Picking Up The Pieces
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Picking Up The Pieces

THE BIRTH OF A CHILD is a dream come true. The birth of a handicapped child is a shattered dream. Nine and a half years ago, a dream became a reality for me – the birth of my second daughter. Seven months later that dream was shattered upon finding out she had neurological deficits. I was left with the pieces of my broken dream and knew I had the difficult task ahead of picking them up and putting them together. That was the beginning of a personal journey, one that went along rocky roads. It was a road that ran the gamut of intense emotions. It was a grieving process over a loss – the loss of a normal, healthy child.

Having children is a large part of many people’s aspirations, goals and overall life plans. It becomes a great expectation, one might say. When a couple is able to conceive (for those who can’t, that in itself is a tremendous life loss) they go through the nine months with great hopes, excitement and plans. Lots of dreams are attached to the idea of having a baby. In the back of the minds of the prospective parents there may be a slight fear and worry of “what if,” but that is not usually dwelled upon. It is the mental and emotional preparations for parenthood, the fact that a dream is soon to become a reality, that is at the forefront of their minds. When that baby enters the world and there is an impairment seen at birth or shortly thereafter, there is a tremendous loss. The dreams of the perfect child are shattered. The parents’ wishes for, and expectations of, the desired child are crushed by the birth of the handicapped baby.

Emotional pain and suffering is triggered off by this trauma. This is known to us all as grief. The word grief comes from a Latin verb meaning to burden. A grieving person is burdened by a heavy load of feelings. Parents of a handicapped child go through a grieving process over the loss of their perfect child.

Painful, grieving feelings need to be expressed. Without giving expression to them, the pain stays within and there is no relief. It can be very painful to get in touch with the feelings that arise from such a loss, but in the long run it is precisely in allowing oneself to feel those difficult feelings and work through them that helps facilitate an emotional healing, and eventual growth. Parents can then let go of that lost dream – the perfect child – and be emotional freer to deal with the actual child, and attach and rebuild new, more realistic dreams. Avoiding or inhibiting feelings just pushes them inward where they fester and eventually creep up later, usually camouflaged, and possibly giving way to a worse condition. Painful emotions need to be shared, acknowledged and validated. If one’s pain can be accepted and seen as normal and as part of a healthy process, he can then move on.

Moving on can be seen along a continuum as growth. Loss and pain can stimulate growth and change. To be able to transcend loss and achieve a meaningful existence despite or because of the loss, constitutes growth that emerges out of one’s pain. It is the confronting and working through of the painful feelings that eventually enables the freeing up of the bond to the loss and the subsequent movement ahead. The changes in one’s life can be accepted as challenges. Prior concentration on the loss has shifted to the building of the present and future as it actually is. The rebuilding of new dreams occurs.

It took me awhile to be able to “defocus” on what my daughter wasn’t and on what she couldn’t do. Until I could work through my painful, negative feelings, nothing positive was able to filter through. Positive feelings were blocked, like dark, threatening clouds, just hanging there. Working through the grieving process enabled my feelings to begin to shift. Gradually I became able to see and feel and really appreciate all she was, and appreciate all the beauty and enhancement she was bringing to my life. The joy outweighed the shattered dream. The clouds finally moved a bit and sunlight was able to seep through. That for me was the very important beginning of real growth. There are, naturally, still clouds that pass over, but they are passing – and the sun shines through.

Long Island Parenting News

June 1992

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