Rachael Shepherd
Guest Writer

Mother to Jacob, who receives care at Damar Services.

Damar was the right place for my son to be during the pandemic

3 minute read

Normally, I know exactly what I’ll be doing at the end of the day on every other Friday: driving to Damar to pick up my 20-year-old son, Jacob, for a weekend visit at home.

As you might guess, COVID-19 interrupted that routine. The weekend we got the email that Damar, where Jacob receives 24-hour residential services on campus, was going into a lockdown, I was supposed to pick up Jacob, but I decided not to. I was afraid if he got sick or something else happened, he might not be able to go back. So, I didn’t make the hour drive to Damar to bring Jacob back to our home in Carthage, where he likes to take long baths and go to Walmart to add to his never-ending collection of Matchbox cars.

It was a difficult decision, but I’m sure it was the right one…kind of like when I first took Jacob to Damar in 2016. He was 16, and I wasn’t ready for him to leave home, but as great as our school system and superintendent are, his school couldn’t provide the services he needed. Still, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, to take him there and walk away. But it was also one of the best things I’ve ever done for him. The COVID-19 lock-down experience has only reinforced that.

You see, Jacob has a dual sensory impairment – he is deaf and visually impaired – and he’s also nonverbal and has autism. So, communication is a challenge. He does have a cochlear implant, so he can hear, but he doesn’t speak and he doesn’t always acknowledge when you’re speaking to him. It’s tough to know exactly what he’s thinking.

That’s what’s so great about Damar. They’re willing to do the work to find out what a kid like Jacob is thinking. They accept and understand Jacob. They see the good in him. Right after he went there, they were telling me things about him that they would only know if they took the time to learn about him. That makes me feel so much more secure in giving them the responsibility to care for him. He’s not just a number, he’s not just a kid, he’s not just a label. They know him. I know that Jacob is unusual and an extra challenge for the Damar staff, but they haven’t said that. They took on the challenge because it was the right thing to do. That’s the thing about them: They are just good people, and they love those kids. 

That has been especially important during the pandemic, since I haven’t gotten to visit Jacob since the beginning of March. We’ve done a FaceTime session every week, so I’ve been able to see his face and his mannerisms, and that has been a huge blessing. That’s gotten me through.

As Jacob’s mom, I’ve been in tune with this kid since the moment he was born. Half my brain was always watching Jacob and listening for Jacob. I still like to have a mom role with him. I need to feel that, to feel that I am still doing something for him. For example, normally, I cut his hair and nails. So, not being able to see him … well, that’s left me feeling a bit empty, and I worry about what he’s feeling. During our FaceTime sessions, I feel like he’s wondering, “Where are you?”

But, again, I know it was the right thing to leave him at Damar during this time. As a school teacher (I teach English at Knightstown High School), I am working from home, doing e-learning, and I wouldn’t have been able to do that and keep up with Jacob’s routines, which he thrives on. That’s why he has done so well at Damar, because they’re all about schedules and routines, and he likes that.

COVID-19 has disrupted normal life, which is especially challenging for kids like Jacob who crave routine. Learning to adjust is a good practice for him, though, as his life will be changing again in the near future. In a year, it will be time for him to leave Damar. That’s scary for me, but I do feel like Damar has helped him to grow, and he’s ready for the next step, whatever that may be. It’s all unknown to me, but, then again, his whole life has been like that, and he’s always amazed me with his perseverance and ability to adapt. He not only adjusted to living at Damar, his level of independence has increased in ways I could only imagine. I have no doubt that placing Jacob with Damar was the right decision; I’m so grateful for them.

So, I’m glad I didn’t make that drive to Damar to bring Jacob home back in March, but I’ll be even gladder when the visitation restrictions are lifted and I can make that drive again. I know he’s been in a good place during the pandemic, but I can’t wait to have him back home.