Powerful Love: A Mother’s Struggle With A Son’s Metal Retardation


There are a lot of things that young women dream about when they hold their first child in their arms. Dreams of a better life full of happiness, success and love. For Dorothy Wendt, this was no different, but what she got was something that no twenty two year old mother could have bargained for, and she proved just how strong a mother’s love could be.

When Billy Wendt was born on August 7th, 1948, he was strangled by the umbilical cord and the doctors didn’t think that he would live. To their surprise, he did, and grew into a very well behaved baby, but his mother always had a feeling something wasn’t right with her son. “He never cried,” said Dorothy, “but he never slept. Even when I carried him, he was always still.” As he grew older, people began telling her it was all in her head, even encouraging her to get help. When little Billy acted out, family and friends blamed Dorothy, saying she needed to be stricter with him and discipline him better.

When he was in Kindergarten, Billy seemed like a normal 5 year old. He learned to write his name and his alphabet, and he was very well behaved. But when the time came to enter first grade, things began to change. He became disruptive, banging his head on desks and making noises during class. “They’d call me every day and say ‘Billy did this’ or ‘Billy did that’”, said Dorothy “They started telling me that he needed to be placed in a special school. And I said well I’m never ever. I’d divorce my husband before I put my child some place”.

After being rejected from school after school, Dorothy finally enrolled Billy in a private school run by two older women. Again, they’d call her and say, “Billy did this” or “Billy did that”, and that she needed to “give him a good whipping”. The 8 year old would come home and tell his mother how they held him down and let every child in the class spit on him after he spit on another student. He also told her of being locked in a closet full of “big bugs” when he misbehaved. Dorothy again pulled him out of school.

At a live in school, he got in trouble for things like falling and breaking his bicycle, or making noises in his sleep. Little did they know he fell because he was having epileptic seizures. After a year, the school told Dorothy that Billy had pneumonia and he needed to go to the hospital. When he recovered, they told her she could not bring him back. After bouncing from school to school and being kicked out or rejected, Dorothy cried and wondered what was wrong with her son.

After again bringing Billy home, Dorothy was exhausted and unsure what to do. Her attention was torn between her 11 year old son and her two young daughters, who were only 1 and 3. “I would be up all night, nursing the baby and running after Billy. I had three babies”, she remembered. Issues with Billy began taking a toll on her marriage as well, her in-laws even pressuring her to put him away before their so had a nervous breakdown. “We always argued” Dorothy said “He drank more and didn’t tell anyone about Billy. He was heartbroken. He had big dreams for his son”.

After a neighbor reported Billy to a truant officer for not being in school, he was checked by a doctor and medicated. “He was riding high”, said Dorothy. “He was wide awake and hyper and always up to something. I would just sit and cry. My daughters would hide in the closet and I thought I had to do something before I love all my three kids”. Finally she called her doctor and asked him what to do. She was told to call the police and they would take him to Cook Country Hospital. “I just cried and cried and cried”, said Dorothy tearing up, “I’m going to cry now”.

Because so little was known about mental retardation at the time, and it was not something that was even talked about, Billy was 12 years old before Dorothy ever heard the word. At this point, doctors informed her that Billy would have been very smart, but he was brain damaged enough at birth to make him retarded. The courts then placed him in an asylum for the mentally ill, and he was only one of two mentally retarded there. When he would have seizures, they thought he was acting out, and he would be placed in a bathtub full of ice water. Broken hearted, Dorothy again attempted to find a better place for her child, and had to move him hours away. “Your heart just hurts” she said “I felt like I buried him every time I left him there”.

Only seeing him twice a month, Dorothy brought her daughters to see their brother as well. Other mothers hid their children from their siblings, but Dorothy was not ashamed of her son. “As long as I can remember, I knew there was something wrong with Billy,” said his sister Cathy, 10 years his junior “People were always mean to him, yelling ‘hey retard’ and telling me I was probably retarded too”. His sister Cindy also looks back on her childhood with her brother, saying she was probably only 3 years old when she felt she started to surpass him. “It was hard” she said, “But seeing him, especially after he was placed, made me more grateful for what I had in life. Seeing what he had to go through, what my mother had to go through, made me appreciate the simple things in life”.

When Billy was 26, he was moved closer to home, but continued to be abused all the time. Dorothy’s now adult son would tell her stories of being beaten with a broom, or whipped with a belt. He was once taken to the hospital for stitches after being punched in the face. The wounds were there to prove it, but the employees told her that he was lying. It was heartbreaking for Dorothy, she said “I’d go there all the time and be crying and fighting for him, and I’d just like to grab him and take him home and never take him back, but I knew I couldn’t.” Her daughters say it is amazing that their mother survived as well as she did. While other mother’s were having nervous breakdowns, Dorothy persevered and fought for her child.

Despite his many health issues and the doctor’s prediction of a short life, Billy lived to be 59 years old. After many trips to the hospital, and many years of suffering, he died peacefully in 2007. “I’d pray and pray ‘God, take him’” said Dorothy, “but I knew when it’d come I’d cry”. In spite of everything, Billy lived along and happy life, and in turn he made everyone around him have a happy life as well.

Dorothy proved how powerful a mother’s love could be in the worst of circumstances. “She had endless patience and love for her son, and he was a perpetual child,” said Cathy “He never grew up and she always had to mother him. He adored his mommy”. Dorothy admits it was a sorrowful life, but it was also a blessing. In spite of all the hard times, Billy truly brought a lot of joy and happiness to his family. She began to cry and said, “I would have loved him to be normal. Who wouldn’t want that? But I feel like God picked me. Billy gave me a lot of love, and I was blessed to have him.”