It is the story of the many angels put in our path without whose help we could not have survived.
It is a story of the heartache of the loss of two children and the loss of my wife of forty-seven years.
It also includes some biographical anecdotes that give insights into Lynda and myself and some of the problems we incurred throughout our lives.
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Everywhere an Angel
A Journey of Love, Faith, Laughter, and Heartbreak
By Thom Barrett
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2014 Thom Barrett
All rights reserved.
Hours to Live
It was the one call no parent ever wants to receive. Mease Dunedin Hospital in Dunedin, Florida, was calling at 2:00 a.m. to advise us that we should come back to the hospital as soon as possible because our oldest son, Ty, aged thirty-eight, would probably not live through the night.
Ty was mentally and physically challenged and had been living in a medical group home in Pinellas County, Florida, for about seventeen years.
While dressing Ty Friday morning, his caregivers dropped him and, unbeknownst to them at the time, broke the same leg for the third time in thirteen years.
It was not determined that the leg was broken until he returned home from the day-care program he attended every weekday. They had just put him in his wheelchair and sent him off.
This break proved to be too much for Ty. Forty-eight hours after they dropped him, he died.
After the second time Ty broke his leg, we believed he had multiple strokes that left him incontinent, permanently wheelchair-bound, and with very little speech.
During the recovery process, Ty was not getting his appetite back and we were worried that there might be some kind of a stomach problem so we made an appointment with his gastroenterologist, Dr. Howard Klein. Ty had to be transported in a handicapped van because he was in a wheelchair. When the van arrived at the doctor's office they were unable to get the back of the van opened so Ty was unable to go into the office.
When I went into the office and explained the problem to the staff they consulted with Dr. Klein and the next thing I knew he was on his way to the van to examine Ty in the parking lot. I believe most doctors would have had us reschedule another appointment. Another angel, only this one came with a stethoscope.
Ty's neurologist said that if you only viewed Ty's brain scans, you would believe that he was in a vegetative state because of all the damage he had sustained over his lifetime.
Not only was Ty not in a vegetative state, but he had a sense of humor, smiled, and was happy most of the time.
The broken legs only complicated a very complicated condition that I will discuss later.
Let me back up. Ty's legal name on his birth certificate is Thomas Aloysius Barrett III. This means that he was initially also called Thom.
Lynda's mother, Mildred Schmitt, was dating and eventually engaged. Her fiancee felt in order to eliminate the confusion of little Thom and big Thom, he nicknamed our son Ty, and it obviously stuck.
I mention this because my parents' first child was a boy whom they named Thomas Barrett Jr. My brother was dropped by a caregiver when he was an infant and died. I assume my parents were set on having an heir named Thomas, so they also named me Thomas Aloysius Barrett Jr., although not really the correct thing to do.
Life plays strange tricks on us when you consider that my brother, Thomas, was dropped by a caregiver as an infant, which caused his death; and my son Thomas suffered the same fate—only at the age of thirty-eight, eighty years later.
While writing about my brother, Thom, I believe I might have had a small epiphany.
My sisters have always said that I was my parents' favorite and that their brother was an "only child."
Maybe the fact that our parents gave me the same name as their deceased firstborn caused them to be overly protective of me.
If, in fact, I was the favorite child, it was not because of something my sisters did or didn't do, but because I was named after a lost child. We never forget our children who die before us.
I hope people will understand our feelings at the moment we received the call about Ty. We wanted Ty to go to God and be freed of all the mental and physical shackles that had restricted him almost his entire life. He lived thirty-eight years—thirty-five and one-half which were hell.
As a priest friend of ours said when Ty died, he was a saint and rode the express train to the right hand of God because of the way he conducted his life and how much he taught so many people.
Ty contracted Reye's syndrome when he was two and a half years old, which left him with a paralysis on the left side of his body, speech-impaired, mentally impaired, and with a seizure disorder.CHAPTER 2
Lynda passed away in June of 2013. She died of complications of multiple fatal diseases. She is a saint and never presented as ill as she was. She had great faith in God and believed that He was always with us, no matter how bad things appeared.
When we married in 1966, we lived in Tudor City in New York City, which is at Forty-Third Street and First Avenue, across from the United Nations building. A month later, we moved to Asheville, North Carolina, which began a series of moves over our lifetime together involving my career.
Despite our moves to various states, Lynda made sure that I always scheduled time with three great guys whom I met in 1948 when my family moved to the Bronx. I was eleven. It was right after a heavy snowstorm, and my three new friends thought a good way to welcome the new kid to the neighborhood would be a three-on-one snowball fight. Obviously, I was getting the worst of the deal, so Matt Cavanagh came over to my side to make things even. Matt, Bill Mulderig, Charlie Garvin, and I became fast friends for life. Bill Mulderig and I were extremely competitive with each other, whether it be an organized sport or just some sort of pickup game.
