I find that being thankful does not come naturally to me. In fact, depending on the day I am having , I can very quickly become ungrateful. Let’s face it, as special needs parents this can happen quite easily! Our children’s disabilities present a whole host of daily challenges, as well as many people that we depend upon to help us help our kids. It’s exhausting at best and often frustrating as well. I think relying on others was one of the hardest things for me to accept, especially in the early years with Brian. I naively thought I could handle everything on my own and that Brian just needed extra time, not an army of support. I also thought that I could also do a better job of helping my son.
I didn’t appreciate the intrusion of home therapists starting at 6 weeks old and driving Brian to a center based early intervention program at 15 months old, 35 miles each way; it was a huge burden! Brian’s additional diagnosis of autism at 28 months old shook me completely to the core, so I initially detached from this reality in order to cope. When I look back now, I can’t believe I was that person, but I was…I was fearful and in denial of just how profound Brian’s disabilities were and would always be.. I wanted to isolate and remain in our protective bubble forever. Despite these feelings, I somehow went through the motions and made sure that Brian received what was available to him so that he had the best chance for progress, but not with a thankful heart. Internally, I was in constant conflict with myself, vacillating between guilt and anger. I was often too overwhelmed to see any good at all. My head was a horrible place to reside in during those early days and my heart was broken in a million pieces by an unresolved grief and a deep fear of the future. I was your quintessential Big Hot Mess, a ticking time bomb, ready to explode at any moment, tick, tock, tick tick…
Then IT happened…The morning I could not get out of bed. The biggest, darkest cloud hung over me and I closed my eyes even tighter. My body ached, every muscle sore to the touch, and my head was somewhere in a deep, dark well. My husband had long left for work. Brian’s calls for attention ( he was about 2.5 years old) roused me out of my stupor, and like a slow motion movie, I robotically got up, changed and fed him. Something was definitely wrong with me, literally everything in the daily routine was a Herculean effort, a struggle of mass proportions. I was relieved when nap time finally came so I could put Brian down and that’s when the copious tears came. Hot puddles of water that finally broke free from the dam that held them back for so long. Depression was large and looming in the house of cards that I so desperately tried to hold together for so long. . I just couldn’t hold it hostage anymore. I’m surprised at myself that I kept going for as long as I did..
As painful as this major episode was, it was the critical turning point towards wellness and sanity for me. I finally sought the help that I needed. It was scary and I felt hopeless, but with counseling, medicine, and time, I very slowly started to feel better… Every baby step that I was able to take towards self care was a major victory. I gradually came to understand that grief is a normal reaction to extraordinary losses/circumstances and that there is no way to avoid it. In fact, facing grief and acknowledging its place in loss, whatever the loss, is necessary, otherwise you remain stuck and are unable to move forward in life. That’s exactly what had happened to me as a result of Brian’s disabilities. I had never properly grieved the loss of dreams and hopes that I had for him and for myself as his Mom- somehow, I lost my way. Down syndrome and autism were unimaginable to me back then, and often is today, as I see daily how both disabilities greatly impact Brian’s life. But the difference is now, I have finally accepted my own limitations, along with Brian’s. Life can still be beautiful, despite the messy hard parts that will always be there too.
Over time, I would learn to recognize that grief is not necessarily an adversary to be avoided, as much as I want to resist it. Grief reminds me that I am alive and actually living life and connects me to those who I care about in a more engaged and meaningful way. Getting through grief helps me to see how deep my capacities are for love, joy, as well as sorrow and pain. I am very thankful for those things, even if it does take heartbreaking life experiences to be reminded of these gifts. Grief never quite goes away and will often show up at the most unexpected times. Certain events can trigger the loss all over again, but over time, I have found that gratitude can partner with grief and the result is bittersweet. Focus and perspective will change. Grief is not denied, rather, it is recognized as a necessary part of life’s losses, but it’s not the main attraction any more. I am so grateful that there is a light within this often challenging, never ending tunnel so I can see the beauty in the ashes along the way. This makes me very thankful. It also keeps me sane, grounded, and hopeful.
I will always want to resist grief when it inevitably arrives after a loss. This initial reaction will never change, but I now realize that I have choices I can make, unlike before. I can take as much time as I need to process what is happening, heal from my wounds, then proceed forward at my own pace. The key is to make sure not to avoid this important process. I know I will sometimes need help during these times, so I will make sure to get the support I need. The deep wounds will very gradually become visible scars and will always remain as reminders of what I have lost. My losses have taught me this fact over and over I again, so I continue to acknowledge and accept this. I also know that holidays, certain songs, smells, or memories will always trigger losses either resolved and unresolved. In time, my threshold and capacity to experience a variety of emotions, instead of deep sadness exclusively, gradually increases and helps me to move forward because I choose to do so, even when my feelings tell me otherwise. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, and certainly no time limit on it. The key is to learn to coexist with grief and still get on with living your life, one precious moment at a time…
In a few days, we will celebrate Thanksgiving together with our families and friends. It is a time to count our many blessings with gratitude, and there is always something to be grateful for…But for many, this holiday season will also be a painful time. Many of us are the walking wounded with recent or past losses of beloved family members, friends, as well as the personal losses of jobs, health , and hope. Life is tough and difficult circumstances can certainly threaten our well being. The holidays tend to magnify our losses more than other times of the year and it can be so hard to bear. May we be sensitive to those around us who may be grieving and need our support at this time, so as to make their burden just a little lighter. May we also have the courage to acknowledge to others when we need help ourselves! Both are important and potentially life changing in terms of how we get through our grief trials. True gratitude comes from helping others and receiving help for ourselves. It is a gift that keeps on giving and keeps us all going!
May your blessings be many and sorrows be few. May you experience transformative healing and hope over time as a byproduct of your grief, for life is still worth living, even when it doesn’t feel that way…May your joy and fond memories be restored to that special place in your heart. ❤️❤️Happy Thanksgiving to you and your loved ones!😘😘🦃🦃