Five Year Anniversary: A Renewed Spirit

Five years ago yesterday some friends were victims of a home invasion. Two armed men invaded their house at dinner time. The couple had three children. The husband was able to attack one of the invaders and was wresting on the floor with him and he was shot. After the shooting both the invaders left the house and were never caught. My friend who was shot spent an extended stay in trauma ICU and survived the attack. This family encountered extensive trauma from the incident and moved immediately to a safer location.

Doing what true friends do, I came to their immediate assistance. I did all I could to help. I packed their things, moved them into storage. I recruited people to help paint, rip up carpets, clean, handle contractors. A little of anything and everything. At first, it was just about love, giving back and doing all I could to help this family in crisis. But SHOCKINGLY, it developed into so much MORE.

As I was working on the house and all that needed to be done, I remembered my own traumatic history. I was injured on the job (many years before) working as a technician in a respiratory ICU unit. I was three classes away from completing my nursing degree. My husband and I had a plan that when he graduated with his associate degree I would return and finish my degree to be a registered nurse. After receiving inaccurate information from a nurse I encountered a back injury turning a 580 pound patient. It ended my future in nursing forever. I was devastated. The only thing that topped my devastation of never being a nurse was my sons diagnosis with autism.

I spent months full time, many days 15-16 hours a day working on this house getting it ready to be sold. Spending quiet time with my own thoughts was very enlightening yet revealing at the same time. So many around me didn’t understand what was happening. At the time I wasn’t sure either. It was all internal. The Lord was working inside me. My viewpoint and my focus were changing. I WAS CHANGING. Once again from that moment my life has never been the same.

My husband and I had four kids when we married and the oldest was only five. Two step children and two biological children. My youngest Caleb was born three weeks after we married. We had a ready made family. With lots of activity all around us all the time. Life was busy. After my sons diagnosis with autism at two and a half it became downright hectic. Dealing with therapists, schools, doctors, educators, behavior specialists. It kept me hopping for a long time.

At the time when I was working on this house preparing it to be sold my son affected with autism was finishing his junior year in high school. He was doing fabulous. Our three other children had already graduated high school and two were in college. Suddenly my life was not as hectic anymore. For an autism mom one would think it would be a welcome time in life. For me it wasn’t. I was suddenly left without a purpose. I felt lost. Autism was such an all consuming presence in my life for so long.

I found myself standing up on the ladder with paint brush in hand. Asking myself a bunch of hard questions. What do I want for my life? Is there anything that I feel about passionately as I did for nursing? If so, how can I put that to use? What do I need to do to prepare for it?

At the time when my son was diagnosed in 1996, there was little information and research done on autism spectrum disorders. Information was not as readily available as it is now. With the diagnosis rate then around one in 500, it was unlikely to find another parent going through what I was going through. It was decided in that empty house surrounded only by a multitude of pain cans, paint all over my clothes and even stuck in my hair. I was going to help families with children affected by autism. This was my new mission. I NOW HAD A NEW PURPOSE.

One day after a long days work on the house I came home and told my husband that I had decided to go back to school. He was shocked. It really did come out of nowhere. In January 2011 I started school at Empire State College majoring in Bachelor of Science: Human and Community Services. I also enrolled in the NY Partners in Policy Making Program at Cornell University hosted by the NY State Developmental Disabilities Planning Council. I also attended lay advocate training to learn how to advocate so I can assist other parents. I grew as a student and future professional. I have had some excellent opportunities that I can only attribute to as a sign from the Lord that this is exactly where he wants me.

One of the requirements for my degree was participating in an internship. Most students at my school do their internship locally. I had an opportunity to complete mine with the Government Relations Team at Autism Speaks. I participated in walks all over, and assisted in the background in research needed to pass legislation. I even had the opportunity to work on the Light it Up Blue Campaign. Along the way, I met some incredibly, amazing, inspiring people!

I finished my Bachelors in Science in July 2013 in Human and Community Services. I am currently a Masters of Arts student pursuing a degree in Social and Public Policy with a Concentration in Nonprofit Management. I will graduate in June 2016. My husband and I will be graduating together. I will be completing my Masters and he will be completing his Bachelors.

On this anniversary I have some very mixed emotions. Remembering the trauma that this family experienced still makes me emotional. I had a front row seat. At the same time it also changed my life for different reasons. I now have a renewed spirit in my life and my future is bright. I am not sure where life will take me from here. I do know that I WILL be helping families who are affected by autism. I also know it will be exactly where the Lord places me. Find YOUR purpose. Who knows where life will take you!

Renee McAfee on Facebook
Renee McAfee
My blog is about my emotional journey through the maze of autism. Hearing that diagnosis is not only a devastation for a parent, but a death of a vision and hope of a future they dreamed for their child. Read more at
Renee McAfee

Renee McAfee

My blog is about my emotional journey through the maze of autism. Hearing that diagnosis is not only a devastation for a parent, but a death of a vision and hope of a future they dreamed for their child. Read more at

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