My Aunt Josephine raised a son with severe disabilities for 60 years. Who knew that growing up with cousin Tommy would be great preparation for me to raise my own daughter with special needs. Aunt Jo was a pioneer in her day. When advised to put Tommy in an institution in the early 1950s, she must have said, “Baloney Macaroni!” because she brought him home instead.
When they told her he would never learn to walk, she tried anyway, and he did.
Aunt Jo saw to it that Tommy was omnipresent in our extended family. She brought him to every family gathering. She dressed him to the nines. She was proud of him.
For his part, Tommy always had an eye for pretty girls and a talent for flirting. His best girl was mom. He coined the phrase “Mudder ‘o Mine,” a term of endearment for Aunt Jo that has been passed down through the family. I smile and think of Tommy when one of my kids calls me by that sweet name.
Hardship didn’t consume this strong woman because she had a knack for finding the humor in her life. When Tom was 50, I complimented him on his full head of black hair. “How come you don’t have any gray hair like the rest of us?” I teased. Aunt Jo quipped, “You wouldn’t have any gray hair either if somebody wiped your butt every day!”
Years ago on Mother’s Day, Aunt Jo and I were leaving church together. The priest had saluted all mothers during his homily, and singled out with a rose a predictable few: the oldest mother, the newest mother, the mother with the most children.
How about the mother who has cared for her child with disabilities every day for 60 years?
Aunt Jo buried her beloved boy four years ago. At 88, she says that when her time comes, she can die in peace, no worries anymore.
This Mother’s Day is for my Aunt Jo and for all of the aging mothers of children with disabilities who have shown moms like me how to raise a child with love, for life.