The View From Here

Skye and Kerr at Rick Hansen's 25th Anniversary Relay

It feels so good to be home, and to be reunited with Kerr and Burns. For a short time it was wonderful to have the whole family together before Skye went back to the University of Waterloo in early September. We’re looking forward to his return for the holidays.

I have committed to pacing myself. The three months on the road were wonderful, but demanding and exhausting, and they followed two years of preparation for Kilometres for Communication, in addition to a hectic work schedule, our human rights case, and the ongoing challenges that sleep deprivation, Kerr’s ongoing seizures, and the sudden unavailability of attendant care presented.

After months in an RV, home feels luxurious with interior space to move around in, with water we can drink out of the faucet, with phones and internet that are predictable, without worries about how full the gray water and black water tanks are, and how empty the propane tank is. Home, Sweet Home!

The three months on the road have given us plenty to reflect upon. Of all the experiences we had, I’m not exactly sure why I want to start with one in Nova Scotia when we were parked in a campsite with a beautiful view of distant ocean. I was looking out at the water as I worked at the computer when a big pick-up truck backed up from its spot a few campsites over and parked directly across the road from our RV, completely blocking our view. The pick-up truck owner then proceeded to build a fire in close proximity to the spot where his truck originally had been parked, and sprawled out his legs as he comfortably lounged in a lawn chair that was now parked where his truck had been. He obviously was enjoying the view which Skye and I could no longer see.

I meandered over to this sprawling, lounging camper, smiled, said a friendly hello, and asked him if he would mind moving his pick-up. He responded in an equally friendly way, and said with genuine surprise, “Oh, it never occurred to me that my truck might be blocking someone’s view. Sure, I’ll move it!” Hmmm…it had never occurred to me that it might not have occurred to him that his truck was blocking our view.

I’ve been thinking about how often I’ve been surprised by what has never occurred to people about Kerr: that he has feelings, and they can be hurt; that he wants to be accepted, understood, engaged and respected (like anyone else); that he needs to be addressed directly; that he is extremely sensitive to people’s feelings and when someone who meets him or is getting to know him feels uncomfortable, that Kerr responds with equal or greater discomfort; and when that happens, his most common coping strategy is to withdraw. I have come to the conclusion that sometimes—not always—people’s exclusion of Kerr arises purely out of a lack of awareness and experience.

I keep reminding myself of what I didn’t know before Kerr came into my life. What is obvious to me in 2011, once was frustrating and mysterious. Now that Kerr has AAC (augmentative and alternative communication), he is able to do a great job of informing and educating people who take the time to get to know him. There are many situations, though, where there is so much going on—conversation, ambient sound, other environmental factors—that Kerr becomes overwhelmed and withdrawn. It is helpful and wonderful when people are comfortable talking to Kerr, and they are sincerely engaged in conversation with him. I realize, though, that this can be challenging when people just don’t know how. Often, when I’ve tried to make suggestions, it creates social awkwardness. At other times, the conversation is flowing, Kerr is overwhelmed, withdrawn—and excluded. I always feel badly when this happens, and I feel even worse if I haven’t done anything to assist him and to assist others in understanding him when he’s not in a position to do so for himself. I’ve often caught myself absorbed in conversation with a group of friends, but aware that Kerr has slipped deep inside himself because we have not included him. If it’s a small group of people who know Kerr, we can work together to correct the situation, but if it’s a larger group of people who are not particularly sensitized to Kerr, I feel like I’m swimming upstream. After everyone has returned home, I’m left feeling conflicted—pleased about the flow of conversation, but sad and guilty that Kerr has once again been left out.

I love it when people really want to know Kerr and how he communicates, or when they feel unsure, they ask us, so we can help. It is especially wonderful when they realize that Kerr is truly like the rest of us in all of the most important ways. When others talk from the comfort and knowledge of that perspective, Kerr feels and knows it, and it makes a big difference.

Knowing Kerr keeps widening our perspective, and there is so much more to see and understand when the view is panoramic.

Gail

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