Christmas usually involves a big family get together at our house, but I think this year will be different. Usually, the easiest option is to invite both sets of the kid’s grandparents to our house (thus avoiding a fifty mile round trip trying to fit in a visit to both). It usually follows that my wife’s sister, partner and son join us and, for good measure, we often add my grandmother and her partner into the mix. It makes for a very busy Christmas day but is usually lots of fun. But given the year we’ve had, we do not have much enthusiasm for getting everyone over.
We’ve managed to avoid the big family get together all year. By now there have usually been several get-togethers at our house with at least both sets of grandparents. To my knowledge, the grandparents have not seen each other since the diagnosis and all that has followed. Mostly we’ve been too busy and pre-occupied, but if I’m honest, the real reason is that we can’t face them being in a room together, talking about our son’s autism.
I can almost hear the conversations they would have and the sort of things they would discuss. There would be the, ‘I can’t see anything wrong with him’ school of thought from Grandma. The two nans (our mothers) would dwell on what a difficult year it’s been for us. My mother’s favourite saying is, ‘I don’t know how you cope’ (Mom, I don’t). My mother in law would ask stupid questions and reveal her lack of understanding of his condition (‘but he seems so clever’). There would be no escape from this and we would end up feeling resentful about what is basically a huge amount of love and compassion, albeit not always helpfully expressed.
Worst of all would be my dad’s reluctance to say anything at all about my son’s disability. I have found this a difficult thing to cope with over the last (almost year). When B was much younger my dad had a spell of being unemployed and, as a result, spent a fair bit of time with B. I think he developed quite a close bond with him as a result and B was very fond of him. When visiting he would run past his nan to get to grandad and they clearly enjoyed each others’ company. As concerns about B began to develop, he did what we all did, and assumed it was probably just slight delay and that, given time, he would soon catch up. When we started talking about autism and then eventually got the diagnosis, I think my dad found it difficult to either comprehend or accept. My mother tried her best to understand and read the books and literature I gave to her. Like me she probably quickly realised that a few books are not going to solve the problem, but at least she was doing something. My dad made it clear he was not going to read anything. I don’t think this was a refusal to accept anything but more a feeling of being overwhelmed.
It’s not like I suddenly expect my dad to start sharing his emotions and feelings. He’s certainly not that sort of person and the thought of him doing so is hard to imagine. My dad is totally strong and reliable and there for me, but don’t expect him to do anything weird like talking. I accept this and I understand this. But I find his reluctance to really talk about B’s autism difficult to take.
I suppose what it comes down to is the feeling that my parents are usually the strong ones, there with advice and experience when I want it (and sometimes when I don’t want it!). It saddens me to think of them struggling to accept, cope and live with the reality of my son’s condition. Worst of all is the fact that I don’t think they have any idea what the implications could be for my son’s future. It’s understandable- I’m not sure I do either. Someone suggested to me that for grandparents it can be twice as bad; they are concerned on two fronts as they see not only their grandchildren but their children having to deal with something they don’t understand. We put on brave faces when we see our parents. I play everything down, although they probably see through me.
This post probably reads as unfair and ungrateful. I don’t mean it to. I wish it was easier for them and that we hadn’t brought this upon their lives. I wish my father-in-law didn’t have to have awkward conversations with friends who ask him, ‘when are you going to bring the grandkids to the footie?’. I wish I didn’t worry that their houses were going to be trashed if we visit. I wish my dad could have the conversation with his grandson that other grandparents have with theirs. I don’t feel resentful, I feel guilty.
So the plan is to have a low-key Christmas. We will see all our parents, grandparents and relatives over the holidays, but we’re taking a time-out on Christmas Day this year. It’s just a little too soon to play the merry hosts and face up to the big family get together. I think they understand this. No doubt it will be business as usual by Christmas 2012. Life will never be ‘back to normal’, whatever that means. I’m pretty sure that, given time, the way we feel about and deal with things will change. It has to.