Missy’s been down lately.
Nothing unusual in that, of course. We’ve all been there. To parody the old title, Even Disabled Women Get the Blues, and Missy has occasionally had her own reasons to need a little comfort. Sometimes it’s an illness. Sometimes it’s an emotional moment in a movie. Sometimes it’s because Blake the Canine Trash Compactor has just eaten her crayons. All the usual motives.
But what’s interesting now is the timing. This one keeps a schedule.
My wife Heather first noticed it a few years ago when she was still just visiting and helping Missy, before we became guardians to the woman of few words and many mischievous smiles. At first we thought it was a coincidence. Then, after the second or third year, we realized what it had to be. By now, we’re positive.
This particular stretch always hits in late January. Right around the time that Andy died.
Andy was Missy’s brother and Heather’s uncle, a man who liked to tease and joke about as much as he liked to fly. And like many a brother, one favorite subject of his teasing was his little sister – not in a mean-spirited way, but in one that often set her laughing, too. Not a big , boisterous man but an open and friendly one that no one could help but like and smile along with.
But nine years ago, our favorite high flier came to Earth too soon. Brain cancer. It hit all of us pretty hard and still does.
But I’m not sure any of us realized at the time just how deeply it touched Missy.
Sometimes Missy almost seems to live in a world without time. Oh, not in the small sense. She remembers the daily routines: when her “bus” is supposed to come for her day program, when lunch is supposed to be, when to start arguing about having to go to bed. But on a larger scale, it’d be forgivable to wonder how much of an impression time makes, outside of major events like Christmas or Halloween (which carry their own rather obvious cues). Both she and her world seem to go on much as they always have, moving at her own pace in her own way.
But when the same “down” period always seems to hit in late January, centered around the same day each year – well, it becomes harder and harder to not notice.
Understand, we’ve never made a big deal of it around her. We’ve put up pictures and memories on Facebook like the rest of the family, but it’s not like she sees us stalking around the house in crepe and gets reminded. In so many ways, it could seem like just another day.
But to her, it obviously isn’t.
And while that’s sad, it also leaves me impressed. Because once again, it shows there is so much more to this lady than anyone would realize at first sight.
The mental disability that took or blocked so much has not taken her memory.
Not where it counts. Not where it ties her to the larger world.
It’s easy for that world itself to forget. To look at someone like Missy and dismiss her as “other,” unaware, apart. But she notices. She learns. She understands, even if it isn’t always the same understanding that an adult of her age would usually have.
Open and welcoming, she will avoid someone she’s been given reason not to trust.
Normally near-silent, she will react to the plot twists of a loved bedtime story – often with comments.
And for all the seeming changelessness of her life, she too holds close the ones no longer there.
It sounds obvious when you think about it. But how often do we?
The time will pass. The blues will lift. And soon we’ll be dealing with a restless Missy again, eager to bowl or swim or venture out on a Saturday morning trip downtown.
I think Andy would be pretty proud of her.
I know Missy still has one more smile for him.