Last week, we lost our dog. He was the cutest little thing – a Morkie rescue – although he might have been a few other breeds too because he always looked like a ragamuffin. He was one of those dogs that wouldn’t ever have won “best in show” but he was perfect.
One day he was fine and the next he had a raging cancer. A huge spreading mass grew across his abdomen and that was it. We were in total shock. For those who have lost a pet, enough said. For those whose pet was their disabled child’s best buddy, we know the sadness is even more palpable.
Grief comes in all shapes and sizes. And it’s an interesting thing about grief and disabilities. Of course, we all grieve about our child being born with so many extra challenges to face. Everything will be so hard, we think. So much will be lost to them.
But people often note that kids with disabilities appear to be very happy. Our own daughter always seems full of grace, ready to believe the best about anybody, possessing an easy laugh at simple things and an appreciation of small beauties around her.
But What About Our Grief?
So perhaps, for parents, the grief is ours. When we decide to have children, we all have wonderful dreams for them. Of course we want them to be healthy and happy – and perhaps secretly hope they’re smart in school, talented athletes, beautiful dancers, glorious singers; we may dream of scholarships to elite schools and big careers as doctors, actors, scientists and senators; we picture them in handsome wedding attire walking down the aisle while we beam at their happiness; we mentally play with our adorable grandchildren who will start the cycle of achievement and success all over again.
And we don’t just want it for them. We want it for us too. And that’s normal and OK. It’s just that special needs parents will never know many of those dreams. And so we grieve.
Our daughter was adopted from Bulgaria and she lived in an orphanage until she was three. Although we didn’t know she had disabilities when she arrived, we figured it out pretty quickly and she’s thriving as best as she can. And we’re thrilled. But here’s the kick. We have three biological sons; my husband was one of four boys. So it became clear that the only way we were getting a female into this family was to import her from another country.
The irony was that I wanted a daughter starting from baby number one. I had plans for long chats, walks together, inspirational talks on new opportunities for women, bridal dress shopping – the whole nine yards. And it didn’t happen. Is it selfish to say I grieve over that loss? Maybe. But I do.
Is This My Fault?
For those with biological children who are disabled, there is yet another torturous grief – the one that says, “What did we do wrong that produced this disability in our child? What gene or medicine or food or activity led this to happen? This must be our fault.” And no matter how much research we do or how many discussions we have with medical professionals, that extra layer of grief is always there. Is there anything we could have done to prevent this?
How do parents deal with this in the midst of what is often a nightmare day with a child who’s out of control, or needs attention 24/7 or whose behavior brings a daily call from school? Grief just brings down whatever energy you are able to summon as you wake up each day.
Some of us pray; others exercise; some find support groups; many cry. Everyone worries as if our fears are somehow protecting our children from any worse fate.
Moments of Grace
I’ve come to believe in grace. It doesn’t have anything to do with religion. It’s just a sense of love and peace that I try to summon, sometimes successfully, when I am in need. Very often, it comes in the form of kind and generous people who are willing to help and to share, or a good book in which I can hide for a while, or a silly episode of Everybody Loves Raymond that makes me laugh out loud. Sometimes, it’s one of my daughter’s small triumphs where she shows she has learned something we’ve been working on for a while or just a sudden appreciation of a garden or a great baseball play or a laughing child that’s beautiful. Whatever it is, I try to notice it and take it in. It gives me strength.
Perhaps just knowing that we all have shared grief is a grace. And maybe sharing that with our fellow travelers on this tough path is a grace too, both for those who share and those who receive.