Do you have a younger brother? I do. He's a Special Olympic Champion, born with Down Syndrome in 1963. When the very first Arizona Special Olympics were held at McClintock High School in Tempe that blazing hot day in May, 1968, Dan was just a year too young to participate in the first-ever event which would become a worldwide phenomenon in the ensuing decades.
He was so sad. Watching kids just like him participate in competitive games was an elixir for us all, but Dan was upset he couldn't (yet) be part of the fun.
Fifty-two years later, my brother has competed in these games for half a century. He has met Muhammad Ali, Jon Bon Jovi, Eunice Kennedy Shriver and her daughter Maria, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the countless other celebrities who have donated their time to this incredibly-rewarding organization. Dan has been a participant in every Arizona Special Olympics State Spring Games since 1969, as well as at least one International Games event. His countless medals and ribbons once hung with pride in our childhood home in Florence. In his home, they adorned his bedroom, leaving little space for any other mementos of his life. In our hearts, he has always been a champ.
Our parents brought four boys into this world. Three of us faced health and developmental challenges as children. Dan has always been "special". Not only to his family, but to everyone he met. Dan has always been a magnet for wonderful souls, his own loving beacon drawing countless others to him by his smile and limitless charm, sharing our father's natural ability to draw folks close.
Growing up the third of four boys, with Dan just behind me, I was often teased by kids because they called Dan a "retard". They didn't yet understand a developmental disability does not mean that person is anything less than human. You know how mean kids can be to others. In my new hometown, my classmates had not been exposed to those born with Down Syndrome. Their natural inclination was to ridicule. As Dan's next oldest sibling, it was my duty to protect not only my little brother, but also his honor. I became angry, defensive and outwardly aggressive whenever anyone insulted my baby brother. It landed me in many a tight spot, given that I was not a strong lad.
Over the years, my classmates came to realize Dan was truly special. Not because he participated in athletic events which became known internationally, but because he was simply a sweet kid. People came to understand his soul, and before long, the entire town became Dan's Protective Detail. He was only five-years-old when we moved there, and he had a habit of wandering off from our home. Luckily, our twin dogs Hobo and Bashful would always tag along when they were not preoccupied with stealing my classmates' lunches at the elementary school. They had an innate understanding Dan needed more protection than his brothers. Someone would often call our home and tell us Dan was a few blocks away because they first spotted the dogs and then Dan, gleefully walking down the street. I would head that direction and collect my beloved brother, then bring him back home.
High school cheerleaders adored Dan. They invited him to sit with them at football or basketball games, cuddling and kissing him. Oh, how jealous we were of their affections for Dan! But hey, I cuddled that cute little fella too, as did my brothers. We have always adored, protected and revered this special soul we have been graced with.
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Dan has been quarantined in his group home since mid-March of this year, because of the high risk concerns facing him and his housemates. He has not seen his girlfriend Susan since then. No outings for Special Olympics practice, or junk food outings, no riding horses which he has enthusiastically enjoyed for several years. With Dad gone nearly two years now, he hasn't been able to attend church with our father as he did regularly. No social outings whatsoever. Dan has been a prisoner to COVID-19, and I have lived in constant fear that this utter disruption to his social life would have severe consequences to his mental and physical health.
My fears have been realized. As I write this, with tears drenching my cheeks, my dear sweet little brother is unconscious, intubated and alone in an Intensive Care Unit in Prescott, Arizona. I'm 1,500 miles away. Helpless, unable to talk to or console my baby brother. While it's not this dreaded virus which assails his body, I believe it's the sadness of isolation which has devastated his heart, mind and soul. His oxygen levels were at 60 when 9-1-1 was summoned. His blood sugar was 40. Dan was listless, and largely unconscious. He's slipping away from us, and I can't even talk to, reassure or affirm my lifelong love for him. He's utterly, completely, alone. Even my oldest brother, his legal guardian, cannot be at his bedside.
It's difficult to fathom, the reality of a brother with the mind of a seven-year-old, lying in an Intensive Care Unit without his brothers at his side. Hold on, here come those tears again.
I don't know whether to pray for his recovery, or ask God to take him out of sheer mercy for the utter hell he's endured during this utterly-avoidable nightmare of a pandemic. One brother is sympathetic to the totally-inept administration which could have prevented our Quarantine State, while Dan's guardian and the patriarch of our family understands only his love of God and acceptance of whatever happens. Here I sit in Oregon, while my Arizona family (including my beloved daughter and grandson) collectively prays with me to do what's best for Daniel. It's pure torture, and I ask your support as I once again regain the wheel of a city bus just two days after being assailed and attacked by a passenger.
Can I pull it together enough to drive today? Will Dan die before I begin my shift, during it or afterward? I don't know what will happen, but part of me thinks the best thing may be that he join Mom and Dad in the spiritual afterlife we're all headed toward. Given Dan's suffering the past several months as his life was turned upside down, I wonder if this is God's mercy and love at His supreme best. Dan has suffered too much, not understanding what a pandemic is, let alone why he has been a prisoner in his own home. It tears me apart wondering what it has been like to be Daniel since March. Part of me feels guilty thinking Dan's death would be the most merciful outcome, while also praying that he recover and eventually have his happiness restored. There is no way to measure my grief in either direction. All I want is the best for my little brother.
One of my closest union brothers had a brother just like my Daniel, even with the same name. His brother died last year, and I felt Tom's anguish as he poured out his grief to me. Then, I fearfully realized it would eventually happen to my own Daniel. I hoped and prayed it would not be so soon in happening.
Somehow, sadly, Tom and I have become estranged, even given our similar brothers and our love for one another. I need him now more than ever. He edited my book, has always been supportive and close to me. I need him to support me now, given our shared love of our younger siblings. I'm not even sure he reads Deke any longer. Even so, I felt so sad when he lost his own Daniel. Now I fear I'm losing mine, and I need my brother's strength right now.
See me, touch me, feel me, heal me...
Today, I have my Beloved, my daughter and two sons, along with my two older brothers, my inlaws and two elderly aunts and one uncle, cousins, nephews and grandson to hopefully help one another through this trying time. In addition, I ask YOU who have read this post through, to pray for whatever He deems best for Daniel.
Thank you, and I wish peace, safety and health to you and yours.
Love, Deke N. Blue