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I taught school for six years, meant to teach more, but life happened. When I taught fourth grade, one of my students was named John, and he was such a nervous kid, so intense, I worried about him. Kids move on at the end of each year, though, and I lost track of him. His mom, however, walked past our house a few times a week, going to the grocery store down the street. She was much older than most moms,, and I never heard why that was. All I know is that when John hit late high school, all of a sudden, he became paranoid.

I talked to his mom one day, and she told me that John had gone to a party, and she THINKS he drank something spiked with drugs and was never the same. I’m not sure if that’s true. Another young person we knew started hearing voices when she was in her late teens. A common occurrence with schizophrenia. That’s the age when it commonly hits. All I know is that when John’s mom left the house, he hid under her bed until she got back so that “they” couldn’t find him. If an airplane flew over the neighborhood, he hid in the closet. I don’t know what happened to John, but I know his mother spent every minute of her life worrying about him. “What will happen to him when I die?” she asked me.

I understood her dilemma. My cousin was born with her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck, cutting off oxygen to her brain. She had cerebral palsy but got lucky. She’s a wonderful, funny person but the right side of her body is distorted, and she suffered lots of seizures when she was young. She still has a seizure occasionally, but with physical therapy, she can walk with a walker and do a lot of things no one thought she could. The doctors said she wouldn’t live to be sixteen, but she’s happy at sixty-eight. Still, my aunt and grandma–who raised her–worried about what would happen to her when they died.

In the new Karnie mystery I’m working on, the barber in Glendale–where Karnie lives–has a son who’s mentally challenged. He can function and lives separately from his father. He’s dependable and works hard, but his father worries about what will happen to him when he’s not there to care for him. It’s a real worry some parents have to face. Eddie, the barber, is hoping he’ll live long enough and save enough money to get his son in a good, supervised home of some sort when he’s not there to support him anymore.

My cousin’s now in a wonderful nursing home that offers lots of activities. She joins into all of them, is enjoying herself and her new friends. I go to visit her once a week, and she gave me a sheet of all the things she likes to do and told me the only time she has free for me is from 3:30 in the afternoons to 5:00 when she has supper. That’s their time to relax and visit with each other. She won’t miss Bingo in the dining room two evenings a week for anything. I love seeing her so happy. She tells me what snacks she misses, and I try to make them for her a couple of times a month, but she’s gained weight since she’s been there. She loves eating in the dining room with all of her friends, and the food there is wonderful. She wouldn’t need any snacks at all except that she can’t have milk and cheese, so can’t always eat the desserts they make.

We got lucky. My cousin has some of the best care you can find. Eddie, the barber in my story, hopes he gets lucky with his son, too. And since I’m writing his story, I can make that happen:) In fact, I hope it happens for every parent in that situation. But I also understand it’s a real concern. And those parents have my sympathy, so I wanted to include one in my story. I’m not sure I’d have ever thought about them if I hadn’t met a few.