One of the greatest challenges to parents of children with learning disabilities is acknowledging and addressing their own grief. As much as they love their child, he or she is not who they expected. To fully value the child they have, it is necessary to grieve the child they lost. In working with families where a learning disability is present, this is a factor that is often overlooked and that when successfully addressed can create a profound change in the system.
I recently read the following inspirational essay by Emily Perl Kingsley, the mother of a child with Down Syndrome, that describes this experience so beautifully. I share it with you here:
When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."
"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."
But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met. It’s just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away...because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.
But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland.
So I ask, did you plan a trip to Italy and arrive in Holland? Have you come to value the sweet smell of tulips yet? To enjoy the peacefulness of the canals? Appreciate the windmills? I do hope you have. If not, perhaps it is time to ask yourself if you are pining for Italy, and if so to think about the steps can you take to appreciate the wonders of the land that you now inhabit. It’s okay to be sad about a missed trip to Italy while still relishing in the wonders of Holland.
Go give your child a hug, and get one back!