He died on Shabbat almost three years ago. He was the kind of man whose compassion, good humor, and commitment to Torah made him an integral part of the community. Although we weren’t close, we considered him one of our friends and hurried home that Saturday night in order to attend his funeral.
Those who loved and admired him gathered outside the yeshiva. It was cold, dark, and somewhat eerie. Most of the eulogies were what was to be expected, praising the man and sharing touching stories about him. His youngest son’s words, though, left me totally dumbfounded.
In a choked voice, Chaim, as I’ll call him, thanked his father for teaching him to walk and helping him learn to run. What in the world was the twelve-year-old talking about? Why did he need his father’s help to walk or run?
Shilo is built on a hill and Chaim lived in the middle neighborhood while we live on the top. He wasn’t one of the children I saw often. He’s younger than all of the kids in my family. However, he’d visited our Sukkah with other boys once or twice. He seemed perfectly normal to me.
Five days later I received an answer to my questions. At the shiva call Chaim’s mother explained that he had CP, cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that primarily affects body movement and muscle coordination. I was shocked. From afar it seemed as if he could do anything the other boys his age could do. His mother explained that wasn’t quite true. He did have some limitations as far as hiking and other sports, but he was more or less totally mainstreamed with the boys in his class.
I finished my shiva call and returned home to Shabbat preparations. The next day my son, his wife, and their three-month-old baby were coming. I was excited. My grandson had been a premie and spent almost the first two months of his life in the hospital. This would be among his first visits and finally we’d have some relaxed time together. I could take him for a walk in his stroller and show him off.
They arrived a little earlier than usual that Friday. They wanted to talk to us. Their serious demeanor told us that it wasn’t going to be a fun conversation. The day before, while I was at the shiva call, they were having an important meeting with doctors. They were informed that their son had CP.
It’s never pleasant to learn that someone whom we love is short of what we perceive as perfect. If I’d heard that news before my conversation with Chaim’s mother I probably would have been devastated. A quick look at the internet listed all sorts of horror stories about children with CP who were trapped in bodies that didn’t allow for them to communicate. I chose to ignore those stories and concentrate on Chaim’s experiences.
With time I have discovered that I know more people with CP who are living normal lives. Their successes keep me optimistic about my grandson’s development. As he turns three he has already been walking for a year and his vocabulary is growing daily. I’m thrilled when he calls me mama, instead of grandma.
HaShem did an incredible kindness for me by letting me first learn about CP from Chaim and not the internet. I know His kindness never ceases. I know whatever lies ahead for my grandson will be for the best.