Bill was better at baseball and basketball, and I was better at football, golf, and tennis—but Bill always won the big competition. The girls were crazy about him all through his life. He was "Peck's Bad Boy," and the girls loved him for that.
When we lived in Atlanta, Bill called and said he would be in town with his business partner and could I play tennis with them, did I have a club we could play at, and would I get a partner to play doubles with for the next week. I said yes to all three.
Remember how I said Bill and I competed at everything and were always trying to go one up on the other? Well, this was an opportunity I could not resist. Not only did I get someone to be my partner, but he was the club tennis pro, and his name was Carlton Davis. Needless to say, we beat them handily: 6-0, 6-1. When we got to the net to shake hands, Bill said that he really needed to take some lessons. I suggested Bill talk to Carlton about lessons because he was the club pro. Bill looked at me, shook his head, and said "Well played!" and proceeded to get hysterical. (Those were not quite his exact words, but in an attempt to maintain the spirit of the book, I thought it would be appropriate to clean up his response. But he really did laugh.) He was able to finally say he wished he had thought of getting a pro. One up for Thom!
Whenever we saw each other after that, the tennis match in Atlanta always came up, and we would both laugh. Bill died of cancer in 2010 and is sorely missed by all who knew and loved him.
Carlton became more than the tennis pro at the club to our family. He became a great friend to all of us.
Although nothing would ever come of it, he gave both of our boys free tennis lessons which helped them feel that they were just like their peers who participated in sports. One of Lynda's many goals for the boys was to let them experience what their friends did and Carlton contributed to this a great deal.
Andy actually became very proficient at the game considering his handicap. He wasn't going to win any tournaments but he could return the ball on a regular basis, which is a lot more than I can say for some people without a handicap.
When we moved to Clearwater, we used to spend a lot of time with the boys on the tennis court and one day Andy's pediatrician saw Andy playing tennis and asked us why we made him play because he had a visual impairment and had trouble seeing the ball when he hit from his backhand side. We explained that this was Andy's choice and once Bob saw how much Andy loved the game and how good he was he completely understood.
Andy also became pretty good at golf and many a Saturday morning, he and or Ty would ride with me when I played with my friends. I do not think that there a lot of men who would be comfortable with the boys around during their Saturday golf game but it got to the point that if one of them were not there on Saturday the guys were concerned. More angels ...
A great example of parents exposing their child with special needs to everything in life, happened one day at a public tennis facility in a park in Atlanta. Lynda and I watched a pre teen boy with severe Cerebral Palsy practice his tennis and after every shot he hit he would lose his balance and fall to the ground. He wore knee pads to protect himself. This obviously didn't bother him because he got up each time with a smile on his face and resumed practice. What a special young man and how special his parents must be to encourage him.
Almost every Saturday when we lived in Atlanta I played tennis in a city wide league called The Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association. Lynda, Ty and Andy came to almost all of the matches played, as did members of the other players' families and after each competition we would all go to a fun restaurant for lunch. The guys all adopted the boys and treated them as they did any other kids in the group. Andy became particularly friendly with two of the guys Paul McNaughton and Tom Beddoe. Andy has remained great friends with Paul. Paul at his expense has often flown Andy to Atlanta and entertained him for a week or so. More angels ... When I go to Atlanta I see Paul and Tom and we play golf. Tennis is a little more strenuous than what we are up to.
Lynda never let me forget how precious and rare longtime friendships are and that it sometimes required an extra effort to maintain them. I am so glad she did. Matt, Charlie, and I are still the best of friends, and it has been sixty-five years since we first met on Marion Avenue in the Bronx.CHAPTER 3
House on Marion Avenue
The house we moved to in the Bronx in 1947 had been in the family for about sixty years, and my mother had been raised there. My father had lived less than a block away.
Our new home was the last of three private homes on the block. The rest had been torn down and apartment buildings had been built.
In 1953, Matt Cavanagh, one of my snowball friends, was at home lamenting that there was nothing to do. Just then, he heard the fire engines and ran out of his home to see where the fire was. Much to his surprise, it was my house, and there was no one at home but my younger sister, Sheila. She was sitting at the curb clutching our dog in one arm and the parakeet cage in the other. Matt asked Sheila where our parents were, and she said they were at a cocktail party and gave him the phone number.
Matt called and asked to speak to my mother. When she got on the phone, Matt informed her that the house was on fire. She asked if the fire department was there and did it seem to be under control. He said yes to both. She thanked him for calling and went back to the party. Obviously, Mother loved a good party. Later, my father asked her what the call was, and she told him the house was on fire and that it seemed to be under control. My father decided it was important enough to go home and see what was going on.
