Remembering George

Remembering George

Written on 04/30/2021

Department:
Author: Joyce Sluiter

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“For the sake of future siblings and the comfort of your family, place George in an institution and forget you ever had him.”

The cruel words, reflective of a common attitude in the U.S. until the 1990s, stung and burned in the hearts of the already heartbroken parents. Their 2-week-old son in their arms, they returned to their little home where happiness had dissipated and the clouds of despair had moved in. Just last month, they had completed the nursery and settled on the name of George for a boy. Oh yes, their son needed a strong name like his dad’s and his grandfather’s. Another George it would be.

But the joyous expectations of a first child were crushed by the unexpected. George was a low-functioning baby with Down’s syndrome. Despairing of hope, George Sr. and Mary looked to the doctor for advice. His words broke their hearts: “Place him in an institution immediately, before you become attached. Your opportunities for contact must be removed. I can arrange a place for you in Grand Rapids, Michigan.”

Fearful and frightened, shaking their fists at God, George and Mary left Chicago on the gut-wrenching trip to Grand Rapids. There, as the doors closed behind them, they left their dreams for the future and returned home to the empty house with the deserted nursery.

Another pregnancy came, and Mary recalled the joys of the first news of the first pregnancy, but remember—forget you ever had him.

Tomorrow is Dec. 2: he will be 4 years old. Sobbing, Mary wonders, “Does anyone know? Does anyone care?” And then, remember—forget you ever had him.

The children grew, and Mary marked their height inside the closet door wondering, “How tall … ?” No, remember, forget you ever had him.

“One more story, Mommy, just one more,” the children begged at bedtime, and Mary wondered if anyone read a bedtime story to … .”  No, no, remember, forget you ever had him.

Chicken pox, measles came and went. Did he ever have …? Oops, remember, forget you ever had him.

At the age of 26, the state moved George to a smaller facility and placed him in a nonprofit foster care home. The biggest challenge George presented was in developing his social acceptability. His greeting to anyone (friend or foe) was a huge, oversized, sloppy kiss. Day by day and little by little, George blossomed. Now, though the awkward gait remained, he approached people with an outstretched hand. By Christmas he had learned to sing Away in a Manger and was selected to perform at the Christmas program of a local school for the handicapped.

Mail from Michigan! An invitation to a Christmas program. Hmm. Do you suppose? Uh uh, remember, forget you ever had him.

It was George’s turn. Aghast at the lights and the crowd, he slowly approached the microphone.  The piano began, and George needed to be prompted to sing. No, it wasn’t a sweet voice, it was a raspy voice. The words weren’t clear, and one needed the piano to recognize the song.  George smiled broadly at the applause that followed, and in the rear of the auditorium, a mother sobbed in her husband’s arms, “I missed so much, I missed so much, but never again will I remember to forget.”

A mother’s heart never forgets

As I remember Mary’s story this Mother’s Day, I am reminded that I am not my own but belong to my heavenly Father who holds me in his heart, loves me in my weakness, delights in hearing my feeble voice and unfailingly remembers his own.

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