When the tears come (Part I)

Grief is not a fun topic, I know. But last week I poured out my heart in my post and it resonated with a LOT of people. As I read through people’s comments, I realized it touched a chord with anyone who knows grief. Because that’s what I’ve been doing a lot lately – grieving.

Grief comes with loss. Since death is a great loss, most associate grief with death. Thing is, death isn’t always about someone leaving us forever. It can be about a lost job. About a betrayal. And for those like me, living with people who’ve been in foster care, experienced trauma, or live with physical or mental disability… grief over a kind of death is part of every day in that relationship. It’s what Victoria Secunda termed “living grief,” in her book When Madness Comes Home.

I first came across that term a few years ago, and thinking about that moment still unsettles me. My oldest had just received her diagnosis of bipolar I disorder. She was only 5 years old at the time. As I sat on my couch after the doctor visit, everything in me somehow resonating with the diagnosis, I wept until I couldn’t breathe.

Not because the “finding out” was a problem – we already knew deep down that something wasn’t okay. The diagnosis just meant help was on the way after years of struggle. No, I wept because I was somehow relieved. Relieved that I wasn’t a crappy parent. That I wasn’t actually crazy for feeling like I was on a battlefield. Then the relief ended and I fell to pieces as I realized I’d just lost the daughter I thought I had.

Before that day, we still hoped things would resolve. That with enough love, prayer and consistent parenting she’d fully heal from her traumatic background and the adoption process. After the diagnosis, all I faced was a gaping black hole and a very long, tiring journey as a parent. One I’m still not sure I can handle most days.

Thus began my journey with living grief. The kind where you walk through Kubler-Ross’s 5 steps of grief and loss…. again and again. New loss over and over. In waves with every new developmental milestone we don’t hit, every difficult interaction with her when she’s unstable, every moment I feel “buyer’s remorse” for adopting a foster child, then want to flog myself for being so cruel (Because what kind of mother thinks things like that, anyway?!)

Every person goes through grief as they grow. Every parent faces loss in the midst of the indescribable joy of family. We grieve the loss of our simpler lives before kids. (Moms grieve the loss of all their pre-pregnancy clothes that will never quite fit again!) We grieve when our kids reveal they’re not us, after all, and will do whatever God leads them to do… which sometimes is NOT what we want for them. At all.

And parents raising a special needs child will live grief every day of their journey with their kids. Some days more marked by it than others, but it’s always there. And we have to learn to do it well. To let it be good grief – healthy grief – if we’re going to thrive through the challenges and enjoy those kids of ours.

The first step for me was realizing the pit in my stomach was my struggle with loss as I realized what lay ahead of me as a mom.

That’s where the healing begins.

Are you grappling with grief right now? Please share your story. And join me in the next post as we look at some ways to thrive, even in grief.

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