I read a story this week about a mom who was struggling with the moment her daughter’s wheelchair was delivered. Her distress was not so much over the wheelchair itself, but had more to do with realizing that her daughter would need it for the rest of her life. In this month’s podcast, Dr. Lorna Bradley calls this kind of experience the circle of grief. As parents we all face those moments when we witness our children going through great trials, and it can break our hearts. For me, moments like this often occurred in a doctor’s office, at those baby wellness checkups where they measure your child from one end to the other and then give you a whole spate of statistics about how they are developing. Really, it’s the moment when they tell you how your child stacks up against other children that can be nerve wracking. It can be a moment of pride, but it can also be heartbreaking to hear that your child is falling behind other children their own age. For me it was never a shock or a revelation to hear; it was just another moment that confirmed our reality. Perhaps at some level I was thinking that if I just took my son to one more therapist or one more doctor it would change his diagnosis. Instead the doctor gave us the facts, which brought me painfully back to earth.
These moments are typically shot through with emotion and reflection, and while calling these episodes the circle of grief highlights the way we often feel, the fact is we encounter a similar circle with moments of great joy as well. Those doctors’ visits I mentioned sometimes came with predictions of future difficulties. Things were going to be hard for our son to accomplish; we were even told there were certain things our son would perhaps never be able to do. So when his hard work and determination and the dedication of his therapists led to a breakthrough, our joy was just as powerful as our grief in moments of discouragement.
This joy was not only due to the accomplishment itself; we also recognized what these milestones would mean for our son’s life. It meant one more skill he could rely on for his future; independence and self-sufficiency were one step closer.
I know that for many of you, the dream of your child being independent may be just that, a dream. Their life may not be one of independence, but each skill mastered or hurdle cleared means a better life for both you and them. The steps may be small in the eyes of others, but they can bring us the greatest joy.
Many of these steps have come through years of perseverance. Each accomplishment takes hours, months, or years of hard work that many don’t see. Friends and family may not be aware of all the effort that went into reaching that milestone. In our case, some victories have come only through intensive surgery; in the moment, these difficulties set our son back. Summers on the couch in casts and working to relearn things which he had already learned were the cost of getting further than he could have otherwise.
All that work and all the costs may only be known to you. So when the moment comes when your goal becomes a reality, make sure you are letting the joy and thankfulness be as powerful a high as the lows can be low. Celebrate, mark the date, remember it, or write it down.
We need those memories for when the circle goes the other way and becomes the circle of grief again. Remembering great joy can help us put into perspective those times of great struggle. If we can use joy to get us through the hard times, we will be better prepared, and we will not miss the next moment of joy that is waiting for us.