I know Lynette from my local quilt guild. She is part owner of a fabric shop. She cares for her brother who has special needs, and has done so for the last 17 years.
Lynette was five years old when her brother Corey was born. At birth he ingested meconium, but was sent home rather than monitored at the hospital. Soon he got pneumonia and almost died. The high fevers damaged his brain. She says he might be labeled as autistic, with some of the common elements of Asperger syndrome.
Corey always knows where all of his things are, even if they look like a mess. He reads very well, and retains what he reads. He loves movies, music, and cars—all from the 1960s. Whenever he sees an old car he can identify the make, model, size of the engine, and how many were made. He has a harder time with math and spatial relations, and is always completely and sometimes embarrassingly honest. He also loves airplane crash movies.
Corey loves children up until they are about two years old, but when they get older they worry him. Lynette says her grandchildren are a trial to him. He believes that one of them tried to push him down the stairs at one time. The child was three years old.
Lynette’s mother, Blanche, took care of Corey until she was 79 years old. Lynette’s father had passed away some time before, and Blanche decided to remarry. Blanche’s new husband thought it would be best to put Corey in a group home, and soon they did. Blanche and her new husband went on a honeymoon trip to the Panama Canal, and Lynette and her husband, Jim, went to pick her brother up for a two week visit. Later they kept Corey for a month in the summer. Over the time he was in the group home, Corey began losing weight, and he developed a stutter. At Christmas Lynette and her husband brought Corey home again, and Jim said, “He’s not going back. He’s staying here.” So they kept him.
Several years later, Blanche’s husband passed away, and she moved to be closer to Lynette and Corey. Their mother would take Corey shopping and buy him whatever he wanted. This made it hard for Lynette later. She would have to have an extra $100 if she took him shopping, because he would get upset if he didn’t get what he wanted.
At one point, a pipe broke in their kitchen sink, flooding the basement apartment where Corey stays. He went to stay with their mom for a little while as the repairs took place. When he left, he had a duffel bag of things, but came home with his things packed in a number of shopping bags. Jim was helping him carry things in, when Corey quit coming upstairs. Jim went down to get him, and Corey was leaned back in a chair, very pale, and not breathing. They called 911. Luckily some close neighbors are paramedics. They quickly came and got Corey breathing again. At the ER they tested him quite a bit and discovered that he was bleeding internally.
After an endoscopy, the doctor asked Lynette, “Does Corey take painkillers?” She said, “No. Maybe rarely.” The doctor said, “He has the stomach of someone who has abused painkillers.” Specifically, ibuprofen.
The day before, Blanche had told the doctors that Corey took no pills or medications. But when Lynette called her, she said that Corey did take ibuprofen. Lynette wanted to know where he was getting them, and their mother said he would just put them in the cart when they shopped. Downstairs they found quite a few almost empty bottles of ibuprofen, because Corey never likes to use the last of anything. “We were a big family.” Lynette said, “With seven kids I don’t think you ever want to be accused of taking the last. We were just horrified.” Lynette had to report to the doctor, “Oh yeah, Corey has been on Advil. And his 90-year-old mother is his drug pusher.” Corey’s stomach was filled with bleeding ulcers, and he had to take medication for a couple of years to heal. Lynette was horrified. She had been working full time at the time.
Every day Corey fixes his own breakfast and lunch, and Lynette and her family make sure he has dinner. Several of Lynette’s grown children live nearby, and they are a great support network. They take care of Corey if Lynette and Jim need to go out of town.
Corey is quite a homebody. He strongly dislikes travel. When he does, he packs and is ready to go home the next day. When Lynette told Corey that their mother had passed away, he was very shocked. That was when emotions came for Lynette. “I tried to hug him, but he is not physically demonstrative.” Corey walked away for a short time, then he came back with a question.
“So, are just you and Jim going to the funeral?”
“No, Corey. You’re going to the funeral. You have to.”
“I really don’t want to.”
“Corey, are you kidding? Our brothers and sisters would have a fit if you are not there. You are going to the funeral. Case closed.”
He did go.
When Corey was born, the doctors told his family that his optic nerve was paralyzed, and he wore glasses from the time he was 18 months old. Shortly after Corey came to live with Lynette and Jim, they went out to a local theater. While they were there Corey bent over, and his glasses dropped and broke. Due to his special prescription and needs, they took him to a specialist. When she examined Corey, she found no paralysis. With a series of three surgeries, she was able to fix his eyes, and he has enjoyed 20/20 vision ever since.
Another way Lynette cares for Corey is his social needs. As a child her friend group would always include him, and now as an adult she takes him to a Special Needs Activity Program with their church. She and her husband serve in the leadership of the program, which serves people of all ages and ability levels. They meet every Thursday, mirroring the school calendar. If school is out, the program takes a break also. The group also holds a summer activity, and they look forward to a pool party this year. Shortly after our interview, the Special Needs Activity Program hosted a talent show. Corey planned to do an air drum solo to a Beatles song.
Lynette and Jim have also cared for two of their parents at various times. Lynette’s mother lived nearby toward the end of her life, and for seven years Lynette styled her mom’s hair every day. “I loved doing that. It was not a hardship.”
Jim’s father visited other times, and he had Alzheimer’s. Once, after Jim had knee surgery, his father came for a visit and started using Jim’s favorite cane. On the day his dad left, at the airport Jim said that he needed his cane back. His dad replied, “This is my cane.” “No, Dad. It’s actually my cane.” His father was insistent. “It’s my cane.” He held up the cane to show them. He had carved his own name into Jim’s cane.
Last summer, Jim and Lynette went to Hawaii. Before they left, Corey got worried. His love of airplane movies was a liability this time. “Lynette, if you and Jim die in a plane crash, what is going to happen to me?” He wanted to know. They were at their local Dairy Queen with their son and daughter-in-law. Their daughter-in-law stepped right in and said, “Corey don’t you even worry. We’ll just move in with you. Your world will not change.” Lynette thought that was very sweet of her to reassure Corey that way. They have not set any plans in stone, but she is grateful to have that family support.
Lynette says that outside of clipping toenails, which made her gag at first, taking care of Corey is really not too bad. “We thank Heavenly Father for Corey every night. He is just fun. You never know what he is going to say.”
I know what I would like to say to Lynette. Thank you. The work you do caring for other people is a big deal. I honor you.