This past Saturday, as we prepared to leave for the farmer’s market, my husband and I received the heart-breaking news that Audrey, a young woman with autism who lives at Safe Haven Farms with our son Joel, died unexpectedly on Friday. In her mid-20’s, Audrey was a larger than life kind of gal. She loved to dress up, loved all things Disney, and rarely used her “indoor voice.” A beautiful young lady, she was hard to miss in a crowd. To think that she is physically “gone” is more than the mind can comprehend. I am so thankful to know that her mom and dad have a deep faith to carry them through this tragedy.
My husband and I walked around in a daze all weekend, praying for Audrey’s family, even as we celebrated our nephew’s graduation, worshiped, and took a long drive in the country with Joel, who was very anxious due to the scary sight of ambulances and police cars in his neighborhood the day before. He still did not know that Audrey had passed away.
How to explain death to someone with autism?
Joel loves the Lord with all of his heart, soul, and mind, and so we prayed the Spirit would help him understand as we told him that Audrey had died, like his grandpa and grandma died several years ago, and that she is in heaven now, with Jesus. We told him that in heaven, there is no crying or pain or sickness. That Audrey is happy there, and she can sing and dance and dress up in princess clothes all she wants.
Joel listened with a worried look on his face, and whispered, “Audrey died. Everybody’s sad. Dear God, pray for Audrey.”
Later in the afternoon we stopped by Joel’s brother’s house. On the table was a large crate, partially uncovered.
“There’s a bird in here,” Joel said, pulling the cover off (I found out later that he had been at his brother’s house the day before with his dad, which is why he knew what was in the crate).
I peered in. Sure enough, there was a colorful baby cardinal in the straw, his body stiff.
“Oh Joel, the bird died.”
“Yes, I’m sorry.” I placed the cover back on the crate.
Joel moved on to something else, but the gears were turning in his mind.
An hour later, when his best friend Sarah took him for a walk, Joel began talking.
“Audrey died. It’s so sad. Her mom is sad. She died. The bird died. I think the bird is just sleeping. He will wake up.”
Sarah answered, “No, Joel, the bird isn’t sleeping. He died.”
“Oh, the bird’s going to heaven.”
“Yes,” Sarah answered. “I’m sure there are birds in heaven.”
How often my son surprises me—this young man with autism and moderate cognitive disabilities—how he grabs my heart with his insight, his compassion, his caring.
At the age of 30 Joel continues to struggle with anxiety and behavioral issues due to that anxiety, and there are days I become very frustrated that God’s timing for healing is so different than my desire for our son’s healing. But Audrey’s passing reminds me that every day is precious and to be celebrated.
Today I wake up today feeling blue, my heart weeping for Leslie and Mike, Audrey’s mom and dad. I feel so helpless. I walk out to the prayer room and put on “Spirit to Spirit,” a CD by Julie True, and cue it to the song, “Thank You.” The words sink into my heart and bring a deep peace.
Thank you Father God
Thank you for all you’ve done
You have been so good to me…
Even in the hard times
Even in the pain
You were there all along
You were there in the midst of my darkness
And I thank you, oh Father God.
Thank you, God, for loving me
Thank you, for saving me and setting me free…
Thank you, God…
I receive your love..
A thankful heart prepares the way for you
I want to have a thankful heart
I am thankful
I play the song a second time and sing along, lifting up the words to God as prayer. I am thankful, even in the midst of the frustrations of living with autism. I am thankful for Safe Haven Farms, a beautiful, loving community where Joel and Audrey both have been loved and accepted for who they are. I especially thank God today for the promise of eternal life for Audrey, this vibrant young woman who touched so many lives with joy even in the midst of the hard times and the pain.
Even in the hard times, even in the pain. I receive your love, Lord. May Audrey’s mom and dad receive your healing love today, in the midst of the deepest pain a parent can know.
In the midst of your hard times, for what are you thankful today?