He lay across the breakfast table, locked in uncontrollable rigidity. His head was turned to one side and the unchewed food bulged in his cheeks. She jumped up, once again on red alert. “Jimmy, Jimmy” she called as she immediately shook his shoulders to sit back up. He didn’t respond. With the confidence of a pro, she pressed on his chin, opening his mouth and in one fluid movement cleared the contents onto the side plate in front. Jimmy returned to the room from his trancelike state, as if on cue, awakening back to the present. He glanced around and realising his breakfast was no longer in his mouth, automatically reached for a new piece of toast. “Steady Jimmy, let’s cut that up. Remember: small pieces, chew and swallow”. Jimmy looked at his mother and reached for the knife to do as she instructed. She smiled and started to clear the table. He was a truly beautiful young man, in every way. He had all the labels under the sun but none captured his real essence. He was now eighteen and she was currently in the throes of finding medical expertise to deal with his latest diagnosis; a strange condition called “catatonia of autism”. She sighed inwardly. It was almost like they had just overcome one hurdle and another appeared. She thanked God for the resilience of growing up with little. The instinct to survive and find solutions was deeply ingrained in her Celtic psyche. Jimmy meanwhile trusted her implicitly. Where he couldn’t hold a conversation, she could immediately interpret his every want and need. They had what people often referred to as a “symbiotic” relationship. She had no idea what that meant! All she did know was that both Jimmy and herself were completely codependent. His codependency came from his range of diverse disabilities, while hers was born from a want and need to be loved unconditionally. Times it had proven exhausting; the constant searching, finding, juggling and struggling. Other times it was pure bliss. When it was just the two of them, life was fairly uncomplicated. They ran, gardened, painted, cooked and slept almost as one. For years, a nightmarish husband had created wave after wave of horror in their lives until the universe intervened and he had a decent and long overdue stroke. He now was in the care of a local nursing home, shifted off by a fairly intolerant second wife, doing them all a great favour. She had also left Jimmy alone with his mother to their own devices! Last time she was seen was on a flight to Florida having liquidated their vast array of assets, including his beloved public house. That had been his raison d’etre and most probably the reason for his stroke. His tolerance of Jimmy had been limited from the start and had become more so since the Catatonia appeared. His contributions to Jimmy’s care had ceased as a child. However it hadn’t stopped him bullying, intimidating and trying to control his x wife and child. Hence, there was no weeping or gnashing of teeth with his sudden disablement. Jimmy never sought or mentioned him and nor did his mother. She had been sorely tempted to visit the nursing home and pour a pint of Guinness over his permanent right sided palsy but she’d didn’t want to waste her energy or the Guinness! There was so much more poetic justice in leaving him sitting there alone and disabled.
Today they were to see an expert in Catatonia who had travelled over especially from the States. Together they got ready for the airport. The car journey was calm and restful. Lyric FM lulled them along the road. She prayed silently that this would be the day. For years she had searched for experts, but they weren’t to be had. Medics here just put it all down to “that’s just autism”. However, mums do know best and she never gave up. As they entered the airport, a beautiful, smiling woman in her sixties came through arrivals heading straight for them. “I’m Judy, this must be Jimmy”. They shook hands. Judy looked from mother to son. “You’re very alike, he’s a handsome young man. Come, let’s chat on the way”. An hour later, they emerged from the car. Judy was staying at the local hotel. She looked at Jimmy as they travelled and immediately could see the potential for treatment. A kinship and friendship had sparked. His mother could have wept. The following day, they were to meet the medical team. It all unfolded so quickly. Nothing in their lives had happened without a decent smattering of complications, so this was a first. After dinner, they practiced writing and Jimmy slowly but surely spelled out the words. He loved this game: matching, labelling and writing. She always held the hope of more comprehension emerging as they practiced. For years she had up-skilled in all things autistic. And then when she thought she had it cracked, the Catatonia happened. Time and time again she had gone back to the well. At one stage she had thought it was gone dry. The resilience of her childhood had come from beneath what appeared to be a quarry of rock and seemed to tell her not to give up. And finally, an expert angel had appeared on the radar all the way from Columbia Missouri. Judy had just retired and had a yen to visit Ireland. Their time had come. The assessment confirmed Judy’s initial findings and the team took on her instructions and advice. Judy had shown a great empathy and understanding of Jimmy and his mum. She had travelled this journey before. Yes, the condition was manageable. With the correction medication Jimmy should regain some if not all of his lost independence. His mother left the assessment clutching the prescription in her fist. As she stood in line in the chemist shop the tears of years began to silently fall. Jimmy oblivious, linked her arm contentedly calling the evening schedule for them both: “run, shower, dinner, tea, writing, meditation, bed”. Their time had finally come.