I think I figured out a new definition of love

I was driving down the highway when I think I realized my own personal definition of love. I will be 67 years old in a week or so, but I don’t think my discovery has come too late.

As I drove, I thought of my bride of six months, Candace. And, I smiled. It was the kind of smile that started at my mouth, occupied my entire mind and then made my insides all gooey. It was a smile of gratitude, a smile of comfort. I was consumed by that smile of love. I suddenly wanted to write a love letter to her. I guess this is it.

Passion is great, affection with a great big hug rewards the heart, and concern and care are certainly essential elements of love. But in that flash, I realized that real love brings with it that satisfied, contented and all-absorbing smile. And, I happily realized that smile of love has been a constant in my life.

As I reflected, I realized that smile was always the greatest sign that my late wife Jean and I had something special too. I was able to recall great feelings of satisfaction that were always marked by that smile that grabbed my soul. Even when she is gone I get consumed by that great big smile of love. It happened last weekend when I saw something in our old neighborhood that would have amazed and tickled her. That great big smile of love captivated me.

My kids induce that big, all-encompassing smile. Incredible emotional connections with my daughter, Tracy, warm me with that sort of smile and so do the incredible bouts of repartee I have with my son, Jeff. And the simple thought of my son Jason, who has Down syndrome, grips me with a smile that envelops my entire being. Then there are my two delightful grandchildren, Collin and Kayley. I smile so much when I think of them that I fairly burst. That’s the gooey kind of love.

I sometimes think people look in all the wrong places and for all the wrong emotions for love. I always feel sorry for the young couples who seem to think they are going to hear bells or giant gongs when they fall in love. There are no bells.

Happiness comes when we bask in the comfort, content and satisfaction of loving and being loved. When we find that sweet spot, a great big smile seizes our soul and carries us off to a special place worth celebrating.

Tim McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance

 

Jason, the remarkable gift that keeps on giving

A million thoughts flooded my brain Saturday as I married the lovely and charming Candace Medd Hadley. I will probably discuss many of them in future posts, but my son with Down syndrome, Jason McGuire, took a big share of those thoughts.

Jason was his ebullient self throughout the day, though he was particularly worried about the one task I assigned him. Jason was in charge of handing the wedding rings to the priest. His incredibly loving siblings, Tracy and Jeff, were as concerned as Jason was about his job so they took him to the church basement and practiced. Jason executed the exchange several times to his brother and sister so he was ready when the time came.

Here are the words of his job coach at his workplace: “Jason  was very chatty about it all and said his favorite part was holding the rings! He showed me step by step what his job was and said he didn’t drop the rings or get them stuck on his finger. He said it was good they didn’t get stuck otherwise he would have had to marry his step mom! He had such a great time and he is so happy.”

Oh, what a mess that would have been if he would have had to marry his step-mom. There is a country song in that to be sure. That logic is typical of Jason. He believes that you wear seat belts to prevent an accident. I remember his mom, my late wife Jean and I were once walking through the underground metro in Paris. We were very confused because we only understood a very little bit of French. In our befuddlement, Jean observed, “this is how Jason goes through life, with a little bit of a clue, but never completely understanding.”

That phenomenon was in full effect at the wedding reception Saturday. As a close friend of mine put it, “he held court like no other.”  Yet, when his brother wanted Jason to join him for a toast he hated to be pulled away from his wedding cake. There must be priorities and a toast versus more cake didn’t seem close to Jason.

As I watched, and now reflect on Jason’s delightful antics and the way he endears himself to everyone he meets, I also reflect on a piece of state legislation in Ohio. Abortion opponents are pushing Ohio to make it illegal for a doctor to perform an abortion if a woman is terminating her pregnancy to avoid having a baby with Down syndrome. I find the proposed legislation an incredible invasion of privacy and an infringement of civil liberties and generally repugnant. Yet, as I write in my book “Some People Even Take Them Home,” “I can say unequivocally that I believe our world would be an inferior place if there were no Down syndrome children. The pursuit of the perfect baby would deprive our world of real joys and triumphs. I hope the optimism that is inherent in this book may provide intellectual and emotional fuel for making those life-changing decisions.”

