Wednesday, March 6, 2013

My Brother Todd

Todd, Jimmy, and Leslie 1982

Most people aren't blessed to grow up with someone like my brother.  They never got to experience someone climbing onto their bed at 4AM (the usual wake-up time for Todd), and having a Fisher Price flashlight slammed onto their head until they picked it up, shined it onto the ceiling, and repeatedly turned it, "Off.  On.  Off.  On.  Off.  On." all the while saying those words in a half-awake grog.  Stopping the flash light antics would result in it getting slammed onto your head again, until you picked it back up, pointed it at the ceiling, and switched the colors to, "Red.  White.  Green.  Red.  White.  Green." while your brother joyfully watched the pre-dawn color show, and your arm became numb from holding up the flashlight.

Leslie and Todd 1984

You never watched your brother black out for a minute, or slam to the ground during a pedi mal seizure. You never wondered if they hurt him, or if he even knew what was happening to his body.

Jimmy, Todd, and Leslie 1988

If you didn't grow up with someone like Todd, you never had your hair pulled or arm scratched in the name of love.  Repremanding him with a, "Ow!  No Toddy, that hurts!" resulted in him giggeling and attempting to get a reaction out of you again.  You also never had to steer your brother away from long-haired girls at the grocery store, for fear that he might pull at their hair too.  When that did happen, it's hard to explain to the innocent by-standered the entire situation in a few seconds.  "Sorry, he likes long-hair" is usually the best explanation you can muster before his target rushed off wondering what the hell just happened. 

Leslie and Todd 1989-ish

You probably never had your brother find the new CD you just purchased with your babysitting money, and use it to reflect the sunlight onto the wall.  By the time you discovered it in the hands of your sibling, it was ruined beyond repair.

Todd, Dad, and Leslie 1998 or 1999

You never had your 100+ pound brother decide that the perfect time rest his feet at the grocery store, was in the yogurt isle.  You never had to beg him to please stand up, pull on his arm, and try to re-direct him as his bottom knocked-over, squished, and popped open a newly-stacked row of yogurt in the dairy  section.  You also never had to beg him to not pull you into a men's restroom when you're teenagers, and he's stronger than you, and can pretty much drag you wherever he wants.  You never pulled, and tried to redirect him away so hard tears streamed down your face, and then watch as your big brother thought it would be fun to pick up the urinal cake to see if it had reflective properties, because it was round like the CD he ruined of yours a few weeks ago.  You probably never gagged as you shook his hand free of the urinal cake, and then tried to figure out how to get his hand clean again, before he put it in his mouth to suck on (another favorite past time of his).

Family shot 1983 or 1984

You never watched people's reactions to your brother when you took him on an outing.  The confused, bewildered, curious, and sometimes disgusted faces that can't ever be erased.  You never heard the sound of a parent's voice telling their child to, "look away" like your brother is some sort of alien instead of a human with a body like theirs, but a mind that won't ever mature past 18 months.  You wish you could tell the world that it's OKAY to stare, it's alright to ask questions, because that's the only way people like your brother will be accepted in society.  Telling a child to, "look away" and not ask questions teaches the next generation to exclude, ignore, and possibly hate these beautifully perfect spirits.    

If you didn't grow up with a brother like Todd, you never had to spoon-feed your big brother, repeating the words, "Chew it up!  Chew it up!  Good boy!" with each bite.  If he didn't obediently chew-up his food, he would swallow it whole, which would result in gagging, and then vomiting.  Saying, "Chew it up!" repeatedly was much better than having to deal with regurgitated food.

You most-likely, never had to help your mom give your big brother a shower and get him dressed--pushing his stiff arms through the holes of his shirt, and yanking his pants up, buttoning them, and lacing a belt through them. You also never changed an adult-sized diaper on your big brother.

Todd running with his parents James and Charlene 2001

I'm sure, if you didn't grow up with someone like Todd, you never had to sing Old MacDonald, Three Blind Mice, or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star over-and-over-and-over-and-over-and-over again until the very thought of these songs makes you want smash your head against the wall until the songs leave your brain place.  That being said, you'll still sing these same songs to Todd to this very day, even if you hate too, because he's your brother, and it makes him happy.  You'll do anything to keep him happy, because watching him melt-down, is hell on earth.

His melt downs.  They're not fun to watch.  He scratches, bites, yanks, cries, pulls, and screams.  He'll inflict pain on himself, showing you how distraught he is, because he has no other way to communicate his anguish.  You'll want to hold him tight, and tell him everything will be okay, but you can't because if you get too close he'll pull your hair so hard, your whole body will crash into his, and he'll bite at anything his mouth finds.  You've probably never had bite marks on your arms and legs that have lasted for a week or so.  But worse than that, is watching him bite himself, because you can't stop it, and you know his physical pain will soon meet his mental hell.

You've probably never prayed every night, for your brother to die, from the time your were eight-or-nine until you were old enough to better understand Todd's plan on Earth, because you didn't want him to suffer any longer.

