I have been struggling to write. A recent awareness day event about Cerebral Palsy touched a chord within me and messed with my heart. I was a guest speaker at the event which focused on inspiring younger families with children with cerebral palsy about what possibilities life held for them and that the diagnosis was not the end.
I listened to the stories of hope and sacrifice and achievement. I understood what it was to be the mother who spoke about these things. But that day I felt desolate and even defeated. I felt that we did not belong to a day about hope and inspiration. What inspiration could we offer? We had hoped. We had sacrificed. And our daughter had known what it felt like to defy the odds. But now? Now our truth was that we are also the family of a child who is regressing.
Our daughter is no longer on an upward trajectory. While Savannah is not diagnosed as having a terminal condition, the words “thriving, will develop, recovery, achieve, learn” and such; are not part of the vocabulary used by her doctors to describe her future. We are not the story younger families want to hear. We are the parents whose love is not enough.
It is not enough to keep her on the upward curve. It is not enough to keep her as healthy as she needs to be. It is not enough to stop the ache in our own bodies each time we lift her. It is not enough to keep myself calm when her obsessions make me feel like I am losing my mind. It is not enough to stop her physical pain. Our love is not enough to save her from her suffering.
When Savannah was younger, we felt isolated from our family and friends because they could not understand what we were grappling with in coming to terms with having a child with a disability. But we had solace in the community of other families like us. Now though, we feel the pity and the awkwardness from other parents because we are a treacherous reminder of the other possibility for people like Savannah. The possibility that some children grow up into adults who are going nowhere slowly.
And no one wants to know that this possibility exists. Other families who are parents of adult children with similar challenges know the unpleasant feeling too well too: When we are sought for our wisdom but held at a distance for our truth. We are great inspiration as long as the story is about how our children are thriving. While caring for an adult child with complex needs can be inspirational, no parent wants to pay a price like this for the title of being inspirational.
Last night after Michael’s shift with Savannah, I went to lie with her from about three in the morning. As I felt her trembling body and listened to her ask for what felt like the millionth time “Mum, God heal me? I be better?”, I realised how lonely we are. Lonely yet again. There are books, websites, talks, seminars, support groups, something where mothers of children with different needs can find a sense of belonging.
Where do you go when you are grieving the living? Who can relate to being able to answer the question “Why?” when their autistic adult child can’t make sense of her physically disabled body, that is in regression. How many mothers have looked into soft brown eyes and answered “I don’t know”? How do you say that sometimes I don’t want to do the thing that makes her happy because I just can’t face doing the same thing again? Who has the capacity not to judge you when you want to say “I just can’t do this again today”?
Am I angry? Am I sad? Am I frustrated? Am I tired? Yes, I am all of these in different proportions at different times. Do I think life is unfair? Yes, I do. It can be unbelievably hard to face each day not knowing what Savannah will be going through while we still have to be part of “life as usual” in other aspects.
What then do I believe about God and the purpose of life?
I believe this: Mary birthed a Son. He came, under what must have been terribly awkward circumstances for her. Both Joseph and Mary loved Him for the time that was given to them. When the worst time of that child’s life unfolded; Mary had the strength of all the world put together when she stood at the foot of that cross and watched Him suffer and then die. God did not spare even her, the mother of Jesus; from the truth of life. It hurts to love.
I can’t say I have the same strength as Mary did, but I can say this:
You don’t stop being a parent when it hurts. You can lose the whole world for the sake of your children but you never lose your children for the sake of the world. My heart will break again and again. Michael and I know both joy and sorrow. We already have the ability to weep with one child and then to laugh hysterically a moment later with another. We will talk late into the night about how amazing all our children are; how we are sad for some things and how our “hard” is so unrelatable to most of our friends except for a few parents.
Our love is not enough to give us the outcome that we believe Savannah deserves and that we as parents will find easier to cope with. Instead we continue to dig deep and continue to find ways to make life wonderful and spectacular. When you have lived with grief for a long time, you realise a few truths about life:
• To know grief is to have the choice to choose joy.
• To acknowledge that you cannot do anymore, doesn’t mean you have given up. It means that you simply cannot do anymore.
• To be able to live in the moment is usually learnt through great heartache.
• Worry is a captor who was given the keys to the prison by the captive.
• Children don’t need superhuman parents who can fix everything and make it all better. They also need parents who have the strength to hold them when it can’t be fixed and when it won’t get better.
• The best people are those who don’t need you to fall apart to know that they are there for you.
• It is a conscious effort to make sure that you can remain soft when most of what you understand about life can make you hard or indifferent.
• From the moment we are born, we are all dying. When that makes sense to your soul, you will appreciate the magic of each morning.
As sad and morbid as that may sound; really..it is the beginning of living beyond grief.