Thoughts After the Pain

While we were at Texas Children’s Hospital (my son was having neurosurgery work-up) we had at least 8 hours to occupy while my son had tests run on our last day there.. We passed by the chapel many times that week but I never had time to stop. The opportunity seemed right so my husband and I sat in the little chapel. It was round, the ceiling had tiny lights that looked like stars, and the lighting changed over the course of ten minutes or so until all the lights dimmed and the tiny stars seemed to twinkle. I admired the quaint little room for the ten minute round of lighting changes. As the lights went from dark to light, I felt a familiar presence I hadn’t felt in a while. It was the feeling of the most loved of friends. It’s the one friend that knows me like no one will ever know me and loves me more than anyone could ever love me. It was the presence of the Lord.

I have always thought of myself as a woman of great faith. I had inspiration to give to others in their times of need and I believed God could cover and heal any hurt, but for the past seven years, the hurt in my own personal life had grown and finally gave way to more doubt than unfaltering belief. Since my son was diagnosed, everything became more difficult. The older he got, the harder it was to deny what the disease was robbing from him. He has been denied the opportunities that naturally come to other little boys his age. Despite it all, my husband and I continued the same plans to grow our family as we had planned before either of our boys were born. He and I were blessed with our two daughters. Our life was indeed a mixed bag of blessings and sorrow. After his diagnosis, we would be blessed greatly with things like when our girls were born, but were faced with things like mounting medical bills that strained our finances so greatly that we’d barely were able to afford groceries for the month, if at all. Life felt more like a rollercoaster than the dream we had once envisioned.

Then I got sick. Many probably thought I became incredibly selfish when I anxiously wanted to find a cure for my Rheumatoid Arthritis when my little boy was still suffering. I may have been. I had spent the last seven years fighting for him and I didn’t want a disease to change that. I also didn’t want anything to take me from him, or any of my other children. I wanted to be here to experience the joys and sorrows because this life was meant for me and no one else, despite how much I wanted to rid our life of the lows we frequently experience. I wanted so badly to assure my place on this Earth with my family, yet my faith was weak. I didn’t understand why I had been handed this illness in addition to everything else we were given. “Why Lord do you give me a disease that is wrecking my body when you know I have a son with epilepsy? Have you forgot I NEED to physically assist him?” Enough was enough and I could not understand this cruel addition to our already full plate. I had no encouraging words of wisdom or anticipation of His healing. I felt lost and alone and I felt like He had abandoned me.

Many people can quote words of wisdom like I once did, or jump out of bed with boundless enthusiasm and a positive outlook when their life doesn’t feel like a constant tug of war. It amazed me how many people became judgmental and claimed “they would have done it better”. It’s like the first time parents who sit and judge those who already have children, claiming they will get it “right” just to eventually find out that parenthood isn’t about getting it “right” as much as it is about doing the best you can. Once someone is no longer sitting on the sidelines but rather in the situation, the answers aren’t so clear and it isn’t as easy as once thought. This is where compassion and understanding grow. It grows out of the times we are at the top of the rollercoaster of life staring down from the top of the hill almost sick with the anticipation of the next steep decline. It’s when we are facing fear, and maybe the unknown, that we possibly have our best understanding of those people we once judged. To be honest, I don’t like the person I once was, I lacked compassion and understanding. I still don’t like many of my own qualities and I know I have a lot to learn, but I do know most people only desire understanding. So this was my life; I felt like the Lord had abandoned me, I feared constant judgement, and all the while my disease, as well as Aiden’s, was getting worse. I was sick of the rollercoaster and wanted off.

One of the worst days I had this last week in Texas was the first day we were admitted into the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit. We had been running nonstop since we left home. I was already hurting but when I laid down in our son’s room (on the tiny pull out sofa barely big enough for Doug and I), the pain I was already in got much worse. Nothing I could do was enough to ease my pain. my husband rubbed my hands and wrists until I fell asleep but I eventually woke and crawled into bed with our son. His hospital bed allowed me to sit up a bit and we were already playing musical beds as we adjusted to our new surroundings. There is something more than cuddling next to him that gives me comfort. I feel like I have been allowed to understand him more since my own diagnosis, and maybe he understands me, you never know…  It is a blessing and a curse because I often wonder if he feels pain like I did that night, yet he struggles to communicate. Now I am more aware where I wasn’t before because I have been allowed to suffer. My eyes have been opened to many things since I now physically suffer.

So that afternoon when I felt the Lord’s presence so strong, I was reminded that we aren’t guaranteed an easy life. Many children in that very hospital were facing much more than I. You don’t have to be a Christian to realize this. Nowhere are we told life will be as we wish but we are given one gift, that is life itself. Life is precious. I need to accept that my life will never be free of pain, physical or emotional, but I am given the opportunity to wake up each day. Some would finish this by saying “it’s what you decide to do with it that matters”, well, I disagree. I often don’t have a choice what I can do with my day. It has been at the mercy of one disease or another for over seven years now. I just can’t wake up with a will to conquer over my disease. I can’t will my pain away anymore than my son can stop himself from having a seizure. We deal with what we can’t control first and then we decide what we can do from there. Things don’t change just because we want them to change, so reminds me of my need for people and a God who understand.

