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My lovely strawberry blonde

By Shirley Prihode

The Bulletin

She was a perky strawberry blond, fully expecting a promising future when the man of her dreams walked into the break room at Lowe’s.

It didn’t take long for his eye to catch hers; and just like that, it began. He was 11 years older and had what some would consider baggage from a previous marriage.

She didn’t look at his children that way, and as a young woman, dreamed of adding more children to the mix.

Within a year, they met at the altar and pledged their love and commitment. Bliss was short-lived with a miscarriage of her first pregnancy. She grieved over the child as only a mother can and found words lacking to convey how empty her arms felt. The expectancy of a promising future dimmed somewhat as transient dark shadows floated in and out at unexpected intervals.

Before long, there was joy in the house again when the doctor confirmed a baby was on the way. As the trimesters clicked by, the couple’s anxiety that this baby, like their first, may not make it to term, slowly diminished. It was a joyous day when a strawberry blond baby boy, the image of his mother, made his long-awaited entrance into their waiting arms.

The child followed all the pediatrician’s projections for weight and height gains. Their joy overflowed, and the perky young woman came to life again.

The joy lasted almost two years, but there was a nagging feeling something was just not right. She noticed her precious child would not look strangers in the eye, didn’t want anyone to touch him, and he seemed to feel uncomfortable in public.

Then came the day when the doctor’s four little words resounded to the couple with an earth-shattering impact. “Your son has autism,” the doctor told them.

Years went by as their precious strawberry blond child retreated deeper and deeper into a world they couldn’t fathom or understand.

With each passing day, their world became smaller until life was lived within the four walls of their home. The dark shadows that had been on the periphery moved inside the four walls full time as they struggled to make sense of their new reality.

At times, the mother would push the dark thoughts away and take college courses in preparation for another job, only to find in the end, despite graduating with merit, she couldn’t handle the mental strain required to move from the classroom to application.

She couldn’t rescue herself, so she poured what little strength she had into helping others struggling with life issues. Frequently, her effort turned out badly, yet she would try again and again to help others make sense out of their calamities.

She knew there were answers in Christ that could help her navigate living in a broken world, but she quickly learned churches’ focus was on children who could sit still and listen.

Autistic kids didn’t fit well. She couldn’t fault the churches for not considering kids who didn’t fit the “normal” mode.

She knew the challenges of frequent outbursts and the lack of social skills were insurmountable for most volunteer workers. They were prepared to share Christ via songs, puppets, and flannel-graphs, but interactive events didn’t fit into the autism world.

Her body began to fail under the strain, as she watched her mobility diminish.

When the back pain reached the point that she could no longer bear it, she headed to Houston for surgery.

Like the tiny leaves struggling to bud on pecan trees in spring, her expectancy afterward for a pain-free life proved to be unfounded.

This was the final blow as her world was reduced once again to the confining four walls of her bedroom.

She would look at her strawberry blond child, who was no longer a child, but a 20-year-old man by age who was a boy stuck somewhere in between child and man. With a heart -wrenching cry, the mother turned her face to the wall and screamed within.

On a sunny Saturday, her mother came as was her daily custom, to prepare breakfast for her and her son. She walked into the bedroom to ask if her daughter wanted anything special. She called her name and then called again.

Silence hung in the room like a thick, suffocating blanket. Slowly, she inched her way toward the bed, all the while knowing but pleading nonetheless for anything but this.

With the grief only a mother can know, her own lovely strawberry blond child she had cared for and loved for 42 years had left this world in her sleep.

(To contact Shirley, please send emails to or write to The Bulletin, P.O. Box 2426, Angleton, Tx. 77516)


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