I’ve shared this part of myself with very few people (until now). It’s almost a taboo subject. At least, that’s the impression I’ve gotten from almost every person I have opened up to. When I mention the mourning involved with being a special needs parent, I’m usually met with awkward silence followed by a well-meaning but totally cliche attempt at steering me away from the sadness and towards “the bright side”. I get that they don’t get it and that’s okay. Someone who doesn’t have a special needs child has no reason to understand. What I take issue with, however, is our society’s push towards an all-happiness-all-the-time mentality. Mourning is messy and uncomfortable and dark…so let’s pretend it doesn’t exist? Here’s why I refuse to do that…
The relationship that I have with each of my children brings me deep, unending joy. The moments I share with them are by far the best moments of my life. Connecting with my children emotionally is a gift. A privilege. One that I do not take for granted. Those little, fleeting moments of connection can get so easily lost in the busyness of life…The way they lay their heads on my shoulder when I read them books, how they hold onto me when they’re scared, their belief that my kisses can heal any injury, the loving gazes and the goodnight hugs, their sweet voices saying “I love you, Mama”…There’s a reason I don’t overlook those moments: I’ve mourned the loss of them.
I waited three years past the typical age to hear my daughter say the words “I love you”. Almost two years past the typical age to hear many words from her at all. I’ve gone eight months without a hug from her. I’ve worked for days to get a half-second of eye contact. When she’s upset, she won’t come to me for comfort. When I tell her how much I cherish her, what I admire about her or how special I think she is, I’m met with silence. It’s likely that we’ll never snuggle up on the couch and watch movies together or take a road trip together and talk about boys. I may never know how she feels about me. Autism has robbed me of the depth of relationship that I’d dreamed of having with my firstborn daughter my entire life. Until the day we’re given new bodies and new minds in Heaven, I will carry the ache to truly know my own child the way most parents know theirs. To truly understand her. To tell her that I love her and get a genuine, unscripted “I love you” back. My baby is right there in front of me and somehow a lifetime away, and I will never stop mourning that!
Yes, I accept her as she is. Yes, I think she’s amazing and smart and gorgeous and absolutely perfect. Yes, I see the blessings in Autism. Yes, I love all of my children equally and no, I don’t need them to reciprocate it in order to keep loving them more every day. But just because the bright side exists, doesn’t mean the dark side shouldn’t be acknowledged. The dark side is real and it has a purpose.
I don’t want anyone to explain the pain away. I don’t want to hear about the latest “cure”. Because, if not for the mourning, my appreciation for the individual moments of relationship with my children would’ve been so shallow. I would’ve looked back at their childhoods and realized that I had placed priority on my to-do lists rather than truly lived the beautiful, messy calling of motherhood. Before the loss, I was living in a self-absorbed fantasy world where everything needed to have a happy ending and my energy was spent on escaping anything that made my heart hurt. When, all along, my prayer should’ve been that God would break my heart for what breaks His. Because what breaks our hearts points to what we love the most.
This obsession the world has with escaping pain is leaving us desensitized. We can look at suffering and walk the other way without feeling a thing, while God is weeping over His children. Allowing ourselves to mourn over the lost and the broken awakens us. It calls us to do something rather than to pretend we don’t see what’s happening around us. To attempt to mask our pain and the pain of others is to cut ourselves off from love…you can’t truly love without truly mourning. You can’t offer up your heart and not have it broken; not in this broken world.
I’ve tried to hide the sadness, the depth of my pain. I’ve tried not to feel it. I’ve tried not to feel the pain of others. I’ve looked the other way when someone I know is hurting because I didn’t want to hurt anymore. But all that ever got me was loneliness. God didn’t mean for us to be alone. He gave us one another, not so that we could ignore the pain of the person standing next to us, but so that we’d all have someone to lean on.
Happiness and joy have their place in this life. God wants those things for us. But the depth of our joy is often connected to the depth of our pain; our willingness to love the world around us so deeply that it hurts. So, don’t ask me not to mourn. Don’t make me feel ashamed of my pain. Because I refuse to settle for less than the fullness of joy that God has planned for me. And neither should you.