ForeverMissed
His Life

Lima

Peter and his twin brother Joseph were born in Lima, Peru on October 9, 1990. On January 10, 1991, they were placed in our arms. Our first month of parenting took place at the Hostal Senorial, in the Miraflores district of Lima. I remember eating breakfast there each morning in the patio, with Peter in a sling against my chest. They served huge rolls of bread which I consumed hungrily, while crumbs fell onto Peter's downy head. 

Toward the end of that period Ron grew very sick and had to fly home. There was no way I could manage the twins by myself, so our niece Shannon flew to Lima and helped me through the final week. (For a picture of Shannon in Lima see the gallery.) I'm not sure I ever thanked her enough--thank you, Shannon!


Ramona Street

At last the legal requirements of residency in Peru were met, and Shannon and I flew home. We were met at the San Francisco airport by a host of extended family members--and of course the proud papi, now somewhat recovered from his illness. At last we took our babies home to our San Francisco apartment on Ramona Street, not far from the intersection of Church and Market streets.

Deaf and disabled

About a month after our return to San Francisco we learned that Peter had disabilities that he would not outgrow--and that he was deaf. Fortunately California and the Bay Area have many wonderful resources. Peter and his brother were quickly plugged into early intervention programs. During this time we met many wonderful people. To name just a few: our pediatrician, Dr. Susan Minger; our pediatric neurologist, Dr. Jean Hayward, Maurice Belote of California Deaf-Blind Services, and Dr. Helen Rossini, who led a group for the parents of kids with disabilities. I don't know how I would have managed without these outstanding professionals--and many others. And in Helen's group I met another parent, Denise Cartmill, who has remained my friend throughout many difficult years. 

In spite of his disabilities, Peter was a beautiful baby. For further evidence of this, see the gallery!


Crawling, Who needs it?

Peter didn't walk till he was two and a half, and he never did crawl on all fours. But he covered a lot of ground "combat crawling," dragging himself along with his forearms.

Dad

I should mention here that I was the envy of other mothers of disabled kids. In some cases, their husbands had up and left. In others, the husbands were hands-off, leaving the difficult parts of parenting a kid with disabilities to the mothers. Ron was one of the few fathers who was in it 100% from the very start. And he and Peter continued to share a special bond--possibly based on the fact that there always seemed to be cheese in Dad's pockets!

Helpers

Ron and I couldn't have raised these guys without help. In addition to my indefatigable mother, Lee Sturtevant, Ana Rodriguez was a lifesaver for the boys' first seven years. She was from Peru herself, and her kindness, intelligence, and matter-of-fact way of dealing with the babies was a great help to us.

Baptism

When they were two Peter and his brother Joseph were baptized in the basilica at Mission Dolores in San Francisco. Peter, who loved to splash in water, made the most of the occasion!

Early Pleasures

I've already mentioned that Peter loved to splash in water. He also loved to have bubbles blown near him. He liked balloons, too, and later on, when writing words was a favorite activity, balloons was one of his favorite words to write. Another thing he loved to do was to spin. This passion lasted throughout his lifetime.

Family Gatherings

Another pleasure that lasted throughout Peter's life was that of spending time with his extended family. He formed a special bond his his grandma--my mother--and was welcomed and loved by aunts, uncles and cousins. Some family members went so far as to study sign language so that they could communicate with Peter. And trust me, that's not easy!

Food!

And of course, Peter's crowning pleasure was food. He was famous for his love of cheese, and he adored going to restaurants. In this picture we're having breakfast at Aunt Mary's, which was within walking distance of us. Peter's other early restaurant was Hong Kong, on Church Street. Both now gone, alas! 

Rita Foti's class

I am proud to say that when Peter began school at the age of three he already knew six signs: water, milk, O's (for Cheerios), blue (for blueberries) bubbles, and Mom. Peter's first classroom was at Cesar Chavez elementary school. It was a class for the deaf taught by Rita Foti, but some of the students, like Peter, also had disabilities. Rita had her hands full, but she was always kind and patient.

