When my younger sister Gretchen was born in the 1950’s, her complex multiple disabilities meant that she would be institutionalized at the age of 4. My mother was devastated and her resulting depression along with the absence of my sister created a lot of sadness in our family that reverberated through the years and impacted on every relationship in the family.
Fast forward to the late 90’s when the institutions were closed and Gretchen came to live in a cul de sac group home in Toronto where she currently lives in a truly supportive environment.
On a Lost Child
by Sandy McConnell-Doehler
It did not matter when the learned prose,
with one-by-one and minus-two, foretold
the fearful question passing time would pose,
the dreaded day unfold.
It did not slow me when, through every door
we passed, we came as wise without again,
when down the same dim hallways as before,
we pressed our way in vain.
Ah, but the shadow lengthened as we went-
the spectre of that death without a grave,
when neither rite, nor prayer, nor sacrament,
nor mourners’ tears we gave.
I took your little velvet hand in mine
and down a hallway longer than the rest
I led you from your home and gave no sign-
it was “all for the best.”
Now all your needs are filled, or so they say;
kind, unknown hands that change each day, will guide
you in your everlasting childhood play,
the tower walls inside.
You will not miss the varied, lovely scents
of freedom; of fish-laden winds that blow
from the sea; of stained books, rained-on pavements-
they say you will not know.
You will not know how I remember eyes
blue as the hyacinth in a market square,
and listen still for your mourning dove cries
on the silent night air,
and search for something heavy I can hold
sometimes, to fill my empty arms again-
warm, my child, for you were never cold,
as in them you have lain.
So I put down my load. Now starts the pain.
What can appease the fire within, once lit?
A little pass at fate is like soft rain
fallen in Hades’ pit.
A child in want or fear, or in distress,
that in my vacant path cries to be free,
just for a moment gives, in my redress,
my lost child back to me.
I know my mother would be happy to know that Gretchen has found a better life living at Montage. And she would be glad to share her poem to help others in their healing processes.