Todd, Dad, and Leslie 1987

You've never asked your dad, "Why do you think Heavenly Father has kept Todd here so long, when he has a mansion waiting for him in heaven?  Why keep him here suffering?"  Your dad probably hasn't responded with, "Because Todd's not here for him, he's here to teach us, and his mission on Earth isn't over yet."  And so, instead of praying for Todd's death, you now pray for his happiness.  You pray that his care givers, in the group home where he lives, will not only care for him but will care about him.  You pray that your big brother will live with an understanding that his family loves him, and wish they could do more for him.  You pray that his doctors won't over medicate, his already over medicated body.  You pray that his suffering is minor and that his happiness will always outweigh it.  You pray for his comfort.  You pray that Todd's perfect spirit, that has kept house in an imperfect body, understands his purpose here on Earth, and that he feels Heavenly Father's love.  You pray.  Then you pray some more, and sometimes you get to go visit your big brother (less often than you would like because you live 1500 miles away now), and see if your prayers are working.

You walk into Todd's group home, and watch his bored eyes flicker with life as he watches his family --the people who love him more than anyone, and the people he loves more than anyone -- walk into his home to spend some time with him.  

Picture taken on our last visit with Todd.  This was when his whole family walked through the door.
You watch him jump, screech  laugh, clap, and shout with joy.  You hear his caregivers say, "Todd becomes a completely different person when his family is around."  This acknowledgment makes you happy and sad.  Sad that Todd can't find this joy everyday, and happy that he still recognizes you, and that he feels your love and devotion to him, making his spirit rejoice.

After he saw Mom and Dad on my latest visit Feb. 2013
You spend time with Todd in his new adult life.  He has his own room, his own toys, and own special food.  You watch as even his water has to be thickened, because his body isn't keeping anything down and he's lost too much weight (for reasons his family, caregivers, and doctors can't figure out), and thickening his drinks makes them more likely to stay put.  You watch him smile -- his new toothless granny grin -- and wonder if life is easier for Todd without teeth.  They had to be removed last summer because they were so decayed, and broken, and chipped from all the years of abuse.  The dentist thought this would be the best and safest option for your brother.  

2001 Mom and I took Todd to an indoor waterpark at the Wisconsin Dells.  Todd loves the water, and this was a  weekend get-a-way dedicated to Todd's happiness.

You see that even know, Todd's love for your mother is still bound the tightest. 

Todd and Charlene February 2013

 You sing those same nursery rhymes to him, even if they make you cringe a bit, because Todd loves them and you don't know how often he hears them now.  

You run around with Todd after he eats, because his caregivers say there's a better chance the food will stay down if he's moving around.  You watch your father, brother, and mother all take a turn running in a circle with Todd -- all of you wanting the best outcome for your brother and son. 

Todd Labiszak Feb. 2013

You listen as your brother and father give Todd a priesthood blessing.  You listen to the words of the blessing fill up the car -- the only place to give a blessing without Todd getting up and walking around -- and you hope and pray some more that this blessing will give Todd's life more joy.

Todd Labiszak February 2013

Charlene, Todd, and Leslie February 2013

You leave Todd's home, happy that he looked good, in spite of all his ailments.  

We put Mom's glasses on Todd to see what he would look like.  Not too shabby!

You leave Todd's home with your family, wishing there was more you could do for him.  On the drive away, you reminisce about how terrified Todd used to be of the family vacuum cleaner when it was turned off, but how he loved it when it was running.  You laugh about how his face would turn ghostly white when he saw the vacuum cleaner, how he would run over, knock it down, and then take off in the opposite direction.  Everyone laughs at these memories, and shares their stories of life with Todd.  You giggle at the memories.  

Then you pray for Todd some more.

The Labiszak family.  We got the picture while Todd was eating, because we knew he would hold still if food was involved!  Todd loves his food!


Amberly said...

1. in the second pic, hunter looks just like the little you.

2. todd looks great in glasses, so handsome!

Boom said...

Wow Leslie, I did not realize how much Todd impacted your life when you were younger. He loved you more than anyone, so I never realized how desperate your feelings were. I'm sorry.


Debi said...

Very sweet tribute to your brother Leslie. You had to figure out some pretty hard things growing up. Maybe that is one of the reasons you can be so fun and positive in hard situations.

Leslie said...

Awe Mom! I loved my brother too! I just had a hard time watching him suffer. Especially when we would drive him back to the center, and he would throw a fit realizing he was going back instead of staying home. I also remember taking him to the eye doctor with you, and watching him throw a tantrum and rip off all the buttons on the doctor's shirt. Stupid doctor made us wait too long! I guess Todd let him know he was unsatisfied with the service! I wouldn't trade my upbringing for anything though! I think I would be the worst person in the world if it wasn't for Todd humbling me a bit!

Jim said...

Thanks Leslie, this inspiration made the family emotional.

Leslie said...

Thanks Jimmy! Amberly, yes, Hunter is my mini-me! Thanks for the nice comment Aunt Debi!