Traveling

Peter was a traveler from a young age. When he visited British Columbia at the age of 3 he was delighted to stop at one fountain after another to splash in the water. He also enjoyed trips to Yosemite and Disneyland.

Lake Almanor

While living in San Francisco, Peter took the first of his many, many trips to Lake Almanor, where my sister Karen and her husband Chuck have a vacation home. Here he is, trying to catch snow on his tongue--a universal childhood pastime.

Moving to Berkeley

When Peter and Joe were seven, we moved to Berkeley. Here's Peter scowling at the empty rooms of our new house. He wasn't completely onboard (I wasn't either, I loved living in San Francisco), but like everything else, he took it in stride. And Berkeley turned out to be a good home for our family. 

Pam Ormsby's Class

Peter attended John Muir School's class for the Deaf, spending most of his elementary years in Pam Ormsby's class. He had a wonderful aide he worked with named Sarah Loring. For pictures of Pam herself, and of Julie, a later aide, and especially for pictures of a wonderful ice-skating field trip the class took once, please see the gallery!

First Communion

In Berkeley we attended Holy Spirit Parish/Newman Hall. After working some with Father Al and Rose, a deaf Catholic from another parish, Peter made his first communion. This picture was taken upstairs at Newman, at our little celebration afterward with Sister Marianne and our friends Michael and Gianna.

Later Pleasures

Peter loved to look at photos of himself and others--but mostly himself! Here he is surrounded by laminated color photocopies which we gave him as gifts at Christmas. 


Words, words, words...

He also developed a fascination with letters and words common among those on the autistic spectrum. He loved to have others write words for him, or to write them himself. Here his twin brother, Joe, is writing down the words Peter signs to him. In recent years he developed the habit of spelling his favorite words to himself--especially in the bathtub. 

Spinning

He continued to love to spin, though in later years he did it in amusement park rides or tire swings. This is on the merry-go-round in Tilden Park. The cylindrical cup we're sitting in swings round and round the pole. Peter never got dizzy.

And then there was swimming!

Soon enough Peter's love of splashing in the water turned into swimming, a lasting passion. Although there was no way to give him actual instruction, he figured out by himself out to keep his head out of water by vigorous movement. We almost always put a lifejacket on him just in case, but the few times we weren't fast enough showed us that didn't need it and didn't care if he had it.

More Lake Almanor

Peter continued to enjoy trips to Lake Almanor. One year we went as a family with the help of his aide Shellye. He loved riding in the boat, attending a 4H barbecue in Susanville, and exploring Mount Lassen National Park.

Movies

Peter and Joe both loved to go to the movies, and for years all four Sturtevant-Stuarts saw several movies a week together. Later it became a Dad and Peter activity.

Holidays

Peter's favorite holidays were Halloween and Christmas. It wasn't so much wearing costumes--though he wore a lot of them through the years, see gallery! But he liked the pumpkins. And he loved unwrapping presents, even though he was hard to shop for. Food and photos were his favorite gifts.

Crisis

When he was nine Peter was scheduled for a tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy, to enable him to breathe more freely. Dr. Hayward, our pediatric neurologist, had him admitted overnight in case of complications. I took the first shift, sitting by Peter in his hospital bed for the hours after the surgery until about midnight. Then Ron relieved me. That night I got a call from Ron that woke me at about 3 in the morning. "There are doctors three-deep around Peter's bed," he said. "It seems there are complications." Peter had experienced NPPE, Negative Pressure Pulmonary Edema. Before the night was over he was put on a ventilator. He spent five days in the ICU. There was a lot of sitting at the bedside, by Grandma as well as by us. As soon as he was awake again, Peter signed for the donkey Barney. But we were still glad to have him back!

Barney

Oh, yes, when I was listing early pleasures I forgot to mention Barney. For some years Peter was quite a Barney addict. You notice in the picture below that he's not actually watching it, he's listening to it. And at top volume, too. If ever two parents had a right to wish Barney had never left the Jurassic period, we were those parents.

