Today would have been Todd's 64th birthday - and still is his twin sister, Tolisa's birthday. Tomorrow marks the 7th year since he left his body and entered into formlessness and timelessness. We feel his presence daily, somewhere, maybe in Ben's queries about what his dad would have thought about politics, in Peter's monitoring the local sports teams, or Jonathan pondering his father's path through relationships. But the person who still holds him close to her heart is his sister, Tolisa, Todd's "womb-mate". Here are her words in an email seven years ago to friends and family, informing them of Todd's passing.
Dear Friends and Family, near and far;
March 9th is a day that I not only celebrate as my birthday, but I share with my twin brother, Todd Gauchat. So it was fitting that on Wednesday, my husband Jerry and I would be with Todd and the rest of his family in his home in Shaker Heights to visit on our special day. His health had been slipping; a life constricted by severe cerebral palsy was taking its toll. By the end of that evening it became apparent that he needed more than medical intervention so we suggested hospice. We tucked him into bed that night at 10:30. He never regained consciousness. All day Thursday friends, neighbors, clergy and family stopped by to pray, sing, share stories and say goodbye to our crippled warrior. Todd was peacefully resting, hopefully enjoying this loving celebration of his life. He loved any reason to party.
On Thursday evening, as I held my twin's face in my hands, I watched him take his final breath. My brother passed out of his gnarled and bent body and was free of the cerebral palsy that had imprisoned him his whole life. His sweet wife, Rosalind and his oldest son, Jonathan were with me as we witnessed his passing. It was a privilege to assist as a "midwife" to birthing him into the next world. Shortly thereafter, David Gauchat, Sue and Benoy Joseph joined us as we kept vigil over Todd...quietly holding the space as the snow fell silently outside and we said our final goodbyes. It felt right and good, knowing that Todd was finally at peace.
Those of you who know me well enough know my story, which I won't fully reiterate here. Due to our parents' divorcing, Todd and I were separated from our two older brothers and each other by the age of two; I know it broke our hearts when we were separated; something (or someone) was always missing. Both of us grew up in separate families who were compassionate enough to take us in. The Gauchats embraced and enveloped Todd in their warm, ever expanding, noisy, loving, spiritually rich and supportive family and I am eternally grateful to them for the full life that they provided my dear brother. Because of them he was spared a primitive life in a hellish state institution. They stretched their generous hearts and home big enough to adopt him and because of their goodness he thrived in their care and had an extremely rich and stimulating life. While I did not live with Todd I was able to share our birthdays, holidays and special visits with him as we grew up in neighboring towns. He and I have always had a special language and bond; it's been said that's due to being womb-mates. We also shared a very special aunt; Aunt Sue, who lived far away in the land of Seattle and was committed to sending us the same carbon-copied letters addressed to "Dear Todd and Tolly" every week, for years and years on end. It was her letters that helped to keep us connected as siblings as our lives grew in different directions. It's wonderful people like the Gauchat family and Aunt Sue whose dedicated love and commitment shaped and enhanced our lives. I share this with you to remind you that we never know how we will touch the lives of others, but that it is so important to make the effort.
I call Todd my courageous warrior because he had an indefatigable spirit...when he set his mind on something, a goal to accomplish, he did not stop nor could you say "no" to him. He always found a way. He learned to read. He employed a letter board, and much later in life, a computer, to help him talk. He endured risky surgery to have an electronic pacemaker implanted in his brain. Most significantly, he found the love of his life, Rosalind, and together they have three wonderful boys; Jonathan, Peter and Benjamin. They would have celebrated their 25 wedding anniversary this summer. Even in the end he nobly donated his body to science so researchers could more fully understand cerebral palsy.
These past few years were even more of a challenge for Todd; he became virtually paralyzed with tranverse myelitis. His body was further restricting him as he lost more of his precious independence. As if he didn't have enough on his plate already! But he soldiered on, working hard to complete his magnum opus. During the last several months his physical condition continued to decline and we could see pain in his eyes. Roz, the boys and his attendants continued to tenderly care for him. But Todd knew. Last weekend he refused nourishment and was taken to the E.R. who in turn, sent him home. By Wednesday his light was fading. He opened his eyes for the first time, and fell into his final sleep on the same date, 57 years later. I am deeply honored that I was with him when he was born and with him when he died. I find peace and solace knowing that he is now free. He's probably playing baseball in Heaven right now.
While the plans are still being finalized, it appears that Todd's memorial service will be held this Friday afternoon, March 18th, most likely in Shaker Heights. The venue, time and other details to follow. Thank you.
Love, light and blessings,
When we had our children in the Shaker Heights schools, and specifically Benjamin in the special education program there, we were invited to join the Shaker Heights Special Education PTO by Holly Palda, the parent advocate hired by the schools. Holly has a great knack for connecting parents to each other. She observes the interests and concerns of the parents and puts them in touch with each other. One of the people she put me in touch with was Mariam Hasham Rashwan, the mother of Salma. Mariam and her family moved here to Cleveland from Ismailia, Egypt, near the Suez canal. Her husband is a doctor, and she currently has 4 children, the second oldest being Salma, who is now 15 years old. At the time, Mariam was looking for supports and advice in how to deal with both the school special education system, and how to work with Salma on her communication and behavioral issues, both very important issues – and very interconnected - for people who have autism challenges and their families. We got to know each other there, and at the Uqba Masjid in Cleveland, where Todd and I knew several other families from the middle east/Africa. The family left for Florida in 2010 or so, and I didn’t hear from her until last Sunday, when she came back to visit for a wedding, and stopped into see me! As we caught up with each other’s stories during the afternoon it occurred to me that all her major life decisions and directions had been spurred on, and guided by her love for Salma, who is still non-verbal. This strong drive and motive is a familiar theme for parents of children with disabilities. I hearken back to all that Dorothy Gauchat went through to make life worth living for Todd.
