Learning about unconditional love and completion of a family through life with an uncle with Down's Syndrome. “One of the things adults tend to do,” says Trent Hope, Kevin's nephew, “is to wish that they could be a kid again and experience all the wonder childhood brings. We get to experience that with Kevin, and we are so blessed.”
Through all the high's and low's of being a family, one family member can bring everything into proper perspective as they go through seasons of tremendous joy and sorrow.
This is certainly true in the family of Jack and Mozelle Cruce. With eight children, there was always great potential for both joy and sorrow. The youngest of eight children, Kevin, was born with Down's Syndrome in Tucker, Georgia. At the time Kevin finished high school, people didn't know much about how to help people with Down's Syndrome, and their life expectancy wasn't very long, but his family made sure that he bowled in the special needs bowling league, worked at Kroger and at Bojangles, and went to Sunday School every week.
He was known all around the small town--everyone knew of Kevin and the Cruce family.
"When he first got a bank account," says nephew Trent Hope, "it even made the local paper."
As his parents aged, Kevin's world began to shrink along with theirs, and he began to act like an elderly person with a child's mind. The one thing that never changed with Kevin through the years was his ability to respond with childlike faith and hope to everything that happened within his family.
Through the illness and death of his sister, Christina, and, then, mother, Mozelle, Kevin simply accepted that they had gone to be with Jesus. Several years ago, when his father was diagnosed with dementia and put on hospice, Kevin adjusted to a life with a caregiver coming into the home. It wasn't until his father had to be admitted to a care facility that things changed drastically for Kevin.
In October 2018, Kevin moved in with his sister and brother-in-law, Tricia and Tommy Hope, in Cumming, Georgia. The Hopes had already raised two children of their own and were grandparents of three young children when Kevin came to live with them.
Trent explains, "My parents have always known that Kevin might come live with them one day. When they bought their current house back in 2007, they bought a house designed to accommodate people with special needs."
With Kevin's full-time presence in their lives, the Hopes have learned much about the joys and challenges of having a special needs family member. For Kevin, on the other hand, the transitions for have been exciting, world-expanding, and, often, humorous. For example, Kevin had never had a cell phone, access to the internet or smart tv before moving in with his sister.
"One of the first times he was learning how to use Alexa (Amazon's voice-assisted technology), he kept calling her Alexis and asking for Rascal Flats, his favorite band. They were both very confused," Trent says.
Trent, with all good intentions, showed him how to use the family's smart TV after installing what he thought were the appropriate parental controls. "I learned the hard way that there are gaps in those precautions. When I had a $100 charge for bad action movies and episodes of the soap opera General Hospital on my credit card, I knew I had to do a better job of protecting Kevin, and my bank account, from his random purchases."
Other world-expanding opportunities have opened up to Kevin. Since he moved to Cumming, Kevin has been able to go to a program for special needs adults every day while his sister works. "The Pier Center for Life Enrichment program has been a game-changer for him. He gets to experience things he's never done before. They learn how to cook and garden and go to different businesses to help out. They get to go to the gym and work out or swim."
A highlight of his year has been the Night to Shine for special needs people--Kevin said he was going to prom.
Kevin danced the night away in a blazer, khakis and tie. He was thrilled!
In addition to family, another constant in Kevin's life has been the continual friendship of his friend, Joe, who also has Down's Syndrome.
"He and Joe have sleep overs and do things together just like other kids. Joe is always happy, like Kevin, and they both always have big smiles on their faces. We could all learn from their approaches to life."
The Hopes have learned that Kevin still needs boundaries in spite of being an adult. "Kevin wanted to buzz cut his hair, but my mom had told him that, if he cut his hair, he couldn't go bowling that Friday. He cut his hair and bowling was out of the question. He hasn't cut his hair since then."
Kevin has also taking on the responsibility of simple chores. He earns an allowance by doing chores each week. He has to keep his room clean, sweep the kitchen, and take the clothes out of the dryer just to help out around the house.
These are simple things, but all of the family's experiences with Kevin add up to so much that all involved have gained. According to Trent, Kevin always focuses on the simple things: God, family, shelter, and food. He knows that God loves him and that his family here loves him. He's happy to live with his sister, Tricia Hope, and loves to eat. He likes to "play" the guitar and sing and wants to be a country singer some day.
One of the things Kevin has given everyone is ability to love others well.
"I think everyone loves Kevin so much because all he does is love others."
As he experienced the death of one of his older sisters to colon cancer when the sister was only in her thirties, his response gave the family a childlike perspective and hope.
"Any time someone has passed away, he mourns them, but he also lives in complete confidence that they're with Jesus. He prays daily, 'I pray for my momma, my dad, my sister Chris, and my brother Mike who are in heaven. Thank you for Jesus who lives in my heart.'"
Kevin is also, in his own way, active in sharing his faith.
"He always asks me if I have Jesus in my heart,” says Trent. “When we were at my parent’s Christmas Eve service, Kevin looked over at me as everyone lit candles and were singing Silent Night and asked me if I was a Christian. I nodded and told Kevin I was.”
Kevin has taught Trent and his family to slow down, seek out the child-ike innocence that Kevin brings and to not sweat the small things. “One of the things adults tend to do,” says Trent, “is to wish that they could be a kid again and experience all the wonder childhood brings. We get to experience that with Kevin, and we are so blessed.”