Sunday, June 5, 2022

High School Graduation

Kai's graduation was last week. Graduations are always huge milestones, but for us it was especially meaningful due to the challenges that Kai overcame to get to this point. Throughout the time that Kai was in elementary and then middle school, he had attended therapeutic schools. Getting to attend our community's high school was always the dream, but it often seemed unlikely that Kai would make it.

But four years ago, we were surprised and happy when Kai was allowed to attend our local high school. He was very grateful for the opportunity, and was motivated to succeed.

Going from a small therapeutic school to a large mainstream school was definitely an adjustment, but Kai seemed to do okay through the first two years, albeit with a lot of ups and downs, and with the support of the wonderful special ed staff.

But toward the end of his sophomore year, the pandemic hit and remote learning was especially difficult for Kai. His junior year was very challenging and when he got off to a rough start in his senior year, we thought that he might have to return to a therapeautic school.

But Kai was able to overcome his anxieties and other challenges, again supported by the staff at school. He matured. And persevered. And had his best year at school.

And so this graduation day was symbolic of not just a passage of time, or a coming of age, but of overcoming adversity and hope for a brighter future.

* * * * *

For a while, we were not sure that my wife would be able to attend this momentous occasion.

She had to go to Japan following her father's passing. With no siblings, it was all her responsibility to settle her father's estate as well as to find a place for her mother to live where she would be supported. To do this while stricken with grief is never easy, and being away from her family added to the stress.

My wife wasn't sure how long it would take to accomplish everything she needed to do. Settling legal matters can take time in Japan and for a while it looked like she could be there for three months. But she was able to get things done quicker than first expected, and made it home seven weeks after she left, and just short of two weeks before Kai's graduation.

Kai and I managed at home but it was a happy day when Mom finally came home and we were reunited.
The graduation ceremony was held at Ravinia, an outdoor concert venue in our community. The forecast had called for rain but it turned out to be a beautiful day.
It was exciting when the graduates made their entrance and we saw Kai among them. We enjoyed all of the pomp... the school orchestra and chorale sounded good and the speeches were nice (and not too long).

But, of course, the moment we waited for was for the graduates names to be called and for them to walk across the stage to receive their diplomas.

It was nice for us that Kai was one of the first names called.

The rest of the ceremony was a bit of a blur. We caught up with Kai afterward.

I was wondering what his mood would be. Would he have gotten agitated that the ceremony was long? Did he think it was meaningful?

It was so nice to see that he was as happy and proud as we were. He had understood all that he had overcome to get to here and it meant so much to him.

We are not sure what the future will bring. But at this time, we enjoyed marking this most significant milestone.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Remembering Jiji

We were in New Orleans when we received word.

It was Kai's Spring Break and we were on our first spring trip since before the pandemic. We wanted to enjoy warmer weather, good food, and the unique qualities of New Orleans.

Earlier that evening, we had ventured out for dinner, timing our walk to the restaurant to avoid an approaching storm. From the weather radar, it looked like the worst of the storm would pass well north and west of us. We made it to the restaurant safely and just finished our meal when the rain really picked up and the power went out. The festive patrons in the restaurant cheered in the dark, and then several minutes later, gave a bigger cheer when power was restored. By the time we paid our bill, the storm had passed and we were able to walk back to our hotel.

We turned on the television and were shocked to learn that a devasting tornado had ripped through the city just five miles away. Kai got very upset at how close we were to the destruction.

We tried to calm him but thought the best idea would be to turn out the lights and try to sleep. A few minutes later, in the dark of our hotel room, Kai asked why Mom's phone kept lighting up. I figured it was more weather alerts and told Kai to go to sleep.

In the middle of the night, my wife woke me to say that she thought that something had happened to her dad. She had gotten up to use the bathroom and noticed that there had been repeated calls for her from several different people in Japan. At first her phone wouldn't make a call to Japan, but when she finally connected, she learned that her dad had died suddenly and unexpectedly.

My wife wailed in grief, and Kai awoke and asked what was going on. I told him that Jiji had passed away.

Like many with autism, Kai does not do well with unexpected events and this was the worst kind of surprise. His grandfather in Japan was the closest person he ever lost.

When Kai was very young, before I had come into his and his mother's lives, Jiji visited often from Japan to help raise him. Jiji was always thinking of Kai, his only grandchild. He brought fun gifts and loved to spend time with Kai.

Through the years, though they did not speak each others languages, they shared a bond like none other. Kai was always talking to Jiji, who did not understand most of Kai's words, but understood that Kai was enjoying being with him.

When he got older, Jiji stopped coming to the U.S. but we were able to visit him in Japan. Jiji still had plenty of energy to go around the country with us, but his favorite moments were seeing Kai laugh and enjoy himself.

Jiji always saw the best in Kai. He was never disappointed in Kai. No one adored Kai more than Jiji did. I think that will be my most enduring memory of him.

Jiji enjoyed painting, and his favorite subject was Kai. We have a mini gallery of his paintings of Kai.

In our last video Skype with him, Jiji showed us the latest painting of Kai that he had just completed.

Of course, Jiji's passing is most difficult for my wife. They had the best father-daughter relationship. He was always supportive and the most dependable father a girl could want.

Kai has been upset since we got the news. I think part of it is his own grief, but he has also has been upset to see Mom cry and grieve. Too often he has gotten angry, and seemingly made the whole thing about him. Being empathetic does not come easily to Kai. Still, there have been times when he has shown that he understands the grief that Mom is feeling.

I know that Kai may also be worried about what happens next. Mom will travel to Japan for several weeks to settle matters and support her mother. We will have to make do without Mom while she is away.

In the coming weeks, when Kai lets his anxiety come out in negative ways, I will have to do my best to channel Jiji and see the best in Kai. Every good person deserves to have someone who loves them unconditionally. Kai just lost one of his best supporters. I will have to make sure he knows that Jiji wasn't the only one.

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