Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Celebrating and Grieving

"For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest... A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance."
 (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 2, 4, NLT)

This weekend we celebrated my son's 10th birthday. What an awfully special time, leaving the single digits and being at the doorstep of junior high! I remember when my eldest reached that age. It was a time of great celebrating and moving toward responsibility.

But this was very different. You see, with the joy of our son's birthday always comes the sad anniversary of his diagnosis. Try as I might, I can't help but feel that flood of painful memories come back as I recall his birth. The day after his delivery, his pediatrician entered my hospital room and said, "Well, there's no easy way to say it. He's got hemophilia." I can still feel the shock, the hot numbing of my face, the sense of altered reality in my brain that came rushing in at that moment. I remember sitting and kissing his newborn fuzz as I rocked him at home, bawling my eyes out asking, Why. I still recall how when I changed his little sleeper, seeing that first purple and almost black hematoma on his tiny infant bicep took my breath away in shock.

In a culture where we're continually admonished to "pick yourself up by your bootstraps", it might seem odd to be grieving on the arrival of such a landmark birthday. But it does not seem odd within the culture of special needs parenting. So many of us share that same experience of the heartbreak of discovering our child has a serious diagnosis at birth.
Despite our desire to joyfully celebrate our child's birthday, as well we should, there is also the great need to face up to and work out those feelings of loss that we'd rather ignore. "Express, don't repress" is a little phrase thrown around in psychological circles. And God's words in Ecclesiastes only reinforce that. There is a time where we need to pause and let the tears flow. And the anniversary of a child's diagnosis, no matter when, is the appropriate time to allow ourselves to grieve.

Recently, in the flood of information that I consume on behalf of special needs parents every day, I ran across an article that stated how common grief is to any individual with a chronic illness. The article (whose link I desperately wish I could locate for you) stated that each time an individual with MS reaches a new phase in their illness, they grieve once again. The recurring realization that everything is not as it should be causes a person to feel that sense of loss.

It is notable to realize that working through these feelings is a process, one that is not exempt from being revisited. And when our child's challenges continue through the various seasons of their youth, that sorrow can easily be felt afresh.

Ironically, reflection and perspective are the surprise gifts to celebrating in the midst of that grief. I can't help but ruminate about how precious that boy is, what a blessing he's been to our family, how sweet these past years have been with him. After some of the things he's endured, his life is nothing short of a miracle! Gratitude gushes forth as I remember all that God has brought us through in our journey with our son. We've been so blessed with great medical care. What if he hadn't been born in this country?! Early in the journey, we were so scared and clueless. Now we've developed a confidence and competence in dealing with this. Our lives are surrounded with so many people who are either on this same journey or who have skills to help us. Where would we be without them?! We've come so far. Our faith has been tested and grown. We've been given a unique opportunity to share with others what God has done in our lives and our son's life. What a treasure to have moved from a sense of desperate sorrow to one of infinite purpose!

My prayer is that you enjoy the fullness of emotion, the fullness of experience with that precious child God has entrusted to your care. When He calls, He equips. Don't be afraid to let yourself experience each season He has granted.

PRAY: Gracious God, the painful parts of our lives only serve to create space for your glory to shine through. Strengthen us to embrace the difficult with the good because it makes the good that much better.

~ Barb Dittrich


  1. I know what you mean. You do such a great job of allowing time for grief and time for joy. And giving yourself permission to feel both. You are SO right about the gift of Perspective. And I really do appreciate more and can put more of the trivia in its place. ((hugs))

  2. I think you are dead on! It is so important to give yourself the ability to be emotional....this life is not for the faint of heart (but getting to that point is super hard!).