Writing has not been a focus for me these last few months. I could list all of the reasons as to why I have not been writing including a busy schedule, the kids, vacations, etc. but the truth is sometimes I believe that I do not have much to say or at least nothing to say that would be of interest to most people. I doubt that people want to hear about some of our day to day struggles, question if people could begin to understand what a real “win” feels like in our home and mostly wonder if perhaps it would be better and more comfortable for everyone if I simply pretended that life is perfect, there are no major challenges or difficulties and that we are all just fine. The words do not seem to flow when my mind is focusing on these types of thoughts. Sometimes, however, out of nowhere something will happen that I simply cannot let go and therefore am almost forced to write in order to make sure that I don’t forget about this experience, this feeling or this moment….so here it is. Last weekend the way that I handled a particular situation has been weighing on my mind and deep down I know why – it is because I betrayed what I know. I did not stand true to how I feel and it has left me feeling sad, guilty and most of all fake in how I chose to show up.
Last weekend I was lucky to spend quality time with a wonderful family who I do not see more than once a year or sometimes not for a few years. We spent almost two days together and it was fun, relaxing and great to simply catch up on life. What I did not realize during that weekend was that this was the 1 year anniversary of their husband/father’s death. It was not until mid-way through our weekend that I became aware and my initial feeling was of embarrassment at not having realized this significant anniversary. I felt terrible about this and debated how best to acknowledge my misstep and to express my support to the family. Should I say something? Should I pretend I didn’t know? Should I keep quiet and wait for someone else to bring it up? I honestly had no idea how to handle the situation yet at the same time I had no doubts that this family would appreciate in ways I cannot know a simple acknowledgement of their husband and father. But (and this is where I betrayed what I know) I kept quiet. I spent the rest of the time with them talking, laughing and listening to their stories and excitement over an upcoming wedding or the new baby that would be arriving very soon yet I did not say a word about this important date. I was afraid of being a downer, I was afraid I would make things awkward, I was afraid they would be angry at me for bringing it up, so I didn’t. I figured if someone else mentioned it, that would be my way in but it never happened.
Days later, this experience is still on my mind and I have been struggling to figure out why I am so genuinely bothered by my silence. Then it hit me – our circumstances are all unique and different, no one walks the exact same path as we do, and no one can know how we feel or why we feel certain ways yet we are connected by our shared pain, grief, joy and love. Isolation comes from not being able to acknowledge those feelings with each other. In our home as parents we experience grief; not in the typical way most people associate with grief since we are blessed, grateful and adore our children. But there is a level of grief that accompanies parenting a child with special needs. For me, having someone acknowledge this fact makes me feel less alone, understood and a little less like a terrible person for feeling this way. I am not looking for sympathy or pity, there is simply no reason for that but rather a simple acknowledgement that this is not all in my head, that we have challenges and that it is okay to feel sad or upset by this is all I am looking for. It can be very lonely living in a world where people are too afraid to even mention our child’s diagnosis or pretend as if it doesn’t exist.
In that same vein, it occurs to me that the family I was with last weekend was not looking to spend hours upon hours crying or reliving the last years of their father/husbands life but may have appreciated a simple kind word recognizing that this was in fact a difficult day for them and that it was absolutely okay for them to feel sad, angry or upset. I betrayed what I know in favor of playing it safe, in favor of not ruffling any feathers and in favor of pretending that everything is fine so we did not have to deal with the pain. It wasn’t an honest mistake, I knew it wasn’t right even while I was doing it but did it anyway. I had chosen to pretend it didn’t exist which I know from experience can be very hurtful.
One of the best parts of parenting my older son is his ability to not care what other people think (or to not even recognize if other people are judging him). I have said before how jealous I am that he has this ability and work every day on doing the same which is not an easy task. I wish I had worried less about what everyone would think and worried more about being honest and true to how I really felt in order to offer the comfort and support this particular group of people deserved. In letting my concern over being judged outweigh my concern for this family I had inadvertently made it about me, when it should have been about them.
Letting people feel their feelings and honoring and respecting them by providing a place for them to be honest and real (even if only for a moment) is something I strive to make a habit of in my life. This experience has provided me yet another reminder of why being able to face what I believe and not shrink away from those beliefs because of fear of what others may think is so important. I hope one of the people I am speaking about have the chance to read this mea culpa not to tell me it’s okay but just to know that I was thinking about you and know how difficult those few days, this past year and years to come may be for you.
Here’s to all of us taking the time to acknowledge and validate those around us and how they are feeling whether good or bad because at the end of the day we are all deserving of empathy and understanding.