My fear of my disease has been mostly about my own fear of death. Although my faith teaches me that there is more to life after death, I was afraid. I began to allow this fear to control my faith. It was a reminder of Jesus’ prayer in the garden before his own death that allowed me to once again embrace my faith. Jesus, knowing the outcome of his own death and what it would accomplish, still agonized over it so much that he sweat drops of blood. Whether this is a metaphor doesn’t matter as much as the fear even he had over the events before him. God wanted me to know it’s okay to feel unsure of what is before me.

My son and I will still struggle but we will do it together. The path we face is unclear but we are reminded of his presence in quiet moments in a small room with twinkling lights or through people put in our lives for a reason. We are either on the sidelines watching the rollercoaster of a life someone else is living or we are in the front seat of it, it’s the understanding and unconditional loves that helps us get through because you will never know when you will be in the unexpected. All you have is right now, the precious life you are gifted. I’m going to take it, pain and all because sometimes pain is the only way God saves us from ourselves. Pain is a despised beauty that can shape our understanding and allow us great compassion. Just because it isn’t understood doesn’t mean it has no purpose. I’m grateful I still have today to learn.

*d*

Letters to My Son

This begins a series as we prepare for the next step in the care of our special needs son. He is being referred for brain surgery in the next few months. To follow our journey, I have decided to express my thoughts about the process through letters I will write to my son. This is the first of hopefully many over the course of this scary and hopeful journey.

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Letter 2:

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Dear Little Buddy,

We are still waiting for the call to schedule your visit to the neurosurgeon. The longer we wait, the more I ponder the impossibility of this trip. There are so many things to consider; the expense, the logistics, the care of your siblings, and the possibility of being away from home for a considerable amount of time. I am very saddened that your declining health has made it necessary to go to this extreme but it’s not your fault and I don’t want you to feel bad. It can be easy to carry guilt when you need help due to your disease. I know because I also have a disease that has made it necessary for me to ask for help on occasion. I have a disease called Rheumatoid Arthritis and it has changed my life in many ways that mirror how your life has been effected because of your disease, Tuberous Sclerosis.

Since I found out that I have this disease, I have needed to take different medications, some very similar to medications you are or have already taken. One of my medications could effect my vision and I have to it checked every three months. It wasn’t that long ago when we were taking you to the optometrist for the same reason. Although our specific medications are different, I also take an anti-epileptic and a medication that is used to treat cancer in high doses. I look in the mirror and see how the appearance of my own face has changed just like yours did as an infant when you took a medication that I am taking now. The physical changes we both have experienced doesn’t end there, we are both weaker than we were a year ago. I have benefited from a rollator and we will be meeting to fit you for a wheelchair next month. It could all be a coincidence but I think it’s more. Through my struggles, I get a rare chance to understand you more.

It is also through these similarities that I can sympathize with the side effects of your medication, the frustrations when your body feels the effects of failed medications and therapy, and the never-ending rotation of doctor appointments. Unfortunately it also means all of these things double for our family. We spend twice as much time waiting at appointments, twice as much money on medications, therapy, and surgery, and double the worry over getting through each day. Those are big issues for us, but we care about you above all.

We are always thinking about how to make your life a bit easier. It is in these thoughts where I have struggled to help, and sometimes, understand you. You have done things that seem irrational; sometimes you scream, hit your face, beat your head on the wall, or you will hit me or someone else in the family. It wasn’t until I too started to feel quite irrational that I began to understand you. In the last few months I have had to start numerous medications and I didn’t anticipate the variety of side-effects I began to experience. Unlike you, I have a full understanding of what is happening to me and yet I still cried and wanted to shut down. Since you don’t understand your situation as I, it must feel like your life and/or your body is out of control. How can I expect anything but an occasional meltdown or outburst from you? I have nights where I can’t verbalize my own emotions, yet I have expected that from you. I have expected you to do more than I have been able to do myself, and for that my little buddy, I’m sorry.

I am sorry for all the times I haven’t been patient and understanding. I am sorry when I haven’t searched beyond your anxiety and outbursts. I am sorry when I haven’t been a safe place for you to fall. I know I have needed a safe place where I can have no fear rejection or judgement. You deserve the same. It has been hard for me when you have had terrible days and have taken it out on me. It’s hard to be hit or kicked by someone you love. It hurts my heart because I want to spend my time enjoying you, not fighting with you.

Don’t forget that little buddy! You are amazing. I may wish we could enjoy our time together without the some of the bad things that come our way, but I will take you and our situations just as they are as long as we can be together. I am also thankful for my own struggles that bring me a closer understanding of you. It makes me a better person and a better mommy. You have taught me a greater compassion for others and the value of patience. I also promise I will do my best to remember you are doing the best you can despite the mountains that stand before you. You have prepared me for all the difficulty I personally face because you have been an example of bravery. Yes, you are brave. You don’t have to know you are brave to be brave.

