Monday, August 24, 2015

There isn't a detour around grief

By Louise Kinross

A very wise person—Julie Keon, who wrote What I would Tell You: One Mother's Adventure with Medical Fragilitytold me that you can’t grieve something you haven’t lost.

So, you can’t choose to preemptively grieve an event, so that you can avoid mourning the loss when it actually happens. It seems like a very human thing to do—to imagine that there’s something we can do to avoid pain. But it’s not possible.

This may explain why when I was speaking with someone this morning about my son and his dreams, I started crying when I remembered that for so many years he wanted to be a zookeeper. I thought I'd pushed that memory right out of my mind.

But this morning I recalled how a number of years ago I’d contacted a few zoos and farms to find out about volunteer opportunities, and been told that volunteers have no contact with animals at any of these places. So it was a non-starter in terms of getting experience.

And then I’d googled to see what kind of education you had to have to become a zookeeper and realized that it typically required a university degree (which my son wouldn’t get) and skills like public speaking for giving talks about the animals (and my son doesn’t speak).

So after a number of years of asking my son what he wanted to do, and him signing that he wanted to be a zookeeper, I stopped asking. Because I didn’t know how to tell him that it wasn’t on the table.

The topic of zoos came up recently because he was part of a camp program that involved visiting local zoos and farms. He was ecstatic. One day he and his worker showed me the sign they’d devised for tapir (see above), his favourite animal: tapping your nose with the letter “T” because of the short trunk it uses to snatch fruit and leaves.

Maybe, now that he's left the school system and we're looking at realistic volunteer jobs, it was that reminder of his love of the tapir that caused me to voice the ludicrous “zookeeper” dream. 

And my chest stung and for a moment I thought I was hungry, till I realized my heart was hurting and my cheeks were wet.


I guess I'm confused why this is something that is so full of grief? Your son has a disability and some things are not possible within the framework of societal expectations and his disability - no more or less than it would be with another child's specific skills and talents, I'd think.

But I don't see why he can't mold his vision into something still - if he wants to be a zookeeper, is it possible to find something compatible within the zoo or animal-care system? Or service-animal system? I really don't see why that is not possible and the entire dream needs to be grieved upon and shelved.

I feel like I grieve a number of things I did not have. It's the loss of the chances to get them, I guess, that hurts. But, yes, I feel grief for such things.

As for your son, Louise, there may be opportunities for him to work with animals. A lot of times job titles like zookeeper don't mean doing the things a child wants to do when it comes to getting such a job. A dog walker, pet sitter would have alot of direct contact with animals in the way most kids would want, than a vet for example. My kids used to do those jobs in the neighborhood because they loved animals, and their customers got their money's worth, because my kids really put in the time and attention to those pets.

There may well be some opportunities to work with animals and their care that your son can do. When I lived in Chicago, used to visit a "farm" called "Lambs" or something of that sort that also was a residence, workplace for those were not able to be self sufficient. The love I saw shown to those animals at that petting zoo/farm by those workers is unsurpassed even 30 years hence. I am just throwing this out there without looking up Lambs, and hopefully there is no scandal associated with the place. The concept, anyways, was a good one. Those animals needed a lot of hands on care and love that did not call for a college degree, did not preclude a lot of disabilities. Yes, I can see your son doing a lot of the care there, as there were people like him doing so.

Louise, my heart and eyes sting reading your piece here. It stirs up lost dreams for my daughter...your comment about not having the heart to tell Ben his dream wouldn't come to realization the way he pictured it hit home hard.

My daughter wanted to be a movie critic. Now she is overwhelmed by intensely loud breathing issues that make it difficult for her to be in a quiet theater environment, allowing others to enjoy their time there. Seizures have robbed her literacy; whether it can be relearned now or not is a big unknown. Sure, we could accommodate in various ways, but that isn't how she pictured it.

While I agree with other commenters about looking for variations on the the zookeeping theme (my first thought was veterinary or kennel assistant, both of which involve a good deal of dog walking), I can absolutely relate to grieving THE DREAM, not wanting to settle for an accommodation to the dream. I often advise parents to reframe their dreams, just as my husband and I have done. Yet it would be priceless to be able to hang onto a dream just as you envision it, just once. No accommodations. No variations. No adaptive equipment. Vor many of our kids, every aspect of life is an accommodation and just once it would be nice not to have to shift their experience for them. And what about our kids? How patient they are to accept these shifts when they don't match the vision they hold. So I get your grief, I truly do.

Thank you for voicing this pain for both parents and our precious kids. Yes, we reframe because we have to. But oh! just once, wouldn't it be wonderful not to have to do that?

Some grow up thinking, or being told that "if you work hard enough, you can achieve anything", but it is certainly not always the case, and there are things that we do not have control over, and it hurts. What about other settings working with animals such as an animal shelter or pet store?

Louise, you're only human. Some days it hits you harder than others. Let the hot tears fall from your cheeks, and find the time to soothe that hurt. There are many of us who didn't follow our dreams, for a variety of reasons, whether they be academic, financial, or whatnot. But it doesn't mean an end to happiness. What you do after the tears fall is another story entirely. Perhaps there is an opportunity for your son that is yet to be discovered relating to zoology, animals or the like. If you keep the door open, you may find it. Or he may surprise you and stumble upon it himself. In the meantime, sending you a big hug.