Sunday, June 11, 2017

What I Am Going to Do

In the spring, I made a life-altering decision: this would be my last year of teaching. After thirty-three years of teaching middle school English and working with fantastic fellow teachers, I knew the time had come, just as my retired teacher friends had told me I would know. Although some of my friends and colleagues were surprised by the seeming suddenness in my early retirement plans, for months, God had shown me in various ways that I had finished with this stage of my life. After prayerful consideration, heartfelt conversations with my family, and financial calculations, I knew I was ready. Consequently, I have been completely at peace with finishing my career and looking forward to the future. After making my decision official, I never had even a twinge of regret or wistfulness, which confirms that I am doing the right thing at the right time.

What surprised me, though, was the question that many people asked me once they heard of my retirement: “What are you going to do?” I suppose, since I am retiring at the earliest eligible age, this inquiry makes sense. However, my impression of retirement was that it meant no longer having to do something. Because the question was not one I had anticipated, I didn’t really have a good answer. Moreover, I realized that for the first time in my life I did not have a detailed, organized plan, and I didn’t have alternate plans in case my original plan didn’t work. Amazingly, I was fine with that, which is totally out of character for me. Consequently, I knew my decision was guided by God’s plans and not my own.

I didn’t need to think about my future plans for long because the three people who know and love me best had ideas for me immediately. My mom, a retired teacher herself, is thrilled with my decision and suggested that now I will have time to take my blog entries and edit them into a book about autism. That is a project I have mulled for a while and will definitely take into consideration. My husband noted that now I will be able to get up and make breakfast for him every day. I think he was kidding; if not, he will be sadly disappointed. However, since he wholeheartedly supports my decision, he may be the recipient of donuts from my early morning trips to the bakery. Perhaps the most pleased by my retirement plans is Alex, who excitedly told me, “We can watch Price Is Right together every morning!” Now, that’s a plan I can embrace!

Aside from the suggested writing, cooking, and watching television, I will have time on my hands to fill. Those concerned that I will be twiddling my thumbs or eating bon bons in my free hours need not worry. What am I going to do? I am going to take care of Alex, just as I have for the past twenty-five plus years. What I have realized in the past several weeks is that only a few people who know our situation well understand what taking care of Alex truly involves. Because I have chosen to focus on the positive and tried not to complain about life with autism, I may not have presented a clear picture of what being a caregiver to an adult with autism actually requires. I suspect if people only knew, they would be less likely to ask me about my retirement plans.

So, what am I going to do? This summer my plan is to help Alex get well. Currently, he has probably the worst case of candida overgrowth he has ever had with cheilitis and thrush irritating his mouth and throat. A month ago, he had a virus that affected his appetite, so we have spent the last several weeks encouraging him to eat, trying to find things that appeal to him. The thrush complicated the situation by making even his favorite foods taste bad, and his sore mouth and throat makes eating painful. Consequently, our already thin boy has lost weight, which is concerning. His primary care doctor has prescribed an antifungal medication, which seems to be helping, but from past experience, we know that candida is hard to control, and it will take time before he’s well. We have an appointment to see his doctor again in a few weeks and are hoping that he will be better by then.

In the meantime, we know that he needs proper nutrition to heal, so we constantly encourage him to eat healthy foods. Compounding this issue is that we recently discovered that his lithium level is higher than it should be, leading to tremors that make eating with a spoon or fork nearly impossible. To make matters more complicated and frustrating, the nurse practitioner who oversees his medications has been incommunicado, and despite my best efforts to contact her, we have been put in a position of making medication decisions ourselves. Fortunately, Alex is responding well to the changes we made based upon research, but we never should have been put in this position in the first place. Nonetheless, we are literally spoon feeding Alex ourselves five or six times a day, just as one would an infant. Thankfully, he is also responding well to our coaxing him to eat, and we are seeing improvements in the variety and quantity of foods he will eat.

Along with the actual acts of caregiving, I find myself engaged in constant prayers not only for Alex’s healing but also for guidance so that we know how best to help him. Once again, I find myself having to develop my faith and patience as I wait for God to reveal His plans and to heal Alex. So what am I going to do? I am going to wait on the Lord and keep myself busy taking care of my precious boy. While that may not sound like an exciting way to begin retirement, I know that is what God wants me to do and will help me to do, and I have no doubt that the rewards will be absolutely worth the effort in the end.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11


marjorie said...

Congrats on your retirement, Pam! I'm so sorry to hear of Alex's ill health (and absentee nurse-practitioner! INFURIATING) -- wishing your family all the best.


Celeste Thompson said...

Congratulations Pam! I am amazed at what you have been able to accomplish in taking care of Alex while working, I can only imagine what the extra time will allow you to do with Alex as he continues to heal! I also like your mom's idea of writing the book.

Pam Byrne said...

Dear Marjorie,
Thank you for your good wishes--it's always nice to hear from you. Alex is gradually getting better with time. He has an appointment this week to see his primary care doctor, who can hopefully give us guidance that the other practitioner has not. :( Hope you and your family are doing well and enjoying the summer.

Pam Byrne said...

Dear Celeste,
I've enjoyed getting to know you and your son better through our emails back and forth. Thanks for your kind comments. Hope you and your family are well.
Take care,