Thanks for being my companion in a journey two people rarely get to have together. I look forward to climbing the next mountain……together……because bravery doesn’t mean you have to do it alone.

*d*
(Mommy)

☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

Dear Little Buddy,

It was about eight years ago when we found out that you were going to come into our family. You weren’t planned, but most miracles aren’t planned. You were born on a beautiful July morning. You were perfect. We brought you home and I imagined a bright future for you but some of those dreams quickly became lost. You were three months old when you had your first seizure and the words Tuberous Sclerosis Complex came into our lives. A few short weeks later and we learned you had also developed a rare and catastrophic form of epilepsy called Infantile Spams. These innocent looking seizures made it a very real possibility that you would experience developmental and physical delays. It was hard to imagine the same bright future as we did the day you were born. We were so very sad and the future looked as gray and solemn as our broken hearts. We had never heard of this disease and here it had changed the way we looked at you.

Yes our hearts were changed. We loved you even more and we were more determined than ever to help give you a wonderful life despite this new knowledge. Your disease was now a part of our family because it was a part of you. You weren’t the same kind of perfect we once thought you were, you were a unique and special kind of perfection. You see, sometimes the world can have a different definition of what perfect should be but that isn’t how we define it. We want to love perfectly with all our imperfections because none of us are perfect. Because you are loved so very much, this letter is now going to be even harder to write.

After seven years, we have been unable to control the seizures that are a biproduct of your disease. Daddy and I have tried very hard to get you every resource possible to help you in your fight. We made big changes when we decided to take you to a clinic that specializes in Tuberous Sclerosis. We did this so you could be in the care of neurologists that are the best at treating others just like you. We have spent the last seven years exhausting every avenue and turning over every stone to control your epilepsy and help you make the most developmental progress possible. You have worked very hard too. You have been in numerous therapies since you were a baby. You have fought hard after every seizure increase and every regression that happened as a result of those increases. We have all fought so hard together for a very long time. I am so sorry that we couldn’t make it all better. This reality makes me sad when I see the look in your eyes during a seizure. You want Mommy and Daddy to make it all better and we can’t. All we can do is be strong and comfort you.

Because of all of this, a big decision had to be made. We know the last few months have been hard for you. Your epilepsy has been making you weak. On school mornings, I see how hard it is for you to walk down the steps and up into the bus. I see how hard it is for you to do so many things that were simple to you just a year ago. I cry at night because I know it’s been harder for you to understand and communicate with me. I see all the terrible things epilepsy has done to my wonderful boy. But I know there is still fight left in you, I can see it. I see your fight every time you get angry and scream in frustration or have an outburst of anger. I cannot imagine how difficult it is to have so many things going with you and to you while having no control over what happens. I try to remind myself of this every time you get angry with me. I try to remember that you need me to be strong because you are still so little and you really have no way of understanding what has been happening to you. I will continue to be strong with you because we have one more fight we need to face together.

We are going to see another doctor in another hospital that may be able to give you another chance at living a life free of the seizures that done so much to you. He is a neurosurgeon. He may be able to get to the root of the problem and remove what is causing your epilepsy. It is a long trip and we may be gone a long time but there is hope. This is just the beginning of a long process and we have no idea how we are even going to make this happen. The wheels are in motion and it began with a referral to this hosptial. There are still a lot more details to work out and a lot of people want to help you little buddy. Many, many people would like to see you seizure free and making developmental progress.

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Remember when I said you were a miracle? Well, you are for many reasons. At one time I thought a lot of good was gone from this world. I had lost a lot of faith in myself and in others. Then you came along. In the middle of all the tears, worry, and sadness surrounding your life, many people came to help. Friends and strangers alike reached out to give us hope. When we needed hope and love, someone was always there to show us that there was indeed good still left in this world. You taught us many wonderful things too. You changed the person I am and who I want to become. You make me see that every single day is a gift. Through you, I have a daily reminder that I can only appreciate those things that are here today. I wanted so badly to live in a future made up of my dreams. When you were diagnosed, I could no longer do that. At first I was sad that I could no longer clearly envision your future, but now I see the true blessing of living for today. Your life is a miracle because of how you have changed lives just by being here. You may be small, you may deal with more than most do in a lifetime, but you are capable of doing even more. We may be in charge of seeking the best help possible and doing it in a big way, but in the end, you will have the victory because you will win this fight.

I know I may never read this letter to you. I really don’t know if you would understand. I’d like to think that despite your developmental delays, you do hear and understand more than I know. So we will talk about the next battle we will face together. I will remind you of how strong you are and how much we love you. Your daddy and I would give all that we have to help you. It seems like an impossible journey but we will get there one way or another because you are worth it. Don’t ever forget that. Even when you have had the most terrible day and you take it out on one of us by hitting, screaming, or spitting, or even when you have a terrible meltdown because life is overwhelming, we still love you. We see the hurt under it all and we want to help. No matter what happens, you will always be our little buddy and you will always be loved. Remember this when the next leg of our journey becomes difficult. Sometimes we must decide to take the most difficult of roads because they lead to the most hope. I pray we get there and the best is waiting for you at the end.

Love,
Mommy
(*d*)