Posted on February 3rd, 2016 by Beth Finke
Valentine’s Day is around the corner, and to celebrate, we’re dedicating the next couple of weeks to posts about love and relationships. What better way to start than with this beautiful post about a young woman’s love for her uncle who had developmental disabilities?
This tribute shows that love and family know no disability, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone saw past disability as Katie did.
Today’s post was written by guest blogger Katie Irey. Katie lives in Des Plaines, Illinois, with her husband Grady and their Border Collie Wick.
by Katie Irey
If you met my Uncle Gerald just once, you knew he was a lifelong Trekkie.
Gerald was 10 years old when Star Trek: The Original Series first aired. In the mid-1960s the show was ahead of its time in many ways, tackling interstellar adventure with a dose of morality, and taking a progressive point of view on things like diversity and civil rights at a time when society was less accepting of differences than today.
I didn’t know my uncle when he was a child, but I imagine he may have found some comfort in this TV community where it was okay to be different. In fact, it was celebrated. Spock was one of Gerald’s favorite characters, but Spock and Gerald differed in so many ways. Spock was Captain Kirk’s unemotional voice of reason and logic; to say that Gerald could be stubborn was putting it mildly.
But both Spock and Gerald were heading out on missions to “boldly go where no man has gone before.” From scouting to swimming to medaling in the Special Olympics for cross-country skiing, Gerald’s adventures were many, and preferably completed on his bicycle.
My earliest memories of my uncle coincide with the airing of Star Trek: The Next Generation in the late 1980s at my grandma’s home. Uncle Gerald kept my sister and me entertained with Star Trek episodes, cartoons, Transformer action figures and Atari games.
My cousins and I were the next generation, which our uncle was sure to remind us of repeatedly. My uncle was a character, always trying to make us laugh with funny faces and endless teasing. I appreciated the latter so much more when it was directed at my sister than at me.
Gerald had a nickname for everyone, but my sister Peggy was always Margaret, and I was always either Kathryn or Binker, a nickname I couldn’t shake no matter how hard I tried.
When Star Trek: Voyager aired in 1995, Captain Kathryn Janeway was the first female commanding officer, responsible for navigating her ship and crew on a perilous 75-year journey home. I was a teenager entering high school and was too preoccupied with sports and friends to pay much attention to the plot lines, or to my uncle, for that matter.
However, whenever we were together, he never failed to remind me that the Captain of the Voyager and I had the same name, Kathryn, that she was the first female Starfleet commander, and that maybe I could be a commander, too. This I believe was my uncle’s way of encouraging me to pursue my dreams, and letting me know how proud he was to be with me on my journey.
In 2001, the last televised series, Star Trek: Enterprise launched, a prequel to the original series. That year ushered in a year of change and new adventure for my uncle as well, leaving the comforts of home with my grandmother and transferring to a new mission in a nearby residential program. My parents became the officers of his ship, and the caregivers who took him to ball games, movies, and dances (and made sure he did his chores) were his crew.
Gerald’s mission became more challenging over the last 10 years as he faced both Diabetes and Parkinson’s. His hero Spock once stated that “creativity is necessary for the health of the body,” and Gerald found some solace in his coloring, which seemed to ease his tremor at times.
When my husband Grady and I visited him over the last few months, Gerald put on a brave hero’s face and smiled through his pain, showing his appreciation for his family and even slipping in a joke or two.
My Uncle Gerald passed in December, but his memory lives on in my heart. I can only imagine that he is in heaven now with his mom and dad and extended family surrounding him, his hands strong and steady, wishing that the rest of us “Live Long and Prosper.”
Read many other stories and tips about love, relationships and disability on easterseals.com/love.