Nancy Meyer: Rare Gifts
Nancy Meyer was standing outside a D.C. hospital, phoning her siblings to share the news that her grandson, Noah, was just born. The announcement should have been amongst the most joyful in life, but it wasn’t.
Little Noah’s brain was missing the architecture of nerves that so finely thread and connect the right and left hemispheres. The rare condition is called agenesis of the corpus callosum.
“Noah was born in 2003,” recalls Nancy, who at 68 is a longtime Glencoe resident and Josselyn Center board member. “The doctors had been monitoring him in utero, and toward the end of my daughter’s pregnancy, they had a strong suspicion that Noah had this condition.”
Doctors confirmed the diagnosis by CAT Scan when Noah was just a couple of days old. “This perfect-looking little baby is born, and you can’t believe that he’s not a perfect little baby,” Nancy says. “Within minutes we knew that our lives were forever changed, and that Noah would have struggles we could not yet imagine.”
Living with this developing reality caused pain that Nancy hadn’t known before. “I tried to put on a brave face for my child, Julie, but I was devastated inside,” Nancy says. “The one thing that a parent wants to do is help her child. But I couldn’t help mine, and she couldn’t help hers.”
During the phone conversation outside the hospital that became etched indelibly in Nancy’s mind, her brother suggested, “I think it would be helpful for you to talk to someone and maybe get on some medication.”
Like the morning sun rising over the horizon, the realization dawned on Nancy that she needed professional help to cope. She already had a long relationship with a therapist, Kathy Grady. After consulting with Kathy, Nancy also sought a psychiatrist to prescribe medication. With a heavy heart, she boarded a plane to fly home to Santa Fe, where she lived at the time, and where she hoped to find additional support.
There is a range of outcomes with Noah’s condition, and sadly, he was very compromised. “First we discovered he couldn’t see,” Nancy says. “Then he began having seizures, and after that, thyroid issues. It went on and on.” Nancy remembers feeling immobile, sitting on her couch at home, waiting for the phone to ring, alerting her to the next crisis for Noah, her daughter, Julie, and son-in-law, David.
But during visits to see her grandson, Nancy said there were so many bright moments shining through the darkness. “There was a connection between Noah and me, that I’ve never felt with another human being,” Nancy says. “My daughter and son-in-law would call me ‘Grandma-mine’ because sometimes I was the only one who could calm Noah and get him to sleep. Some days were agony, but they were tempered by the unbelievable love I had for this child.”
After a panic attack that came out of nowhere and hit her like a Mack Truck, Nancy looked to her therapist to develop a framework for coping. To help quell the anxiety, Kathy taught Nancy about limits to her role as a mother and a grandmother. She could most certainly be supportive to her daughter and family, but Nancy had to learn self-care. Most importantly, Kathy told Nancy to feel compassion for herself and honor her own needs, as well as the needs of others.
“I was so grateful for this relationship with a caring, smart, insightful therapist,” Nancy says. “She knew me and my family, and understood how I operated as a mother, as a wife, as a woman.”
Nothing lasts forever, as the cliché goes, and therapy underscored that for Nancy. “When anxiety would arise, I learned to recognize it, and tell myself, this feels horrible now, but I’m not going to feel like this forever,” Nancy says. “That was incredibly helpful.”
Nancy’s psychiatrist in Santa Fe turned out to be very spiritual and wise. “He’d worked a lot with Native Americans,” she says. “He monitored my medications for anxiety and depression while I lived in Santa Fe, and he’d update my therapist about our work.”
She thinks that the strong shoulders of support she was able to lean on helped her remain upright through it all. “There are very few people who haven’t had some kind of traumatic life event,” Nancy says. “The therapeutic and psychiatric help that I got were really life savers. They allowed me to function and be helpful to my daughter, to live my life and to carry on. I was no longer spending my time sitting on the couch, waiting for the next crisis call.”
Noah, who lived such a difficult life, died peacefully in his sleep in 2005. While he was alive, Noah had the rare gift for bringing out the best in people. One friend had even told Nancy that she’d never believed in angels until she met Noah.
“When I say Noah was my teacher, I’m not just being facile about it,” Nancy says. “I really learned what was important in this world through him. I couldn’t have done that without the medication and therapy. I wouldn’t have had the coping skills that were so critical. I would have been suffering so much that I wouldn’t have been open to recognizing what I was learning from Noah.”
A rare gift, indeed.
Nancy has been a member of the Josselyn Center Board of Directors for more than a decade and during her tenure she also served as Board Co-Chair and Vice Chair.