By Lisa Harlow
Special to the Review
Taking care of a loved one with special needs can at times be overwhelming, exhausting and stressful, but Jeannette Hudak, mother of Maria Rosner, 41, who was born with Down syndrome, considers herself blessed.
Hudak was one of more than 50 women who attended a Day of Prayer and Pampering, sponsored by the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Office of Disabilities Ministry Nov. 24 at the Monsignor O’Dwyer Retreat House in Sparks.
The Sunday event, which included hair and nail services, massages, makeup, refreshments – all donated – was offered free of charge for mothers of children with disabilities and wives of husbands with disabilities.
There were also guest speakers, and, according to Bill Fleming, director of the Office of Disabilities Ministry, a concluding Mass celebrated by Paulist Father John Hurley, executive director of the archdiocesan Department of Evangelization.
“The day was absolutely wonderful. The people there were just so great. I totally enjoyed the entire day. I had a lot of fun, and we laughed a lot,” said Hudak, 80. “Listening to all of the other mothers and caregivers, it made me realize I am just so blessed.”
Jeannette birthed Maria well before the Internet, where new moms have resources at their fingertips 24 hours a day.
“We didn’t always have a lot of information,” Hudak said. “When Maria was born, I didn’t know what Down syndrome was. The doctor told me, ‘don’t take her home, send her to an institution.’ I had to learn everything I possibly could.”
That included going to the library and finding a “very scary book” about Down syndrome, which painted a picture of a life of doom and gloom. But Hudak, who already had five boys at home ages 6, 7, 10, 12 and 14, tried not to be discouraged.
“I advise any new parent of a child with disabilities to find out as much as possible: where you can learn more, who can help you, what programs are available, what schools there are,” said Hudak, who lives in Perry Hall with her husband, John, of 56 years.
“It is gravely important to have a support system,” she said. “I was very fortunate to have a group I could talk to when Maria was growing up. All that support helped her and me.”
Since Maria was age 6, the family has been a part of the Special Friends group, which started as a religious education program for children with special needs at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Baynesville. It has transitioned over the years to a group of approximately 15 adults with special needs who meet once a month, from September to May, at St. Isaac Jogues.
They talk about the Gospel, make sandwiches for Our Daily Bread, attend an Ironbirds game every year and just simply enjoy being together. Hudak has been the group’s coordinator for the past 23 years.
“Some of the kids who started were very young, and now they are in their 40s and 50s,” said Deacon Al Rose, who has served St. Isaac Jogues since 2000 and acts as the group’s chaplain. “Jeannette has kept this group together over all these years. That’s the sort of person she is.
“Parents who have children with disabilities, they truly are the saints among us. They love in a way that most people can’t imagine. Jeannette is a sterling example. Her heart is overflowing with love for all of the kids. If you would see her with them, it’s a beautiful thing.”
With the full support of her family, Maria got married eight years ago and lives with her husband, Danny, who also has special needs, in a residential home not far from her parents. Even though Maria is now an adult, the responsibility of being a parent of a child with special needs doesn’t change.
“Your concern is so great,” Hudak said. “It’s incredible how much you can worry. I don’t think it ever goes away. You wonder, where are they, who are they with, who is taking advantage of them. Even as they get older, you are constantly hoping that you have prepared enough and that things will be OK.”
Because of life’s daily stresses, it’s so important that caregivers get a break, and the Day of Prayer and Pampering was just what Hudak needed.
“You don’t always get the opportunity to enjoy peaceful, quiet time,” she said. “Spending time with friends and other mothers relaxing and praying was wonderful,” she said. “We have very different problems to deal with. We were truly able to share with each other and be pampered. I felt so appreciated.”