As our children become adults, one of the biggest milestones is the day they move away from home and find themselves in front of a new door. Leaving a house that has provided decades of love, safety and happiness comes with mixed emotions for everyone. However, it is a natural progression towards independence and embracing the future. When an adult has a disability, it’s often hard to imagine there will ever be a door that opens to a future where those hopes and dreams become a reality. But it all starts with a knock.
Part of the planning process for my son has included his future, with us and when my husband and I are gone. Closing the door on one’s own existence and preparing for the inevitable is something we all encounter and plan for, but it becomes even more critical when your son has a disability. That being said, it was important that Jonathan have input and feel confident in any move. So for the past 3 years we have been searching for his new home. Three weeks ago, Jonathan found it, complete with a pool, four new roommates and his own independence.
Our journey has led us through many of life’s doors– front doors and back, side doors, basement and patio doors, some small, others large. Each with their own purpose and lesson. Even a few exits and entrances we never imagined. All have been an important part of the process: learning, loving and even letting go. Jonathan has always trusted us to lead the way and now he leads himself on a journey where I watch and now learn to step aside as he chooses the doors he wants to open. Forges new relationships and reliances on others. Makes his own way in the world and defines his own happiness. We all knew this time would come, the knock on the door telling Jonathan it was time to go find his independence, happiness and future.
The day after his move I returned from work, exited my car and closed the door. I immediately looked towards Jonathan’s window. In search of the face, smile and wave that would greet me every time I arrived home. Today it wasn’t there and a pang of sadness hit me. Two days later I went to put some laundry back in his room. As I reached the top of the stairs I came face to face with his bedroom door. Typically Jonathan would be sprawled out on his bed with his iPad or watching the TV. But as I opened the door, I was met with a neatly made bed and silence. Another wave hit and I stood there for several minutes reflecting on his absence in both the room and my presence. Some doors are harder to close than others.
While we will always be in Jonathan’s life til our last day on this earth, the view is different– similar to looking through a peephole and we no longer hold the key. We are faced with our own form of parenting independence which feels strange to say the least, after 28 years of being the doorman in our son’s life. We are now the revolving door with a watchful eye. It will take some getting used to but Jonathan is showing us he was more than ready to make this move. I can find peace and comfort in that.
And if I had any doubts, they were erased that first night we moved him into his new home. I guess I expected it to be a sad occasion, but it was the complete opposite. It was a beautiful testament to how much Jonathan has grown over the years into the young man sitting on his new bed, laughing with his sisters, watching Jeff install his TV and telling me where he wanted his things. We hung some of his favorite family photos on the wall and he smiled as each was nailed into place. Together we organized his bathroom as he chose where he wanted all of his toiletries and towels. Same with his clothes and shoes, happy to be the one orchestrating things his own way. It was an evening filled with happiness, pride and excitement about the possibilities that lie ahead.
Like all of us, Jonathan will encounter struggles along the way, he will learn to adapt, trust that others will support him, yet always know his family is there whenever he needs us. Jonathan doesn’t need a key for that door, it will always be open.
As we all said our goodbyes, Jonathan gave us the biggest grin and then turned his attention back to his movie. But as we were walking out of his bedroom Jonathan’s last words of the evening were: “Close the door “. We all laughed and in that moment I realized while we were closing one door, another had just opened.