Another Tragedy Before Tommy’s Diagnosis of Autism

Part Two of a Five-Post Series about one woman’s experiences with her son who has autism.

Tommy had been going through evaluations with the school district that prompted me in the days preceding the party at the duck pond to get a developmental psychologist’s opinion. A few weeks later Tommy was diagnosed with autism, and as a family of three, my boys and I began our journey.

At first, I would ask God…Why him? Why us? Why now? Autism was the most difficult thing I had ever been faced with as a person and as a parent. But my second biggest personal challenge certainly made this situation tougher.

I lost my husband, Brad, two weeks before my twin sons were born. I never really got that “get out of jail free card” you think you should have when you got to the other side of losing someone. But that journey through grief was like an ant hill compared to the mountain of challenges that autism would bring. The big difference though….with autism we had hope.

Brad, and I met in college. We were together 10 years before we married in 2002. A year later we found out we were pregnant with twins! We were living in California, and he asked me to move back to the Midwest, to his home state of Ohio, to raise our kids.

We left when I was 7 months pregnant.I retired, and we bought a house. Brad received a promotion. We were going to live the good life and live happily ever after.

We were set to move into our new house in two days. Brad was traveling on business. He called me he was going to watch a basketball game with some colleagues and that he was anxious to come home the next day to celebrate my birthday. I reminded him I was over 8 months pregnant and that “celebrating” carried a whole new meaning.

We hung up as he told me he would call me when he got back to the hotel. He said he loved me, and I said the same to him.

Those were the last words we spoke. I never received his “I’m home safe” call. Brad died a few hours later in a car accident, a drunk driving accident and he was the driver.

I awoke that night in a panic, and to this day I don’t know why. When I saw he hadn’t called, I dialed the phone and immediately got his voicemail. First instinct… I am going to hurt him when I get a hold of him. Second instinct… fear.

I never slept another wink that night, and in the early hours a knock came at the door.

In that moment I knew and our lives changed forever. I was thrown between an experience of death and an experience of life in a matter of two weeks… which is something my heart and head had a hard time getting around. Not many people experience that.

I truly believe our children were a gift from God because there was such purity in them and such true joy that all I could do was pick myself up and keep going. I cannot say the journey was easy, but I kept reminding myself of who Brad was in life and what he would say if he was standing in front of me.

I remember the day the fog of grief started to clear. It was late at night when the babies were asleep and all had gone back to their lives and I was alone. I was crying and I saw my reflection in the window. In that moment I felt him and knew I was at a crossroads. I could go one way towards darkness and misery or turn towards the light of hope.

I realized in that moment that no matter how much crying I did, how much I begged or prayed… he was never coming back. Why should I be sad all the time? I needed to learn to be happy again, that it was ok to be happy, and that and I needed to do it not just for the kids but for me, too.

I forgave him in that instant and knew I had to create a special life for the kids and me. This was not the period at the end of our sentence. This was not the end to our story. It was just the beginning.

I remembered the words he said so often that I used them for his gravestone…Life is a wave – ride it! At that moment I did not even realize how true that statement would become.

The boys and I closed one chapter in our lives and moved to the next and back to California a year later. I never looked back nor wondered “what if.” We were focused on the future and the positive of all that life had to offer since now we realized how fragile life really is. I was never going to take anything for granted and I was going to enjoy every moment…or at least try to!

The kids were my focus and were true angels because they represented all the innocence of life and carried with them such hope and a irreplaceable bond that would help them and me through the obstacle known as autism.

How have your life experiences shaped your attitude towards life, your children and you?

Published on: July 01, 2008
About the Author
Photo of Kelly Austing

Kelly is a 36-year-old single mother of twin 4-year-old boys, Mikey and Tommy. In 2001 Kelly landed her dream job as an event producer at In Style, a leading fashion and lifestyle magazine.

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