On September 1, 2016, my Mom lost her long, hard-fought battle with dementia and passed away to what I hope is a better place than where she was during the final years of her life. If she is where I hope she is, it is very well-deserved by virtue of the kind of person she was, how she touched so many lives, and all that she was to me.
If I was to eulogize my Mom in the way that I felt she deserved to be eulogized, I needed to reveal something significant about myself to those at her funeral which typically is anything but easy to reveal, though for me, it was not a difficult decision to make. Furthermore, I knew how important it was to word my eulogy in a way that made her the focal point in spite of my revelation and all that I had to say about it. That’s how much my Mom meant to me. And so, I somehow landed on what follows.
In memoriam, Maxine Farmer:
Hello everybody and thank you very much for being here today. I would like to begin by saying that many of the words I have chosen to share with you may suggest that my agenda is to talk about myself. I assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. Today is all about my Mom and all of my words are intended to shed light on the kind of mother she was to me, a side of her I need all of you to know as we begin the long, hard, thankless task of saying goodbye.
What I am going to reveal to you about myself today is by no means easy to reveal, and so it is with some trepidation that I will do so. Furthermore, I know that my words are going to resonate strongly with a few folks who are with us today. If what I am going to say makes you feel uncomfortable, I apologize in advance.
When I was very young, I came to understand that I had what was referred to at the time as a learning disability. Little did I know that this diagnosis was merely the tip of the iceberg. As a result of a number of events in my life that occurred when I was around 40 years old, I learned that I have always had a higher functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder known as Asperger’s Syndrome. Back in the early 1970’s when I was diagnosed with a learning disability, Autism was not thought of as a spectrum disorder as it is today. At that time, only what today are considered to be severe Autism Spectrum cases were indicative of Autism. And so, not until relatively recently did a complete picture of who I am become clear to me, as did the fact that I have been dealing with considerably more than just a learning disability.
It takes a guiding hand that is strong, intelligent, loving and unwavering to effectively help somebody through the kinds of challenges and struggles that folks on the Autism Spectrum face in their lives. That kind of guiding hand, without question, belonged to my Mom.
Sadly, many folks on the Spectrum do not learn of their diagnosis until relatively late in their lives, if ever. As a result, these folks miss out on the benefits of earlier treatment and, unless and until they are diagnosed, are left wondering why they must contend with hardships from which others who are not on the Spectrum are exempt. But not me, thanks to my Mom. She had the ability to look deep into me as well as the wisdom and perception to have me figured out by age 2, which was exceptionally early by early 1970’s standards, and promptly moved to arrange for the proper help for me.
Many parents of kids on the Autism Spectrum feel overwhelmed by the challenges involved, or worse: they go into denial over their child’s diagnosis and use that denial as a justification for inaction. Not my Mom. She connected me to learning specialists, enrolled me in an out-of-district school for special needs kids, vigorously advocated for me to the local public school district, sent me to Summer camps that offered developmental opportunities to kids with special needs, and enrolled me in a secondary school with an internationally renowned perceptual training program, all of which helped me to either significantly diminish or conquer many of my symptoms. When the time came for me to start looking at colleges, she chose to defy the recommendation of a professional college counselor that I not say anything about my learning disability on my applications, arguing that I would look more impressive to admissions officers if they saw what I had achieved in spite of the learning disability. As a result, I later received an early acceptance letter to my 1st choice school.
Not every mother knows where to draw the line between sound criticism and too much criticism that results in the erosion of self-esteem. But my Mom knew. She understood my sensitivities, of which I had many due to my Autism Spectrum Disorder. She knew when to bite her tongue and which battles were and were not worth fighting. And, she knew when to let go, to let me learn from my own mistakes, in my own way, and in my own time, all while offering constructive criticism which helped me grow and move forward in life.
Sadly, many of the best things in life elude many folks on the Spectrum, but not me, thanks in large part to my mother’s guiding hand. I have been able to establish lasting, meaningful relationships that continue to this day. I attended my 1st choice college which at the time was nationally ranked in the top 10 of 4-year liberal arts colleges and from which I was able to graduate with a roughly 3.3 GPA. I was able to settle into a rewarding, successful career with a good salary and with which I have had 20+ years of longevity, and counting. I was able to marry and become a father. Lastly, I learned how to be strong, strong enough to be able to come before you today and admit to things that are not easy to admit to while emotionally keeping it together.
So, to those of you who have known me for quite some time, if you are surprised that I was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, perhaps because of how I carry myself, how I have lived my life over the years, and what I have been able to accomplish, or if you are thinking to yourself, “ah, the neuropsychologist who diagnosed him could not possibly have known what he was talking about”, be sure to give a measure of credit to my Mom. She started me on the path to who I am today; she saw me through a myriad of seemingly insurmountable obstacles which I faced along the way; she found the best help for me that could be found, and when I needed this help the most.
Mom, wherever you may be, if you can hear me, I will always be eternally grateful for all that you gave me and did for me. To me, you were more than just a loving, caring, nurturing mother. In fact, you were nothing less than a transformative force in my life, and I may not be the only one here today whose life you transformed. I love you, I miss you, and I thank you, from the bottom of my heart.