Friday, June 27, 2014

Taking a Walk on the Dark Side

Photo Credit

"O Lord, you are my lamp. The Lord lights up my darkness." (2 Samuel 22:29, NLT)

I jumped when the cell phone rang.

I had closed my office door and was aimlessly flipping through Facebook while munching on my salad. I thought it would be a brief respite in the middle of an incredibly hectic day.

My Facebook feed was full of pictures from so many typical friends who were enjoying their summer vacations. Picture after picture of families at the beach, resort parks, and other wonderful locations that our circumstances would never let us enjoy.

Traveling with a child who is profoundly challenged by cerebral palsy, autism, and a seizure disorder is extremely difficult for us. Our last attempt at a vacation lasted only 43 hours before we decided to return home.

I could sense the Dark Side whispering in my head, taunting me, beckoning me alluringly.

That’s the very moment my cell phone rang.

Through her panic-filled fearful and tearful voice my wife told me my son was having a horrific seizure while lying in his bed. She watched helplessly as the seizure gripped his body.

The Dark Side fog enveloped my mind and seductively wrapped its arms around me.

My wife and I use the phrase “Dark Side” to refer to that feeling of grief, depression, and discouragement that we all feel from time to time as parents of a child with special needs. Moments when we are bewildered, frustrated, angry; and we just want to scream and cry out.

You hear so many counselors and professionals tell you, as the parent of a child with special needs, that you just have to fully go through the grief process.

What I have learned as the father of a child with special needs and as a special needs pastor is that you will go through that grief period over and over, several times throughout your life. Not only that, but you and your spouse will go through those stages at your own paces, meaning you aren’t at the same place in your grief at the same time.

We have developed the concept of the Dark Side to give ourselves the liberty, grace, freedom, and space needed to cope and deal with periods of discouragement, sadness, and grief, as we struggle down this journey.

Everyone has certain triggers that can cause a walk on the Dark Side. So here are our ground rules for surviving a walk on the Dark Side.

1) Only one of us can go there at a time. Misery loves company. When we throw a pity party, our natural tendency is to invite others to join us. To survive a walk on the Dark Side, only one person can go at a time. The other person in the relationship must stay positive and unaffected, refusing to join in the walk on the Dark Side as difficult as that may be.

2) You cannot survive staying on the Dark Side too long. We give each other a few days and that is it. If you stay there too long mentally, it will destroy you. So if one of us ventures over, the other can leave us alone initially, but eventually has to come perform search and rescue after an appropriate time.

3) You must have a trusted friend/spouse/someone who will faithfully throw you a lifeline and come pull you out at the appropriate time without judgment, comment, or question.

4) Don’t be afraid of the Dark Side. You can grow, mature, and learn from a walk on the Dark Side. The Dark Side can be a place of tremendous growth and learning. Just obey the rules!

Remember, you were chosen and called. The Dark Side is just a place you will encounter throughout your journey as a special-needs parent. But it’s not a destination. The Dark Side doesn’t require a passport as long as you don’t take up residence.

PRAY: "Father your word says you go with us through the valley of fear and that you fight for us. Father when I go to the Dark Side thank you for reminding me of my purpose, your love, and your promise to never leave me."


  1. Jeff, thank you for your honesty in sharing about the grief that can ambush at unpredictable moments. I know my mother and father experienced these thoughts and feelings after the birth of my younger sister who is developmentally disabled, has cerebral palsy and suffers seizures. Your acknowledgement that everyone struggles with depression and grief from time to time is reassuring to others. I especially appreciate your "ground rules" for surviving these moments. Parents have to support one another during the process. Great advice. Great post.

  2. Thank you graceforparents. There is no shame or guilt in those grief-filled moments. We all struggle with it as you said. Grief can be therapeutic, and we learn and grow through it as well. Thanks for reading!

  3. Wow, I love this. First, I appreciate you acknowledging that there is a dark side. No matter how high or low functioning our children are, the fact that they're not the kids we'd dreamed of hurts. It's sad and frustrating and it drives me crazy when people tell me how lucky and blessed I am that my son IS high functioning when it comes to so many degrees of special needs. But he's still low functioning compared to all of his cousins and neighbors, and sometimes, that does hurt. So I appreciate this post a lot. Found you from Dream Link.

  4. Thanks for reading Kristi! We all take walks on the Dark Side don't we? So let's let's own it and learn how to manage it.