Friday, November 23, 2007

Remembering Eric

Here's another one of those entries being relocated to my blog during my Web-site redesign.

Enjoy Remembering Eric!

As Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations is finally released, perhaps the best way for me to explain the value of this important work is to tell you about the enchanting child who first inspired its honest, heartfelt words—my son, Eric Richard Winter.

As I write these words, it is the third anniversary of my son’s sudden and dramatic passing. Much like that cold, dreary day in 2003 when we laid our only son to rest in the frozen, dark earth, today is snowy and frigid. Thundershowers, freezing rain and high wind advisories are expected for later today, part of a crazy weather pattern that refuses to release its dreary grasp—not unlike grief itself.

The environmental chaos suits my reflective mood well.

It’s perfect for burrowing deep beneath cozy blankets with a steaming mug of ginger-peach tea to escape emails and burgeoning promotion demands to remember an amazing and much-loved child who made a difference in the lives of many, especially mine. The brilliant red cardinal that has come to represent Eric’s spiritual visits to me now sings sweetly outside my window, perched on branches heavy with virgin snow.

As Breakthrough Parenting takes its rightful place on bookstore shelves just three years after Eric’s death, my son’s powerful presence continues to embrace me gently.

There are those who refuse to believe that modern-day heroes exist, but I know better. For nearly thirteen years I had the honor of parenting a pint-sized hero housed in a body assaulted by the often harsh physical realities of cerebral palsy. My son was a wheelchair user who spoke few words. Eric couldn’t tie his own shoes, brush his teeth or dress himself. He never ran track, played basketball, carved his own pumpkin, or bolted downstairs on Christmas morning to grab his overflowing stocking.

Eric never asked, why me?

Yet, he could charm the heck out of strangers on any street, anywhere.

The 'Winnie the Pooh' balloon I gave my son on his last Valentine’s Day still sits in his deserted bedroom, refusing to deflate completely—a stark reminder of the last holiday we shared together. It’s a haunting reminder of the fragility of life and of how often we live our days selfishly, with reckless abandon and little regard for what fate has in store for us before the day’s end— much like a casino gambler with no regard for the rent now loudly screaming past due.

Unexpected loss is humbling; it blindsides you, leaving the dazed and wounded struggling to find renewed purpose in their lives. That’s a tough order for any bereaved mother to fill. My loss is ill fitting, but I move about in it anyway, and stumble often. Reminders of my son, along with my purpose for going on without him, are everywhere— in brightly colored folders filled with edited book proposals, detailed promotion plans, final chapter edits, and on-going marketing demands.

The author files have taken over my life, granting me a solid reason to keep breathing— my need to share Eric’s life to offer other families hope, validation and valuable parenting support. I owe my son’s remarkable legacy at least that much.

My big writer’s dreams of publication have now come true— but my loss is huge.

Eric was a bright, charismatic child with wise eyes, a megawatt smile and an infectious laugh. His diagnosis of cerebral palsy at birth drastically altered the course of my life. I chose to parent him as a child of value. Our lives were tremendously challenging at times, sheer magic at others.

Spending time in Eric’s presence became a gift.

The wounded child became the adored teacher; the disabled kid redefined ability; the child sensitive to touch and noise sat quietly in movie theaters; the infant who struggled to take his first breath became a confident student included in his neighborhood school.

At his death, Eric was composing music in his weekly music therapy classes, and exhibited a charming, sophisticated sense of humor. Disability didn’t define who Eric was, at least not in our home. Those who took the time required to connect with him beyond his disability were rewarded with lasting lessons about dignity, grace, determination, ability, and the value of individual differences.

Eric redefined the word charm.

My son will always be my greatest life teacher. So rather than sit mourning over my tough loss, I am instead moved today to celebrate Eric’s life, excited about what he has achieved through me as a result of the literary journey he helped select for me years ago.

It was Eric who first fueled my passion to write Breakthrough Parenting. We were the dynamic duo, committed to impacting positive societal change for children with special needs. We knew just how tough it was to walk the special needs parenting road. We fought hard for greater societal awareness and accessibility for those with special needs every single day. It was no easy feat.

Every time the bar of expectations for Eric was raised, he surpassed the goals.

Fortunately, Eric always knew his true value. As he approached the teen years, he became increasingly determined to use his life struggles and successes to help other children live better lives. We agreed that Breakthrough Parenting needed to be written.

I had no idea that I would be required to slice open a deep vein of fresh grief to meet my contractual obligations as an author—to write something worth reading by the world.

How appropriate it is that something so beautiful has risen from the still blazing embers of grief.

My son taught me the power one person holds to impact positive change. He taught me to be passionate about a just cause and to work hard to make seemingly impossible dreams come true. He taught me to treat others with respect, even when I had cause to do otherwise.

I wrote Breakthrough Parenting to help millions of children and families facing special needs lead better lives. I know this book can change lives. As you read my heartfelt words, and the insightful words of others who have walked the special needs path well, I hope you experience a bit of my son’s magic, too.

Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations is the ultimate tribute to a great modern-day hero— my son, Eric Richard Winter. This is his book, too.

Congratulations, RicStar! We did it, together...
Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations

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