Spectrum

Berkeley Unified School District had no middle grade program for deaf students--they sent most of their students of that age down to the California School for the Deaf in Fremont, which did not accept students with Peter's level of disabilities. After visiting various schools that specialized in educating disabled students, we reluctantly agreed to send him to Spectrum school in Concord. To our relief, Peter thrived there. They had him in a horticulture program, and for awhile he worked at a Jo-Ann fabric store sorting and hanging button cards.

On His Own--Sort Of

When Peter was twenty he moved into his own place, about a mile from us. We called it "yellow house" when signing with Peter--he always found the sign "home" confusing. Through a program called Supported Living he was staffed 24/7, except when he was at his day program (see below). His staff was hired and managed at first by an agency called A Diversified Family, later by Bay Area Support Services. Of course we continued to see Peter often, at first twice a week, later once a week, plus on trips to Tacoma to see family and on other travels. 

Ky

Kyish Young was Peter's first support coordinator. He doled out meds, took Peter to his doctor's appointments, took him grocery shopping, and so forth. He was responsible and friendly and cared deeply for Peter. People who worked under him did the daily care and got Peter off to his day program. You will see some of their faces in the gallery.

Family Outings

Of course we still saw a lot of Peter. Sometimes we would go on an outing to a Regional Park or the Berkeley Marina. This picture shows us on the Berkeley Pier, now closed. Joe is taking the picture.

Other times...

Other times we would just go out to a restaurant together and then Ron and Peter would go to a movie.

Deaf Plus Adult Community

Peter was fortunate to find a day program with an all-signing environment in Fremont, California. Sometimes he was driven there by staff, but mostly he was taken on BART. Lisa Gonzales of DPAC has posted some great photos of Peter's time there. 

The Cruise!

In 2016, Peter cruised the California coast on the Grand Princess. We signed "boat hotel" to give him an idea of what was coming. Ron and I came along, as well as Ky and another of Peter's supports. We all had a great time. Peter wore a tux tee-shirt on formal night (see pictures!), and especially enjoyed the pool. He showed no sign of seasickness. The cruise lasted eight days, including the embarkation and disembarkation days. The day before we were back in port Peter began to sign for the yellow house. Good timing!

Patrick

After working with Peter for seven years, Ky moved to Los Vegas. We were devastated to see him go. Fortunately, Patrick Titigah, who had been working with Peter for over a year, was ready to step into Ky's place. Like Peter, he is deaf, and Peter adored him. The feeling was mutual. Patrick moved into the yellow house and resolved to spend his life caring for Peter.

Las Vegas

A year after Ky's move we took Peter to visit him in Las Vegas. Patrick came along. The first night we took Peter to a show on the strip. We sat close enough so Peter could enjoy the splashing the dancers did in the Singin' in the Rain number. The next day we visited an aquarium. Peter always enjoyed aquariums--all that water!

The Pandemic

Peter was disappointed when, for no reason that he could understand, suddenly he couldn't go to his day program, or to restaurants and movies with mom and dad. But like everything else, he took it in stride. We brought him to our house and had grilled cheese sandwiches in the backyard, and later we went outdoor dining together. Since he couldn't go to a movie with dad--his usual Saturday outing--we took him on outings to the coast or on walks in Aquatic Park.

One time I tried to get ahead of Peter so I could film him running and Ron chasing him--a game they often played. But Peter had something else in mind, he wanted to walk hand-in-hand with a parent on each side. As you can see from our shadows, he got his way.

THE END OF THE STORY

I have no pictures that show our shock and grief when Peter died unexpectedly on the morning of May 11, 2021. We had been told that people with Peter's neurological problems sometimes don't live a full lifespan. Though Ron tried to steel himself for the possibility of Peter dying before us, I paid no attention to it. My worries were all about what it would be like for him when we were no longer around. 

We weren't the only ones devastated by Peter's death. His extended family mourn him. His birth family in Peru mourn him. His caregivers and those at his day program mourn him. All of us will miss Peter's joy, his delight in life, his quirks. Some of us believe--or hope--someday to see him again. Others are glad that at least they got to know him here, in this beautiful but unpredictable world of love and loss.