by Kathy Kuhl
I wasn’t expecting to discover hidden heroes when I turned on the radio.
But three families in California had let reporters into their lives as they cared for loved ones with disabilities. On National Public Radio, I heard Katie Orr’s piece about James and Judy Lee and their care for their son, Justin, who was born with severe disabilities.
And instead of being discouraged by their sad circumstances, I wanted to hear more.
NPR reported seventeen million parents are caring for children with special needs. I know some of them. They are homeschooling.
Those of us with children with less visible problems can learn from them. We have a lot in common with these caregivers.
With Capital Public Radio (CPR) of Sacramento, NPR had produced three five-minute segments, adapted from CPR’s documentary called “Who Cares.” I was so intrigued I listened to the original “Who Cares,” a 51-minute program, which I highly recommend.
Along with the Lee family, the program featured Rick Rayburn, a husband caring for his wife Marianne, who suffers from dementia, and Loretta Jackson, who cares for her sister and father. Julia Mitric, Katie Orr, and Cosmo Garvin of CPR spent months with these families. This piece is part of the series, The View From Here.
The show was startling, first, for its balanced, respectful tone. The reporters didn’t set these caregivers on pedestals. They encouraged each one to discuss the struggles, the bad days, the frustration. But they did so gently and respectfully.
And they got honest answers. “It is like [the movie] Groundhog Day,” said Rick Rayburn of the wearing, continuing care he gives his wife. Loretta Jackson admitted it was hard to ask relatives for help. Judy and James Lee didn’t see how either one would cope when the other died.
Equally striking, the reporters didn’t downplay the faith of these caregivers. The broadcast begins with Loretta Jackson, who cares for her sister with an aneurysm and father with dementia. The very first clip was Loretta praying with sister, Shirlene. “Talking to Loretta,” said the reporter, “it is immediately clear that her Christian faith is at the center of everything she does.”
Judy and James Lee have cared for their sixteen-year-old son Justin all his life. Justin was born with a “brain abnormality, cerebral palsy, no functional use of his limbs, seizures.” Judy likes his care to the care one gives a newborn. Her husband, James Lee “recalled a man at a support group once asking him if he hated God because of Justin’s disability. ‘I said, “No, I’m actually thankful that He chose us to take care of Justin.”’”
That’s what struck me most. These caregivers believe God chose them to care for these special ones. It is a calling.
James pointed out that we all need care at least part of our lives. We begin as infants, completely dependent. We need care in illness, injury, and as we age. James sees giving care as part of life.
How humane. How unusual. How wise.