I’ve held off publishing this post because I don’t want it to be sad. My aunt wouldn’t want me writing about her in a sad post.

We lost her over Christmas rather suddenly, death from multiple health problems.

She was a strong Southern woman, mother of three, one with autism.

To me she was the Des’ree lyrics:

Listen as your day unfolds
Challenge what the future holds
Try and keep your head up to the sky

Got to be bold, Got to be bad
Got to be wise, no never sad
Got to be hard, not too too hard
All I know is love will save the day

Her baby had autism at a time when there was little understanding of it and children like hers were carted off to institutions. A time when the refrigerator mother theory was still prevalent; mothers were blamed for their children’s delays and odd behaviors. Her firstborn had autism before there were awareness stickers on cars and fundraisers and research organizations. Before the many therapies and treatments and special schools. Before Google and support groups and bloggy communities.

But she was Temple Grandin’s mama in brown skin. A pioneer because she had to be, a battle-tested veteran. She held on to hope and made a way for her boy in this world.

That boy with autism is now a man in his forties. My father says he’s asking for his mother, wondering where she is. “She was his mainstay,” my father says. “She knew how to reach him and care for him when no one else could.”


My sisters and I loved to visit her home in the summer. We were city girls and the cousins called us Oreos – black on the outside, white on the inside – and said we talked proper. On my auntie’s land I first learned to take a big bite of watermelon and spit the seeds far. Those Florida days were so humid our pigtails would get puffy and stick straight out. Our skin got so dark, it was a shade of purple. We gathered the corn and shucked it, played basketball with the boys, and looked out for swamp gators that might chew up our baby sister. (Once their dog got eaten by a gator).

Then she’d call us, famished, in to lemonade and feed us the best tuna sandwiches I ever tasted. She filled us up for the next adventure, and every summer we thanked the Lord for those tuna sandwiches.

I really wish I had one right now.

I’d sit at her feet and chew on every morsel. I’d hear her hum a hymn. I’d ask her to tell her stories of how she trusted Jesus even when she felt alone in the world with her strange son. How He taught her to mother her boys even though her own mother died so young. How she managed the silence and tantrums and poop-art and picky-eating and dreams deferred. How she found courage in the last days to take her rest; to love them all and leave them to Him.

She comes to mind now. On days and nights when autism just seems to make matters worse and everything is hard. I think of her – mainstay – and I think I can do this.

Thank you, Aunt Gen.

You feed me still.

22 thoughts on “Mainstay

  1. I am in tears, but you’re right, this is not a sad post. This is a beautiful tribute, and she sounds like an amazing person. Your aunt was a pioneer in many ways. Thank you for sharing this with all of us.

  2. Awww Jeneil. I’m sorry for your loss. I’m grateful to your aunt without ever having known her. She is a pioneer who paved the way for those of us who came along so much later.

    I wish your cousin well and hope he finds some peace even though is mainstay is gone.

    Love you!


  3. I’m so sorry for your loss. Your Aunt sounds like an amazing and strong lady. I’m kinda thinking she reminds me of someone 😉
    What a beautiful tribute to your Aunt. Her grace flows through you. ((( hugs)))
    I hope your happy memories bring you some comfort.
    And is there anything quite like the smell of fresh picked corn? That scent always induces such strong happy memories for me from when I was about five. I hope it does the same for you.

  4. Jeneil, I am so sorry to read of your family’s loss. She sounds like a wonderful woman. I so enjoyed reading of your memories, and could picture you spitting watermelon seeds as a beautiful little girl. Hugs to you and your cousin. Thinking of you.

  5. Jeneil, this is absolutely beautifully written. I could feel every word. Thank you so much for sharing your aunt with us and I am so very sorry for your loss. Simply beautiful.

  6. I recently heard a quote…by a blind athlete who had lost his mother. I’m paraphrasing, but he said something like, “when she died, his mother became a part of everything he loves.” In the crunch of the snow, the breeze, etc. I thought it was beautiful.

    Look for your aunt everywhere. I’m so glad she gave you her strength.

  7. I’m so sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine how hard it would have been to be an “autism mom” in those times, but it sounds like she handled everything beautifully.

  8. A mainstay indeed. A pioneer who broke a path for so many who have come afterwards in the world of Autism. A cherished aunt who nourished body and soul. I celebrate her arrival in heaven while missing her here on heaven for those she left behind. May her wisdom and memories continue to sustain you, and comfort your cousin.

  9. Pingback: Why she dances « Autism In a Word

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