Grief is a natural part of life that will happen to each one of us as a consequence to a major loss. No one escapes grief, though we may think we can outsmart it by distracting ourselves. We may try to avoid it’s painful sting and the fall out that will occur as a result of it’s presence. And we may be able to keep out running grief for quite a long time, but, eventually it will win. Ironically, accepting grief on it’s own terms is actually what is needed in order to heal and move forward. However, it will take a tremendous amount of courage and strength to transform grief into healing.
This process is absolutely exhausting and some days, it will seem like we are not making any progress at all, like we have reached a final plateau with no change whatsoever . If we are willing to do the work, we can eventually experience healing, though our scars will always remain. We will never be exactly the same as before our losses, but this is not necessarily a bad thing… We may have also acquired a greater capacity to love and demonstrate compassion for others and ourselves when we come to the other side of our grief. We realize we can still live our lives fully, even if we can’t return to the past.
I have learned in my own life that grief is not restricted only to the passing of a loved one, though this is certainly the hugest loss that one can experience. Grief can also encompass the loss of hopes, dreams, or major disappointments in life that were totally unexpected. We made our plans and were confident they were going to work out, but in the end they did not. A sudden change in circumstances beyond our control totally eliminated the outcome we hoped for, despite all of our best efforts. An unexpected illness, financial disaster, a broken engagement, divorce, infidelity, a son/daughter addicted to drugs, or having a child with special needs : these are just a few of life’s major events that can cause intense grief and feelings of major loss. Since grief is inevitable at some point for all of us, what can we do the day it knocks on our door? How will we learn to live with and learn from grief in order to eventually move forward when we are ready?
Brian’s arrival into the world was a mixture of intense love and grief for me. It’s never easy for parents to hear that their baby was born with a disability. Yet, there were signs during the pregnancy that things were not quite right. During the final 4 weeks while I was on bedrest in the hospital, I had a lot of time to think about Brian, be scared, and simultaneously hopeful. I just knew in my heart that he was going to have special needs, but believed that we would be empowered to raise him as best as we could , even if we didn’t understand exactly how. This is precisely what happened, but the grief was still quite intense when the harsh reality set in of what Brian’s life journey would entail.
Life was not going to be like what we had hoped for Brian. We knew there were going to be many challenges, though we didn’t fully understand to what extent in those early years- (perhaps there is a good reason why the future is not revealed to us after all… ) I grieved the life opportunities/milestones that Brian would never have and the medical and educational challenges that he would face…The fear of Brian’s future loomed over my head like some ominous black cloud to the point of distraction where I missed precious moments in those early weeks. Grief held me prisoner and life was just a big blur of feedings, diaper changes, and doctor appointments. The loneliness and isolation felt never ending…
Fast forward to early intervention, special education, a move to our current town almost 15 years ago, a special Mom’s support group, recreational activities, and coming to know other special families over the years: all of these things have collectively helped Brian, my husband, and I in many wonderful ways. Brian continues to learn and so do we, from so many other special families , especially those with older children, as well as those doctors, teachers, therapists, camp counselors, and volunteers.
Our lives have been enriched by these connections and if it weren’t for Brian, we would have never met the awesome individuals and families who have made such an impact and difference in our lives. We are truly grateful for all of these blessings and I believe God planned it this way all along…Despite all these gifts, though, the grief of Brian’s disabilities still remains and I believe it always will. Perhaps it’s not quite as intense as it once was, but there are reminders or triggers that can set off my grief, sometimes at the most unexpected times or ways. Moments when I will say to myself: “ you should be over the fact that Brian will not have a girlfriend, live on his own, or have a job by now”! I know this intellectually, of course, but the 18 inch journey from the head to the heart can be a very difficult one. Grief has no expiration date and is often an unexpected visitor – only time can mitigate its effects, and even at that, it can sometimes be as intense as the first time, even several years later..
I have learned to finally accept grief after resisting and fighting it for so long. The alternative was illness, lack of sleep, not taking care of myself, etc. I will never like grief, but I accept it now as a part of life and know from my previous experiences that I will get on the other side of it. I may be heartbroken and bruised, but I am also more resilient, and in touch with my life and feelings, as opposed to being shut down and detached from life. I know in order to heal and move forward, I must be willing to acknowledge my grief, feel the feelings, and allow God to do His work in making me whole again through the tools/ resources that He has provided.
One of the tools that has been invaluable in my grief recovery is similar to the 12 Steps that are the hallmark of groups like Al-Anon, when families and friends have been profoundly affected by a loved one’s addiction. I discovered one day when I substituted “Brian’s disabilities” for the actual addiction, the impact and truth of the first 3 steps were just as powerful:
1. “We admitted we were powerless over Brian’s disabilities-that our lives had become unmanageable.” This is my “admission” step: I can help Brian, but I am powerless to change the reality that he is disabled, as much as I would like to. When I initially had a very difficult time accepting this fact, my life indeed became extremely unmanageable to the point where my physical and mental well-being were significantly affected. Self care was non existent, sleep eluded me, and despite my desperate efforts to control every aspect of Brian’s life with interventions, nothing was going to change our reality. A long period of grief finally provided the breakthrough that I needed- on my knees!
2. “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.“ This is my “awareness” step. I finally recognized that I was unable to manage Brian’s special needs on my own and would always require support. I also knew that I was driving myself crazy up until this point thinking I was responsible for EVERYTHING as it pertained to Brian. I had become obsessive and was insane with worry and fear, knee deep in my grief..I believed in God, but forgot that He actually wanted to help, if only I would let Him.. It’s not easy letting go of what we think we can control, for that is our human nature and we live in a world that loves self- reliance and control. While there are certainly situations that warrant these qualities, no man is ultimately an island, and each one of us will need help, especially in long term situations. I came to understand that Brian’s well-being and success in his life does not rely exclusively on my efforts alone- it was an absolutely insane premise to begin with. What a relief when I finally let go of this heavy burden- it felt like a huge weight had finally been lifted off of my shoulders!
3. “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him”. This is my “acceptance” step. The challenges of special needs parenting are not my alone to bear. God has and will continue to provide the people, places, and things that Brian needs, in His time.. I am asked to trust Him for all of the details, even when a situation seems very uncertain and especially when God is silent, which can be very hard…But, God has been and continues to be faithful to Brian as evidenced over the years by His goodness. My Higher Power has an excellent track record of provision, often giving even more than we expected, so this is how I have learned to trust Him, especially in dark seasons and times of grief. I know I never walk alone, nor does Brian, and we never will…It is a relief to know that God cares enough about every detail of our lives, even our grief, and that we will never be abandoned in those dark seasons of sorrow… We will eventually come out on the other side of our grief, with new strength, wisdom, and a compassion that we never knew possible, as well as the ability to live the full life that was intended for us. These are unexpected gifts from grief that can happen with God’s help, especially when we are willing to trust Him for everything, including our grief, sorrow, and daily provisions. I’m glad that I’m not in charge!
Wishing you and yours provision, peace, and hope during your time of grief; may you experience the love and compassion from The One who is faithful and will see you through to the other side, no matter what..
Until next time, thanks for reading! 😊