Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Joy and grief: The dance

By D. Christine Brown

Three years ago today our son Lucas’s high fever and subsequent seizures sent us by ambulance to hospital where he suffered severe brain inflammation.

Thankfully he survived and is recovering nicely, albeit with brain injury that includes significant developmental delay and autism.

Every single day I juggle the intense feelings of joy I have with my son with immeasurable grief and resistance to the difficult reality of parenting him with his acquired disability. I feel left out of the real world of raising children when I see "typical" school kids everywhere.

This last week has been especially trying on my husband and me as parents. Lucas had a few minor "accidents" that required some first-aid attention which triggered Lucas's hospital memories of being poked and prodded.

Three years ago, Lucas was forced to endure endless IV changes and needles for bloodwork, screamed for hours on end with his steroid treatment, would get wound up in his IV from trying to spin out of the discomfort, shrieked in terror as the student eye doctor checked his eyes, and the list of horrors goes on...

So his new coping mechanism to deal with daily routines that involve touching him—such as changing diapers, bathing, brushing teeth or tending to "boo boos"—is to scream at the top of his lungs, kick non-stop and squirm. This means both of us have to physically hold him down while he shrieks in distress.

He transmits such terror in his prolonged screams that I fear the police will show up at our door. I worry that our neighbours must think we’re trying to beat him. Luckily, a script from his current favourite Thomas and Friends song has provided some relief. We tell him "Accidents happen now and again, sometimes just by chance!" 

We both agree that Lucas’s resistance now is more about fear than pain, but it rips at my heart strings nonetheless.

This makes me reflect on our own resistance to Lucas's new life, post brain inflammation.

As parents, I believe we’re resisting the overwhelming responsibility of parenting Lucas after his brain injury—a degree of fear, uncertainty and change that most parents don’t face.

Since leaving Holland Bloorview as inpatients, each week brings new challenges, and we are worn down. We want a break from watching our child suffer needlessly, even if the suffering is sporadic. We want just the good and to leave the bad aside.

Instead of embracing the new and heightened responsibility, we feel burdened by it. We’re so relieved when finally things start to flow again, just to get slapped down by the next cold, fever, scrape, sliver, or trip to the dentist. Every normal life event brings such trauma into Lucas's life. We don’t know if it’s because it sparks memories of his hospitalization, or if it’s his autism or just his personality.  

Lucas’s resistance to our helping him cope with daily activities makes me think about our own resistance to the reality of parenting a child with an acquired disability. And just as his resistance appears counterproductive to us, perhaps fighting our “new normal” makes things harder than they need to be. Reflecting on this three-year-anniversary, it strikes me that life has ups and downs. Ours are just more extreme, in both directions!

I believe my own current favourite Thomas and Friends song says it best: Every Cloud has a Silver Lining

Life is full of surprises, full of ups and downs 
And so to have a silver lining, first there must be cloud 
Every cloud is silver-lined, even when it rains 
So don't get too downhearted, as things are bound to change 
All you've gotta do is wear a smile and you will find 
Your sun will shine 
When you're feeling down it doesn't help to wear a frown 
Never lose hope, you're sure to cope and you can carry on. 

Just as Lucas resists what is uncomfortable, so we resist the discomforts of feeling responsible for Lucas's suffering.

We know we need to accept and take responsibility for our son’s behaviour while he’s at this developmental stage. But we can't allow ourselves to feel responsible for his or anyone else's feelings. We just have to keep doing what's right and show him the path of joy.

We have to be tolerant of life's ups and downs. This will in turn teach Lucas to accept his own ups and downs, and the fact that we can only control how we react to what life throws at us.

As I sit in this restaurant today waiting to pick up my son from school, writing this blog, the two songs that just played couldn't be more timely: That's Amore and L-O-V-E. I feel that it is fate—or my late grandmother, from somewhere in the universe—reminding me that our life with Lucas is all about love. Focusing on the joy and love will get us through the bumps in the road.

Lucas's mom has written for BLOOM previously: I am warrior mom: Hear me cry and roar. Follow Lucas's progress on twitter @LucasRecovers.


Sadly, I can relate to just about everything you mention in this post. My daughter acquired a brain injury during surgery to remove a tumor ion 2000. I do wish our little ones didn't have to endure so much pain and torture. Bethany sounds very similar to your precious little one. And yes, love is the most important thing in life!

Thank you, Sylvia. We are a community to each other. Someone just sent this blog to me: http://www.scarymommy.com/special-needs-parent Wow, is it spot-on or what?

I can relate to some of htis. My disabilities were mostly sustained shortly after birth so I wast oo young to remember the hospital stays. However, your dance of joy and grief reminds me of my parents' mixed emotions. They sometimes saw parenting me as a burden too, and yet sometimes they enjoyed me like well because I'm their child.