front row: Richard Fisher and Lister Stewart have become part of the family of Sue Cuddington (behind Richard) and her husband, Chuck who is behind Lister. Sue has been taken care of the men since they were children..
By JERRY WOLFFE
Two men with disabilities a Utica woman has lovingly taken care of since they were youngsters in her home have become “like my own children.”
“I love them now and it’s going to be hard to let them go when I retire,” said Sue Cuddington, who lives with her husband Chuck.
Sue took in Lister Stewart in 1981 when he was about 10 and Richard Fischer 26 years ago when he was a teenager. Both, now in their early 40s, have multiple disabilities and are non-verbal.
“It was a good way for me to be able to be home with my children and also provided a good home for Stewart and Fischer,” said Cuddington, who plans to retire as a Macomb-Oakland Regional Center Adult Foster Care Home provider in June 2015 after 34 years of caring for those with disabilities.
Cuddington has a son Daniel, 42, of Warren, and daughter, Cheryl, 40, of Berkeley. Cheryl has two daughters, Suzie, 18, and Lynda, 12, while son Daniel has a 6-year-old daughter Brooklyn. Her husband, a Utica City Councilman, has a son, Chuckie, 37.
Sue bathes, dresses and feeds Lister and Richard early during the weekdays to ready them to go to a Life Skills workshop in Roseville.
“Richard and Lister are picked up between 8:15 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. and return home between 3:30 p.m. and 4 p.m.,” Sue said.
The two are given a snack and evenings are spent watching television, going for a walk in the neighborhood or the men play with their toys on the floor of their bedroom. Sue pushes one wheelchair and her daughter the other during their treks.
“My family, including my (late) father Max and mother Alwine were always supportive and helped me before I married Chuck,” she said. In fact, Sue’s mother was a caregiver for MORC for 20 years.
The first-floor bedroom at the Cuddington’s was enlarged and the home is accessible to a wheelchair-user but Sue or her husband Chuck must lift the men into a claw-foot bathtub since they don’t have a lift.
“Chuck helps me lift them into the chair and helps feed them,” he said.
Lister, who came to Sue’s home from the state institution in Plymouth, and Richard, who was in the Oakland County foster care system, go to bed between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.
“I do love them as if they’re my own kids,” Sue said, a comment echoed by her husband of 25 years.
“Our children accept the boys because they grew up with them,” Chuck said.
People don’t realize how much time you spend being a good caregiver, both Chuck and Sue said.
“We don’t go anywhere because one of us had to stay with the boys,” Chuck said.
Each said they only get to go out as a couple if one of their adult children or a relative takes care of Lister and Richard.
It hasn’t been easy all these years but without our help, “no doubt they’d be in a group home,” Sue said.
“People would walk into a store and let the door slam on us,” she said of some of the difficulties faced over the years. “Doctors offices aren’t accessible. Lister had a hernia and the doctor made us go out the back door because he didn’t want to disturb his other patients.”
The Cuddingtons are concerned as to where Lister and Richard will be living after Sue retires.
“I love them and it’ll be very hard letting them go,” Sue said. “I think one of the conditions to let them go will be that I am able to see them afterwards and make sure they’re doing OK,” Sue said.
Wolffe is the writer-in-residence and advocate-at-large at the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center. He can be reached at 586-263-8950.