Grief is usually something associated with the death of a loved one. It is definitely not a word thrown around light heartedly to describe our day-to-day feelings of sadness. Yet here I sit pondering my own grief and wondering if it is acceptable to feel this way. You see, the reason for my grief is not that I have lost a loved one but rather I am letting go of a vision I had for one of my children. A vision of life where he would meet and overcome the traditional challenges people face – the proverbial “right of passage” I suppose. I don’t know how else to describe this deep sadness as I wonder about his future; still, I wonder if this is not an appropriate use of the word “grief.”
I always knew there was just something about my son – something different from my other children. I have spent the last five years telling myself all of the reasons he was “normal,” telling others that he was “hitting all his milestones,” and telling my husband that he “just sees the world differently.” While all of these things were true, I also knew that there was something else that I did not want to face. I quizzed close friends, family members, and teachers to support the idea that I had nothing to worry about. I was able to find a reasonable argument to anything they told me hinting that the “something different” I sensed was actually real. In fact, over the summer I became down right defensive. I felt I needed to protect my son from these judgmental attackers. Finally, I heard myself asking a colleague who would be teaching him to “let me know if you think there is something to be concerned about.” I realized this is ridiculous! I am a teacher! What would I be telling myself if I was his teacher? I would be telling myself to call. Just call. It will be O.K., just call.
Shockingly enough, I can attest that it is difficult to come to terms with the fact that your child is exceptional in some way. After testing, I sat with a team last week to hear validation of what I have really always known; however, it still felt like a slap in the face. I spent all evening wondering what I did wrong while I was pregnant, if more organic foods would have made a difference, is it the water . . . did I do this? I have grieved before for loved ones and find this grief just as raw. Still, as I sit wondering how his life will play out, my brain is telling me that my grief is unworthy. After all, there are parents who are grieving for children lost or in peril, spouses missing their partners, and many more devastated over losing loved ones. I still have my son, he is healthy and loving, and his prognosis is good. Should I be ashamed to describe this as grief when I am still undoubtedly blessed with my son?
When I ran into a mother I know on Friday after receiving our “educational verification,” she reminded me of the grief she went through in finding the right help for her child. Then she said something amazing that puts this grief in perspective. She stated that she had to get over the feeling that others were judging her and her child – only then could she see they were just doing their best to help. So it is that I will have to stop judging myself for what if anything I did to contribute to this diagnosis and for not having a worthy cause for my grief.
First, I have to admit I am devastated and frightened by the challenges that may lie ahead for my son and our family. Yes, I am grieving and calling it that does not stand to insult another grieving person. The good news is that I am working through my grief like a checklist:
- Denial – been there, done that.
- Anger – oh, yeah.
- Bargaining – yep.
I wouldn’t say I am passed the “depression” stage but do accept what we are facing. In case you are not sensing it, I feel like I am going to have to be an advocate for ASD but I’m not quite there yet. Second, I have to admit that I have been blessed with a charming, bright, and creative child. At the end of the day, he is still my boy and I love him. My dreams for him may be different in the future than they were prior to last week; however, it is not my dreams that are important. After all, he hasn’t changed a bit – I have. Hopefully, I’ve changed for the better.