Mariam and Salma's story will be continued in Mariam's own words (translated from Arabic) Mariam writes prolifically about Salma on Facebook, and remains an inspiration to thousands of followers there.
Two weeks ago, Todd's co-author, Deborah Burke, sent a cover letter to Soho Press, along with a proposal for publishing. Deborah Burke is part of the Writer's Guild and certainly knows how to deal with publishers, as well as how to write well! Here is a synopsis for the starting point for this blog, the book - To Hell with Impossible by Todd Gauchat with Deborah Burke- written by Deborah Burke.
When Todd Gauchat (Go SHAW) met his future wife for the first time, he was sitting in his wheelchair, his whole body was unreasonably spastic, even his head. But this able-bodied woman looked directly at him and spoke to him, though he could not speak to her. Later when he heard her laugh, Todd found himself smiling for the first time in a long time. He was 30 years old and had yearned for love his whole life.
Todd is an unlikely lover, husband, father. He cannot talk, walk, or feed himself. Yet he lived a full life—one he imagined and perhaps prayed into being. He refused to accept that his body, over which he had no control, made him unworthy of love and the fullness of life. Because he was blue at birth from lack of oxygen, Todd struggled a lifetime with severe spastic Cerebral Palsy. He was abandoned by his mother, separated from his able-bodied twin sister and his older siblings, thrust into foster care by his desperate father, and nearly institutionalized by the state. In spite of the odds, Todd believed he had been born for a purpose that perhaps only God knew.
Raised by adoptive parents who belonged to the Catholic Worker movement, Todd considered himself more normal than abnormal. His adoptive parents allowed him to do everything their able-bodied sons did: go on roller coasters, have extraordinary adventures. Todd learned to live well with a harsh disability, to dress and care for himself, to type, to begin a career as a freelance sports writer. As a teen, he was surprised to discover that he was passionate—he needed love to become whole. On a letter-board placed across his lap, he pointed to letters of the alphabet to ask friends and family the question that burned within him: “What are my chances for love and marriage?” No one encouraged his pursuit of love; many scoffed at such an impossible wish. But Todd didn’t give up. In his search for love, he suffered many rejections. Despair led him to attempt suicide; then a promising surgery failed. Yet, his lonely fate was interrupted—by love. That able-bodied woman with the huge laugh pursued him. They married and together they proved wrong a fertility expert’s prognosis that Todd could not father children. Todd was happily married to Rosalind for 24 years. Their three sons were into or approaching their teens when Todd was struck with total paralysis; he died in 2011.
Whether you have a severe disability like Todd’s, a fear of failure, or a compulsion for sadness, Todd Gauchat will convince you that life is about becoming whole with what you’re given. He always said that his life was full of miracles—the kind that occur only when one understands that there are no limits. Many people who knew Todd believe he was given his particular set of “impossibles” to prove that obstacles need not define or limit the achievement of our dreams.
Todd spent 17 years of his life typing his life story with one finger on his spastic left hand—the only hand he could move. He typed his story until he was struck with paralysis in 2003, at the point when he was just beginning to write his love story with his wife, Rosalind. Once the paralysis set in, its effects were rapid. At that point Deborah Burke came in to help Todd finish his book. The work slowed many times due to Todd’s illness but he read and corrected every new chapter. Todd and Rosalind both worked closely with Deborah to finish the “rest of the story”—how Todd and Ros met, fell in love, married, had children, and survived a family crisis. Then Todd passed and after his death Rosalind became ill, which further delayed the book’s completion.
To Hell With Impossible challenges outdated assumptions about what it means to be normal. The book has 32 chapters, a Foreword by a former priest who was Todd’s lifelong friend, and an Epilogue by Todd’s wife Rosalind Gauchat. The book is complete at 187 pages and 53,071 words. It includes about 15 photographs.
I want to embark on a journey, and I am hoping you can come with me. To Hell with Impossible – the place of Todd’s life journey is my starting point – my mountain. From this vantage point, I can see so many possibilities – so many other mountains of impossibles that people have climbed. I am especially drawn to the stories of those with communication impossibles. I want to journey among them and capture their stories – told from their perspectives, and the perspectives of those around them, just as Deborah did for Todd. I want to get this out in a blog-type format or something online that is as easily accessible to people with communication or mobility challenges as those with other, not so obvious challenges – that means all of us!
For this journey, we will need a map of places to go. From this vantage point, I already know so many people and caregivers, that I could probably fill a year (one blog a week) with those that I already know. But I will need your help by either getting me in contact with them, or if you want your own story, I will just need your permission to let others receive what you have to tell them. I also will need to find out who will want to read these stories, and how to get it to them. I have already contacted a professional marketer, who can assist with marketing online. But if you can spread the word of this enterprise to those who might be interested, please let me know.
Lastly we will need the time and financial ability to carry out this journey. From past experience, I can attest that by focusing on the vision, both money and time have always been supplied, sometimes from very surprising sources. I continue to offer this to the imagination of the Universe! Please help me to focus on that vision!