From the day he was born, Ms. Nita was part of Colby’s life. She came in twice a week to help us keep our house tidy … but more importantly, she helped us keep our hearts happy.
When Colby was diagnosed with autism at the age of 17 months, Ms. Nita became friends with the parade of therapists who came into our home over the next decade. Although not a computer savvy person, she learned to trouble shoot his Dynavox machine that “spoke” for him, giving him a voice for the first time at age six. And she rejoiced when he finally spoke clearly enough for us to understand some words at age eight. She cheered every skill and championed every effort.
When Ms. Nita died suddenly, I struggled with how to explain her absence to Colby, who still, at age 20, has huge gaps in his understanding of language and his ability to use it. For the first time in his life, his Monday and Wednesday afternoons would have a Ms. Nita-shaped void.
Her kind daughter allowed us to have some private time in the funeral home – with Ms. Nita in her casket.
We approached the coffin cautiously and Colby gazed at his beloved Ms. Nita for several minutes. Wanting to be sure that he didn’t confuse “death” with “sleep,” I encouraged him to touch her hand. He patted her repeatedly and finally announced, “statue,” with a questioning look.
I jumped on that concept with a great sense of relief. “EXACTLY, Colby, she doesn’t need her body anymore so all that is left is like a statue.” I rambled on for a bit about her leaving her unnecessary body behind as Colby stroked her hand, occasionally murmuring, “statue.”
Thinking we had managed to get through a tough situation relatively well, I started to ease us out of the room.
Colby, however, was not through. He plopped himself down on the loveseat at the end of the casket and stared off into the distance.
All of a sudden, he snapped to attention and proclaimed, “LIGHTNING!”
I knew exactly what he meant.
“Hercules?” I asked, and he nodded enthusiastically.
Like many on the autism spectrum, Colby is a Disney aficionado, with an uncanny recall of every scene. Like most parents of kids on the spectrum, my Disney knowledge has been honed by thousands of hours in front of a shared screen.
I knew without a doubt that Colby was waiting for a lightning bolt … the same sort of lightning bolt that struck the Zeus statue in Hercules, bringing it to life.
Laughing out loud, with tears in my eyes, I knew Ms. Nita of all people would appreciate his Disney theology -- and love his plan to bring her back.