I don’t wish Down syndrome on a child or parent but last Saturday my overpowering thought was how awful it would be if there wasn’t a Jason at that wedding to touch people’s hearts. His sweet cluelessness and deep kindness makes us all special people.

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance

Looking at the world from two sides

The woman  settled into the seat next to me on the airplane with a friendly greeting and a big smile. “I just love the holidays,” she said, “everybody is so friendly.” My first thought was, of course everybody is friendly with you, you’re a happiness carrier.

We exchanged small talk with each other on the flight from Phoenix to Las Vegas where she lives until she blurted out, “Why does anyone go to Las Vegas  for Thanksgiving?” I explained that my wife had died in June and my son and I were meeting there to avoid past traditions. I mentioned that my son was going to be about three hours late. The news of the death of my wife made her pensive and she vowed she would give her husband a much bigger hug when she landed in the airport.

By that point I knew her name was Gretchen and we shared more details of our lives. Suddenly she reached for her purse and pulled out a business card. “Now if your son doesn’t make it tonight, you call me and come over for Thanksgiving dinner. One more hungry mouth won’t hurt a thing.”

Gretchen’s invitation was sincere and moving. I did not take advantage of it but I will remember her kindness for a very long time.

On Thanksgiving, Jeff and I had a nice Turkey dinner and we grabbed a cab to the show we were attending that night. The cab driver was a grizzled veteran and immediately launched into a schtick about being married seven times. He had a well-practiced repertoire of misogynistic jokes about wives and women that would make some passengers laugh but they were cringe-worthy and totally unworthy of reprinting.

Jeff and I agreed after the ride that the monologue may well be false but it really does not matter. The cabbie’s cynicism and bitterness is an indisputable fact even if he hasn’t been married seven times. If he hasn’t, his belief that his schtick is going to get him more tips is an even sadder commentary.

Gretchen has chosen a path of kindness, joy and generosity for her life and the cabbie follows a far more cynical path. We all face a similar choice. How do we want to be remembered from our chance encounters?

The wonders of our children are illuminated by Mom’s absence

With tears in my eyes, I hung up the phone after a conversation with my daughter the other day. I said an audible prayer in thanksgiving for who and what she is.

My children have been my rock during my grieving process and that has made me appreciate their mother, Jean, all the more. They are adults now and my daughter, Tracy, is a great wife and mother, but she and her two brothers have always been my “kids” and it is difficult to treat them as anything but.

Yet, my entire picture of my children has changed since Jean’s death. Both Tracy and her brother Jeff have been two of my best friends for the last four-plus months. My son Jeff and I began simultaneous crying and laughing the day after Jean died and we have continued. That laughter-infused grief has been our special bond and has eased the grief just enough so it hasn’t been debilitating. Tracy has been the strong, supportive, concerned caretaker she has always been.

When Jean was alive I did not need my kids to be my confidants, now I do. That dynamic has been transformed. Now mutual trust and shared experience drives my relationship with both Tracy and Jeff.  All three of us have marveled at how many emotions and experiences of grief we share despite our very different relationships with Jean.

With help,  I am now starting to move to a stage where I celebrate Jean and our life together. I sob less and I am starting to find joy in thinking about tomorrow.  Nonetheless, the stars of our accomplishments are our children. Every time I have a magical, almost mystical moment with either Tracy or Jeff I focus on the strength of their mother and the tremendous guidance she gave them and the values she instilled in them. Our partnership produced these outstanding kids and that makes me love my life with Jean all the more. For me, celebration of her life and our life is the most powerful way to move past grief into a sad memory of great times.

My Down syndrome son, Jason, has been a crucial part of that recovery too. I spent time with Jason several days ago and it was obvious his mother made him a resilient, loving guy who misses his mother deeply but intuitively knows we were all better for having her in our life.

Jean is gone and we all wish she wasn’t, but we also know that the strength we have to move forward comes largely from her role in our lives.