears had simply been unwarranted. His affirmation, his words, his verification made me realize in a moment that the honeymoon was over. I’d like to say that it was like lightning, but it was much worse. It couldn’t be true; but it was or was it?
Now I hung on to every word Dr. Utley said, trying to find, trying to locate something in his words, in his tone that would suggest that my son’s condition was not as bad as it appeared. I was silently hoping that he would shine a ray of hope, and if not a ray, perhaps a glimmer. However, he continued to communicate more bad news. Using his son as an example, Dr. Utley told me that he had experienced the same pain that I was now going through. He began to tell me about stages of my dilemma. Dr. Utley suggested that I would go through four stages of grief before I would finally accept my circumstance. While he was yet speaking, I realized, my dream had turned into a full-scale nightmare. He told me that most parents would not be able to handle such bad news this early in their child’s life. I thought, how could he think or believe that my wife and I were so different? He had underestimated our strengths because no one who loved their child as much as we loved our son could be ready for such news at any stage of their child’s life. It’s hard to put it in words or convey vividly what this moment in time felt like. Perhaps it could best be captured in a song. Even if this song is unfamiliar, its title speaks volumes in expressing this moment of utter grief. Killing me softly are the words of this song. Killing me softly with his words.
For me it was a moment suspended in time, a time suspended in a moment. Before those two minutes I was a happy and proud father. Now I am a mess of a man because my son won’t even be a shadow of what I had hoped and wanted for him. I once dreamed of him being a baseball star; now I don’t even know if he will ever even understand the game. It isn’t fair. He is so innocent to all of this not knowing the pain. And yet, perhaps it is better that he never know the pain.
In one moment it seemed as though my world and the future of my family had been unchangeably altered. The grief was not only ineffable it was unbearable. Then something happened. As I kept listening, numb from the overwhelming shock of it all, I heard Dr. Utley say something that had a consoling affect on my spirit. I listened as he compared his other three children’s happiness with his autistic son’s happiness. Dr. Utley said he (his autistic son) was definitely happier.
I have not had much time to carefully reflect on these words, but perhaps, if I were to consider them, I would find some peace in knowing that he, my son, might be happier than the whole lot of us. After all, is not his happiness central to my love for him?
By DiMarkco Chandler