A Letter to My Son With Autism, to Be Delivered After I’m Gone


Dear Justin,

I trust this letter finds you happy and healthy. I hope by the time you receive this I will have been gone for many decades, and that this last missive in your mother’s attempts to parent you from beyond the grave will be delivered to you when you are old, but still well. Forgive me, but really, why should death preclude me from continuing to control everything?

You may have been wondering all of these years why your brother periodically reads passages to you from me. I wrote all of these letters instead of videotaping myself because I feared seeing me would confuse you, perhaps incite you to ask for me post-mortem, the thought of which I emotionally cannot bear.

I wrote the lion’s share of them before I grew truly ancient, because although most of your great-grandparents lived to be almost obscene ages, you never know when it will be your time. I didn’t want to be caught unprepared.

Planning was your mother’s forte.

It was my fondest desire prior to relinquishing my physical self to the mortal world that your last decades on this earth would be productive, safe and engaged. I am certain your little brother, whom I have pestered innumerable times over the last 20 years to watch over you, will be your stalwart companion, your protector, your friend. You two have always been close in your own unique fashion, a fact I attribute far more to your inherent interest in one another’s well-being rather than any scenario your father and I were able to construct over your collective childhood.

For over 40 years I have watched him teach you, defend you when necessary, and stand up to you when the situation called for it as well. We tried to promote a bond between you, to make Zachary see the gifts that came into his life as a result of your autism and his own far outweighed the burdens inevitably resulting from it. He has assured me many times that in its own way autism enriched his experiences, imbued him with patience and a facility for compassion he would not have possessed otherwise.

It is my most profound hope that my love for you, which began long before your cells divided and multiplied in the floating sanctuary of your personal test tube, was passed down to you as well. I hope the strength of my commitment to you became mired in your DNA, a permanent fixture in your cells, a cocoon within which to wrap yourself since I’ve been gone.

I hope you have only remembered the love we had for one another, the unbreakable connection that with luck has sustained you and enveloped you when you were sad, these decades past. I choose to believe in some fashion I have remained with you, that our bond to each other has transcended death.

So, as I’m writing this last love letter to you I will have to summon some modicum of faith, permit myself to trust that your middle-aged years, your descent into the realm of the elderly, and your arrival there have been for the most part a journey encompassed by hard work, various social opportunities, and frequent visits from those who love you still.

I have requested your brother leave these letters bound in a book for your caretakers to peruse, with each entry marking a new passage in your life, an acknowledgement you yourself are moving closer to your own final moments. I hope the people who have cared for you, fed you, clothed and housed you, and enjoyed you to some degree, have read these on occasion. Photos tell a story, but nothing paints a picture more illuminating than words.

If my wish came true, and in their few idle moments they were able to reflect upon these letters I have left for you as solace and succor in your remaining years, I hope those who live with you will understand this. That before them is an old man yes, one who can intimate an entire conversation with his eyes, but cannot emit one from his mouth. That this elderly gentleman is quite contrary at times, but can be reasoned with, does comprehend the subtleties of demand and request, and will comply in his own time.

I hope they fathom your innate intelligence, push you always to accomplish more, solicit from you your best self in all domains. You are capable of so much. I hope that fact has been recognized, and honored.

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Finally, my deepest desire in creating this legacy of your life is that your caregivers will be cognizant of how loving you are and were, how affection was always a staple of your personality. I hope my words will convey to them how demonstrating your love for those in your inner circle dominated your days. I wish them to see once you were an adorable child who always eventually conquered his anger and his incompatibility with the typical world with a mighty hug.

I hope my anecdotes of your childhood, the extra time I had to build into our morning routine for your embraces, the way your arms would encircle me at night as I sang your baby song to you and you patted my shoulder in appreciation, will stay forefront in their minds even when you are difficult. I pray they will see you as a whole being, an entity capable of the full range of human emotion.

I hope they will have loved you, even a little.

I have long ago gone into my “good night,” and I wish you safe passage into yours. I will say to you what I whispered in your ear every evening I cared for you, whether you were infant, teen, or grown man. I leave you with this, my forever-sweet son.

Sleep well, Justin. I love you with all of my heart and all of my soul. As always, you are my good boy.

Rest.

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