Answering someone else's questions

Mar 9th, 2008 | By | Category: Ministry

Nicky (not his real name) spent the whole year at the special needs school where I spent a year as a volunteer house parent. Suffering mild intellectual disability, he was a gentle and pleasant child. He was prone to occasional severe epilepsy, the medication then not being what it is now, and there was a need to keep an eye on him all of the time for fear he would suffer injury.

The religious sisters, who ran the school until the year after I was there, provided year round care for some of the boys. Generally, such care was only necessary for those boys who would have simply gone into short term care elsewhere because there was no-one else able to look after them. I discovered this was not the case with Nicky.

We used to play with toy cars, running them up and down the polished floors of the corridor. Nicky would lie flat on the floor, his eyes right down at the level of the cars, trying to imagine that they were real. There was one car that was his favourite, a Jaguar XJS, which at that time cost two or three times a working man’s annual pay.

“My dad has one of these”, he said.

“Yes, Nicky”, I replied. There seemed little point in arguing.

There was an open day for parents and Nicky became very excited about his parents coming to see him, he hadn’t seen them for months.

A white Jaguar XJS rolled up the drive, a larger version of the car we had raced up and down the corridor.

Nicky’s father was a very successful businessman. He and his wife said they could not cope with Nicky at home. In the judgmental mood I would have assumed in those days, I thought, “could not or would not?” They had another son, and to me at the time it seemed like the height of cruelty to leave poor Nicky at the school all year round.

Looking back now, I wonder about my own coolness towards them when they greeted me.

How would a twenty year old have any idea of the pain they had been through trying to care for Nicky and the thoughts that arose when they decided not to take him home for holidays? What would all their neighbours have said? What comments would their friends have passed behind their backs? Probably the same things as I thought.

It’s very easy to know every answer to every problem when you are not having to answer the questions yourself.

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  1. This story about Nicky and his parents brings up the underlying guilt I sometimes feel about my mother being in long-term care (I’ve just written a post about her today). Even though I KNOW it is the right decision, you still never quite get over the feeling that perhaps you could have done more to keep her in her own home. The reality is that had we not intervened, my father would not be here today. Putting someone into care, whether young or old, is a huge decision for those involved. It is not easy to live with and always involves compromise.

    btw I still have to work very hard to try to be less-judgemental of others. I wish it came naturally but it doesn’t!

  2. Steph,

    I try to stick to the Biblical precept of ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged’ which means I now get judged as a fuzzy liberal.

    I don’t think an outsider can possibly know the pain that some decisions involve.

  3. Didn’t you say the child was left at school ‘all year round’? ‘months since he’d seen his parents’? Sorry, have to judge that one! Especially given that they obviously had the financial wherewithall to perhaps hire a carer or nanny. Respite is one thing but dumping a mildly disabled child and visiting a couple of times a year is not the right thing to do . . . Then I’ve always had a problem taking the plank from my own eye!

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