October, 2006

My parents met in an Army hospital in 1945, and went to college together on the G.I. Bill after they were married, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Their English, Speech and Drama professor was a brilliant, funny, kind and gentle man whom they got to know very well. They became quite close, actually. They knew he was married, but they hadn't seen his wife; never met her for all the months they'd known the man. They also never saw him anywhere except at the school.

When they finally got bold enough to ask him, he quietly explained that he and his wife had a profoundly physically disabled and mentally retarded son. He could neither walk nor talk, and required round-the-clock care. They had virtually no social life, because they cared for the boy at home, and it was very exhausting. This was 1945. Medical advances being what they...weren't,  and on his teacher's salary, there was little else they could do. Every spare minute he wasn't in class, he and his wife were basically devoted to taking care of their boy. His name was Sunny. He was almost seven years old.

My mother explained that she was a trained nurse, and asked if they wouldn't mind her helping them, in some way. Eventually, due to them all becoming so very close, my folks came to babysit regularly and tend to Sunny, who spent all his time in a hospital bed, being fed and changed and bathed and sung
to. He was a happy boy, for all his terrible disabilities. He loved the sound of music and singing, and smiled at being touched or spoken to. Mom said he especially seemed to enjoy having his head rubbed and his hair stroked. He had very thick, auburn hair...

The professor and his wife were able-- rather fearfully, at first, but then with greater and greater assurance-- to leave the house together and take walks, see a movie, have an occasional dinner in a restaurant... those little diversions most people take for granted, but that they'd been unable to do for 6 years or more. My parents' presence freed them to enjoy life a little more than they'd been able to.

Mom said it was really not a difficult chore caring for Sunny-- at least on a "now and then" basis, with her nurse's training and so forth-- but could well understand how awfully hard it would be to have to do it full time, every single day. She came to really love little Sunny.

So... time passes.

My parents finish college, and they move away, but remain in regular touch w/ the professor and his wife.

My mother has a very vivid and realistic dream one night, wherein she's walking down a city street and sees a crowd gathered at the curb, staring at something in the street. As she gets closer, she realizes it's a boy, lying there in pain. Coming closer still, she realizes it's Sunny-- and he's crying and holding his left knee and rocking back and forth. She tries to get through the crowd so she can help him.... and the dream fades out.

Three days later, she's on the phone, speaking with the professor's wife.

"...and how's Sunny doing?" Mom asks.
The prof's wife replied: "We had a very frightening time the other day. We had to have the doctor
come in and look at him, because he was crying and he seemed to be in pain. He was very agitated...."

She went on to explain that Sunny had hit a growth spurt that most kids his age (he's 10 now) would handle all right, but because of the lack of exercise and muscular development, his bones were growing faster than his muscles and tendons could keep pace. His left knee had become semi-dislocated as a result and was giving him a lot of pain, which the doctor was able to remedy after a simple physical examination and some manipulation. Mom said she had goosebumps for hours afterwards...

She had two more dreams about Sunny.

The next one came  a couple of years later. In it, she was walking in a park and heard a child crying. She found her way to some bushes, and saw Sunny lying there, sobbing, with his stomach distended. The dream was over then--   ending the way dreams so often do, with no resolution or explanation.

The next morning she called her friends and they told her that Sunny had developed an intestinal blockage and subsequent infection that required surgery-- from which he was recovering quite nicely...

Two years later, she had her last Sunny dream. In it, she's on a ship, at night, and the ship is sailing slowly along. She hears laughter from somewhere further ahead on deck, and walks along to find the source of the sound. As she comes around a lifeboat, she sees Sunny. He is standing upright, and is dressed in a blazer and slacks, with nicely shined shoes and a striped tie. She's never seen him in real life (or in her other 2 dreams) wearing anything but a diaper and a T-shirt, and he's never been out of his bed... She described him as very handsome, and self-assured, with a rather devilish grin. His beautiful, auburn hair was neatly combed.

"Oh, my God, Sunny! You look so handsome! You're walking! You're all dressed up! You look just wonderful, dear. Do your parents know about this?" Mom asked him.

She said he got a little twinkle in his eye and placed a finger to his lips.
"Shhh! Don't say anything. It's a surprise..." he whispered, and beamed a huge smile at her. Then he winked at her, turned around and walked away into the darkness.

She woke up, feeling quite strange. It was 1:47 A.M.

The next morning the phone rang, and it was Sunny's mother, who said "I know you won't grieve, Marilyn, but that you'll share our relief, instead. Sunny has finally gone to his reward, dear. He fell unconscious yesterday afternoon and slipped away very quietly at 1:45 this morning. We were holding him, and he was smiling..."

I heard this story on separate occasions from both my parents, and they never told it with a shudder-- but always with a sense of profound peace.

Pax vobiscum, Sunny.

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