The dictionary says that a conservator is "one who conserves or preserves from injury, violation, or infraction; protector. One who is responsible for the person and property of an incompetent." Wikipedia says that a conservator is "someone appointed by a court to manage the affairs or estate of a person who is deemed incapable due to reasons such as age or mental limitations."
A week from today I will go to court hoping that the judge will grant me Conservatorship over my oldest son, my angel. It's been a more emotional road than I thought it would be.
From the beginning I was his mother, he was my son, and I made all decisions concerning everything - that's that way it is and as his mother, that's the way it will always be, right? I was in La-La-Land. Nobody told me any different and so I kept believing that this was reality. Well, I was awakened one perfectly normal spring day last year. Nothing earth shattering. Nothing dramatic. Just a simple annual IEP. (Individualized Education Plan) All was going along as usual, each person presenting their report of my son and the areas they felt should be worked on for the year ahead. Then it came time to sign. A simple thing really. Just sign on the line, acknowledging that I, his mother, am in agreement with the IEP. Then it happened. The Director, a very sweet woman whom I had sat across from at every IEP for the past seven years, all of a sudden halts midway while handing me the pen. "Do you have Conservatorship of him?" "Umm . . . no," I answer with a puzzled look on my face. "Oh, then we'll need him to sign it." HUH?? They want my son to sign a legally binding document? My son, who although 19 at the time, has the mental capabilities of a 15 month old? You've got to be kidding me. Well, they weren't. So a pen is placed in his hand which he promptly tries to drop because he is tactile defensive. His arm is moved toward the paper, which is difficult because of his unexplainable, incredible strength. A mark is made. A mark which is now somehow proof that my son has given his legal consent and agreement to whatever happens to be written on these papers that he neither cares nothing for, nor can possibly understand. I was allowed to sign as a courtesy.
I had heard of conservatorship before, but only vaguely and usually as something adult children seek for their aging parents. Well, please believe that I went home and searched all over the internet to find out about Conservancies and Conservatorship. What I found and read made me even more upset. Appearantly, the usual time to start the process of a Conservatorship is when the child in question is 16-17 years old. This way all advance paperwork can be done and upon turning 18 the only thing left to do is simply go before the Judge for approval. If no Conservatorship is sought, and the disabled child/adult is a client of the Regional Center (for our state, this is the agency that oversees all disabled children and makes sure that they have whatever equipment or services are needed) then the Regional Center, by default, becomes the Conservator. My son has been a client of the Regional Center for over 18 years -- WHY has no one ever told me about this?
Long story a little shorter, I found an attorney who does nothing but Conservatorships for the disabled and after a short interview and a large check, the process of gaining Conservatorship over my son was begun. As I mentioned in My Angel, the process has not been hard, just emotionally draining.
First I had to deal with and get over what I saw as the stupidity of needing to prove that my son needed protecting. The state, California, presumes that anyone reaching the age of 18 years, regardless of a handicapping condition, is capable of exercising the rights of an adult. So, I need to go before a judge with evidence of my sons' inability to care for himself.
Another thing that caught me off guard were the reports on my son. Some reports, like the medical report from his doctor and the IEP from school, were full of all the technical lingo that is supposed to describe my son. Others, like the report from the Regional Center, brought me to tears because it affirmed everything I have done in mothering my special son and because of its recommendation that I be granted Conservatorship in every area: to decide his residence, to have access to all papers and records that concern him, to make all legal decisions for him, the right to decide if he may marry (a moot point, but one to have nonetheless), the right to authorize or withhold medical treatment, the right to control whom he comes in contact with, and to decide where and how he shall be educated. On the other hand, I realized that my tears were tears of frustration as well. If, as the report states, I am so very involved in his life and they recognize that all the decisions I've made have been in his best interest, then WHY do we need to go through all of this? My struggle is largely an internal one.
Will I feel differently next week? If/When I am granted Conservatorship, will it all be water under the bridge? Maybe. But I certainly know that once again my eyes have been opened to something that they never saw before - something I had never thought about. (Placing him in a care home was another experience that opened my eyes, but I'm not ready to share all of that yet.) I know that I am not as innocent anymore, not as trusting. I can no longer trust the institutions that are there to support my son or the people in those institutions to tell me what I need to know. I can no longer trust that I'm well-informed in all the issues that may involve or concern my son. Now, all things will be heard with a grain of salt until I can verify it for myself.
I have come out of La-La-Land.
In a way that is good, but in another way I think it is terribly sad.