This was a three-story house, and when my father got there, the roof had burned off, and there was a tremendous amount of water and smoke damage on all three floors. He then called my mother and told her what was going on at the house. She decided maybe it was time to come home, mostly because she was having dinner guests that night.
My father was a car salesman all his life and had just sold a new car to the couple coming for dinner. He called them to tell them about the fire, but all the dinner guest could talk about was the crack in the windshield of his new car and what could be done about it. After my father explained about the fire for the third time, he finally heard him.
As I said, my mother loved a party and had her guests to dinner seven hours after the fire. They had deli takeout by candlelight.
Although my mother's lack of an appropriate response in almost losing our home and the welfare of her children, I believe that she taught me a lesson about how to stay calm under all circumstances and how to handle adversities in life.
Later on in life when I was going through many crises with the boys I was able to draw on her response and appropriately handle them with calmness.
Another life lesson I learned while living on Marion Ave. was taught to me by a boy a few years younger than me, who lived across the street. I believe he was autistic but at that age I was not aware of what that meant.
All I knew was that he was a nice kid who could not talk and loved to play catch in the street. He had a great arm and could throw a ball a lot farther and accurately than older kids. At least a couple of days a week he would knock on our door and without speaking, indicate that he wanted to play ball. Looking back I realize that this relationship helped me with my own two handicapped boys and helped prepare me in handling their frustrations. Oddly enough this boy's name was also Tom but we called him Tommy.
When the house was being rebuilt, we three children were farmed out to the various relatives for three months.
The house was eventually sold in 1955 so they could build another apartment building, but they retained our street number.
The house that my father lived in around the corner from my mother when they were growing up was called the castle by the people in the neighborhood. It was a huge three-story, six-bedroom house, which was needed to accommodate my grandparents and their eight children. They also owned a spacious summer home in Connecticut.
My grandfather had an exclusive contract with General Motors to sell Buicks in the borough of the Bronx and had three dealerships. This was prior to WWII, so needless to say, they were quite comfortable.
My father graduated from Fordham Prep and had a football scholarship to Notre Dame but chose not to accept it. First of all, he thought his future was secure in the family business, and secondly, he was in love with a Ziegfeld girl and didn't want to leave her. The family was lucky enough to survive the Stock Market Crash of 1929 but could not survive the effects of WWII on the automobile business.
The family put everything they had back into the business during the war because they knew that after the war, they would again be back on top.
The problem with this was that my grandfather passed away six months before the war ended, and General Motors would not renew the contract with my father and his brother because, by this time, all their assets had been depleted while attempting to stay open during the war.
The great thing about moving back to my parents' neighborhood was my new friends knew all about my family and their previous lifestyle. The Barretts used to give every child at St. Philip Neri grammar school a gift at Christmas. My friends all remembered this.
I loved my father a great deal. He was a very kind and gentle man, and he taught me a great deal about life. The problem was that he was constantly chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, hoping to achieve great wealth again. It never happened. My father had a heart attack in his car in a parking lot and never regained consciousness at the hospital.
My wife, Lynda, told me that she saw tears run down his cheeks when I entered his hospital room. As we have said many times in our lives, you never know how much people in a coma are aware of in terms of what is going on around them.CHAPTER 4
In 1960 I finished college and decided to sell life insurance. I tried it for four months and hated going to work every day. I am a good salesman but not good at cold-calling and couldn't handle the phone work.
Rather than wait to be drafted, I decided to enlist in the National Guard and go on active duty for six months as required.
When I enlisted in October, I was told there would not be anyone assigned to active duty until after the holidays. I was now going to be unemployed for at least three months and needed a temporary job.
When I was in college, I went in to New York City to try to get work for the holidays and had been offered a job as Santa Claus. I was mortified! I have always been self-conscious about my weight and felt I had been offered a position because of my size. A week or so later, I decided that I would have been a great Santa and regretted my decision.
Excerpted from Everywhere an Angel by Thom Barrett. Copyright © 2014 Thom Barrett. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Thom's family is out of the ordinary. If we think we have the biggest problems in our lives, wait until you read this inspirational story of the Barretts. It's clear that I can say that we are fortunate enough than this family. Though life was harsh for them, they were not alone as Angels are always there for them. Lets be somesome's Angel today and make a big difference.
Pure at heart!!! I came across this story of the Barrett's and it moved me. I've seen a lot of broken families like it's a norm. FAMILY FIRST!! Aside from it it's not only a story of the Barrett's but a story of all humanity. This is a must read and I hope they make a movie out of it. KUDOS to Thom Barrett for sharing your life's story. EVERYONE SHOULD HAVE IT!!! -DJ