Sunday, January 3, 2010

Overcoming Your Grief

The first duty to children is to make them happy. If you have not made them so, you have wronged them. No other good they may get can make up for that.   
                            - Charles Buxton

Many parents claim their goal in life is to ensure their kids are happy.  If they can somehow accomplish that, they have succeeded.  I can see how that might be appealing.  In today's "non-judgmental" culture it alleviates the parent of all responsibility because they can claim their children made choices they wanted to make because it made them happy.

This is me minutes after Alanna was born in the hospital.  My eyes are closed, mostly because I tend to do this in pictures, but also because it was 2am and no one had slept in 40 hours.  It's amazing, seeing your child being born... completely indescribable, really.  You just have to experience it to understand.  In the hospital, you tend to get hours of time alone with your child sleeping.  I used to pass the other fathers doing "baby duty" - rocking and moving their sons and daughters while their exhausted wives attempted to recover from the ravages of childbirth.  It seems rather silly, but in those moments when you are staring at your child's perfect face, marveling at your fortune, your mind tends to wander.  I remember thinking of her entire life - from the moment we got home to the hospital, to her crawling, first words, the first time she said "daddy", going to school, playing sports, graduating, meeting a boy, getting married, and having her own children.  How selfish was I, planning my daughter's life just as her life was barely beginning?  Yet I know I couldn't help it.  You dream for your children.  I know I am not alone in this.  Holding your newborn girl, you can't help but think of all the possibilities for her life and being excited to start the journey with her.

But life is rarely what you dream it up to be.  When I discovered Alanna was autistic, it was like all my hopes and dreams for her were sucked away into a black hole and all I could see was darkness - a void, an unknown future and no way to get a glimpse of what it could be or what I could hope it to be.

There is truly a grieving process that occurs when you discover your child has a disability like autism.  You let go of all your expectations and start to live day by day.  But even day by day, you grieve.  Today I was trying to play with Alanna, to engage her - share enjoyment, feel like I was something other than a rock on the floor (which maybe could have been more interesting to her).  Some days I feel like I spend hours with her without spending any time with her at all.  We are in the same space but completely different worlds.  It's painful knowing that my real little girl is trapped inside - the girl that I am beginning to see... but so often she is beyond my reach.  If I could run off and rescue her somewhere, I surely would, but it's not that easy.  I have to tear her out of herself, gently - slowly, so as not to hurt her in the process.  Some days I feel like no progress has been made.  She is still trapped in her own world.  But then I look back at where she was and marvel at how far she has come.  The fleeting glances, smiles, and time we really connect - they are short, but come more often and stay longer.  If I can focus on that, hope remains, and some days that is the only thing that keeps me going.

As a man, I feel the need to "fix" problems, and if I can't fix it, it eats away at me inside.  But I'm learning I can't "fix" autism.  I can only make it better, one day at a time, one moment at a time.

In a way, I think I have an easier time than many parents.  Despite Mr. Buxton's opinion, the first duty of a parent to their children is to love them, and they may not be happy about it at the time - perhaps never - but loving someone is not the same as making them happy.  It's doing what is best for them, even if that is the harder choice.  It's about sacrificing for them.  Perhaps for me, Alanna will be happy just because I love her.  She will be happy when she pleases me.  Or perhaps she will recover so that she takes an adult perspective and me loving her will not be the same as me making her happy.  I don't know how it will go.  But I do know she will have her own life, fulfilling the purpose God has fashioned for her.  It's not what I expected, but it will be amazing.  If I can get past my grief, I can feel pretty hopeful about that.


  1. I think you're right. We can't "make" our children be happy. All that we can do is love them and try to do what's best for them. In the end, their lives are their own.

    Great post!

  2. great post tim, it truly is a grieving process u have to go through,
    love and prayers jules
    love you guys;)

  3. I loved reading this. We went through a similar grieving process, but I find if you focus on the process and not so much on the outcomes, then it gets easier for both parent and child. Then you can really celebrate the little moments, and I think an autistic child sort of forces you in that mindset, where a lot of parents today have forgotten how to do that. I know it is a disability but it has given us a lot of "abilities" as parents.

    Keep going!

  4. Beautiful post. Described my feelings as a dad to a "T". Love that your blog is from a dad's perspective. Please keep writing!