The Group Home

This blog is a continuation in a series I am writing about my husband’s brain injury.  If you wish to read the story in order, go back in my archives and find Begin at the Beginning…all the ones in the category brain injury tell my story. Some are longer than others…they come in chunks of time…sometimes quickly and others much slower.  Thanks for taking the time to read and being patient as I walk through the one of the toughest parts of my life again with new eyes to see how God used the broken pieces to create something beautiful.

IMG_9673As we pulled out of Nashville to return to Georgia, I did not look back. I did not feel the loss, only the hope of a future. I looked ahead, not behind. I thought that is what you were supposed to do. Granted, even if I had realized that looking back is sometimes the healthiest thing to do, I didn’t have the time to do it. Survival mode doesn’t really allow time to “feel” loss. I was on to the next thing. New job= new learning curve. Add that with the figuring-out-your-husband learning curve and I had a ton on my plate.

We arrived in Avondale, the location of our new home, after we had unloaded our belongings into storage. Since the home we were moving into was just finished being renovated, we are allowed to shop and buy new furniture for the whole house. Of course there was a budget, but still to go from our tiny cottage to this large house was quite overwhelming. We went to the furniture store and just started picking stuff. “We’ll take these three couches. We’ll take 6 of those dressers.” It was just crazy, but oh so very FUN!! We knew it wasn’t our furniture, but still…we were kind of pretending it was our own place. We went downtown to the Mart and got accessories to beautify each space. The goal of the ministry was to make the place as home like as possible so the guys would feel comfortable. My decorating sense was put to good use and I loved it!

ga baptistWhen we weren’t working on the house, we were helping other house parents care for their residents. It was our training. The home I went to was for non-verbal and more severely disabled men. There were only 3 there because they had to have help to do everything. I learned to bathe them, feed them, and talk to them. I must say I was in over my head, but it was such a great learning experience. The woman who was their houseparent is a saint in my mind. I knew that I could not handle this kind of work for the long term.  There is a special grace on those who are called to work in this type of ministry. Our guys would be much higher functioning, and for that I was grateful. In the meantime, Bill was going to a different home where the guys were more like the ones we would work with. They had jobs, and chores around the house, and were learning to cook. He fit right in with them. Some life started coming back into his face when he had purposeful work.

IMG_6183It wasn’t long before our home opened. We met parents who had cared for their disabled sons for years and years, and years. Parents who were aware that they themselves were aging and that they would not be around forever to care for their adult sons. They knew there needed to be some partial separation so that in the future their son would be ready for later. They were hesitant to leave their family members with such a young couple, but the house felt so homelike, and they knew it was the best step for their sons, plus they were so exhausted, so they drove away which made us the parents of 6. We had 2 Down’s syndrome men, 1 blind man, and 3 others who were also higher functioning but unable to live independently.  Their ages ranged from 21-56.  It was an adjustment for ALL of us…the guys, us, their parents…everyone was trying so hard. It was not easy.

The neighbors were not for the home being in their neighborhood. It seems that the general public has difficulty distinguishing the difference between mental illness and mentally impaired. They had fought it, but in the end they had lost the battle. It was our job to win them over and be a positive part of the community. Our first couple of weeks we had a resident who was very unhappy to be away from his parents, and so he ran away. Repeatedly. Not a good thing for our attempt to fit into the neighborhood. Like I said, everyone was adjusting.

Yet, we did. Over time, we became a family. The guys learned to live together. We learned how to care for them. I taught them to cook, and clean. Our kitchen was color coded for the non-readers. I took them shopping each week and taught them how to buy groceries. We had a van, and Bill took them to work each morning, and picked them up each afternoon. He taught them how to manage their money, to do yard work, and how to wave and smile at the neighbors. In the process of teaching, he learned life skills again. It was as if God had designed it that way or something. lol Truly, he had once again provided just what we needed, not just financially, but also recovery wise as well. We were off every weekend, so as not to burn out. We had to leave the premises, so we went to a condo that Bill’s parents owned in Norcross. His parents had moved to the mountains but still had business in Norcross, so they had a place they used during the week. We used it on the weekends. Coincidence? I don’t think so.   (Very old and blurry pictures, but I think you can feel the love here.  My birthday, Christmas, and Halloween with  our guys.)

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We celebrated each holiday with our guys. I still have pictures of them dressed up for Halloween that make me laugh. They went to the sponsoring church for Wednesday night supper, and on Sunday mornings. They had a hand bell group and our guys participated in that. It was the sweetest thing ever to see them playing music. They were so proud, and even the non-musical ones were given at least a small part that could be easily played. We took them on outings with all the other group homes (both men and women’s) so they would have activities to look forward to. You haven’t lived until you have been to downtown Atlanta, or a Braves game with close to a hundred mentally impaired adults. We were starred at everywhere we went, and the guys never even noticed. We had the BEST time…wherever we went there was joy and laughter. The simplicity was refreshing. Bowling with the non-verbal guys that I had worked with before our home opened was such a joy. To see their eyes light up as I helped them roll that ball down the alley was precious. I wondered what it would be like to talk to them. I wondered what they would say. I think this is the first place I learned to look into the eyes to SEE a person. I could feel their frustrations, but yet see the beauty in their souls. I know that to many, they are the rejected ones…somehow less than, but that is not true. I came to believe in working with the disabled population that they are the pure ones. Unaffected by the world around them, they are joyful, and caring. No worries. They live in the moment. Every moment. I learned so much about life when working with them.  

The neighbors learned we were good people and that no one was going to break into their homes or steal their children. The parents of the guys got some much needed relief, and loved their sons living more independently. The men loved having jobs and their own lives. It was a beautiful thing to be a part of. It was exactly what we needed and for nearly two years it provided healing for my husband’s brain. He was wonderful with the guys, like a big brother who took them in and showed them how to do things. I don’t think that any physical or occupational therapy could have done for him what this job did. Compassion came back. Humor came back. Generosity of spirit came back. Responsibility came back. The job required him to come out of himself and to give to others unselfishly, and sacrificially. His heart softened, and his mind matured. I honestly do not know if he would have come as far back if he hadn’t had this job at this specific time in his recovery. I am ever so grateful for this season of healing for him.

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