**Companion Resources Newsletter**
edited by Paul D. Leichty
Volume 2, No. 5 May 2000
When a child is born, parents are naturally reminded of their own childhood and growing up years. Parents dream of a life that is just as good or better than their own for the baby they hold in their arms.
As I write, it is Memorial Day weekend in the U.S. Memorial Day is a day to remember and grieve for those whose dreams have been cut off. It is time to remember especially those who have died in war.
Yet, memories and grief are not reserved only for the dead. That is the subject for this month’s Companion Resources Newsletter.
As I said, memories and grief are not reserved only for the dead. Some parents grieve for their living children.
* Sometimes the dreams die at birth as a child is born with a significant disability.
* Sometimes the dreams fade away in the early years in more gradual realization that this child is “different.”
* Sometimes the hopes are shattered as teenage and young adult children start showing the signs of a mental illness.
Whatever the case, parents still have memories of what might have been. And even after years of loving and accepting a child for who he or she is, those waves remembrance and of grief come back in new ways to be experienced and worked through again.
This month I had a vivid reminder of that in my own life. As readers of this newsletter know, my family recently moved into a new rural community setting, focused around adults with autism spectrum disorders. My wife and I are caregivers and our son, our oldest child, is one of the residents.
However, this community is also very near to my home community. It’s less than 20 miles from where I was born, grew up, and went to college. It was at college where I met my wife, we joined the church on campus, and got married there. Across the street is the hospital where both of our children were born. Every Sunday morning, the college radio station broadcasts the morning worship from that church and the major joys and concerns from a thousand people are broadcast to many hundreds more throughout the county and beyond.
So it was on a Sunday morning, that I, the former pastor and church leader, stayed home from church. I offered to stay home to take care of one of our residents who can’t handle crowds while the rest of the family visited another church. So I listened to the service on the radio. Or at least I tried.
The service was a bit different this Sunday morning, for it was graduation Sunday on the college campus. One of the pastors, with whom I had gone to seminary, started announcing the names of the graduates who came from that congregation. Some were names I recognized from twenty-some years before…the little dark-haired girl, daughter of the professor…two fellows with the same first name as our son (and we thought we were giving a name not often used!)…the daughter of my oldest first cousin….
Suddenly, I realized that these were all children born around the same time as our son. It hit me in a new way that our son had just celebrated his 22nd birthday. This was my own alma mater. This could have been the day of my own son’s graduation from college!
A deep sadness hit me, and before my wife could get out the door, the tears came. What would my son have been if he had that one chemical lacking in his brain? A musician like me? A writer like his sister? A computer whiz? Ready to head to law school like his uncle? Or even to medical school, perhaps? Would he have considered seminary training and become a pastor?
As the religion professor gave the sermon about all of the potential of those graduates, I had to turn the radio off. It was too hard to hear.
As I sat in the silence, I had to wonder what I was doing sitting there alone at the top of a country hill on graduation Sunday? There were many mixed-up emotions.
* I wondered whether and when to awaken our resident who needed to stay home.
* I wondered whether my son would find the right environment for a job.
* I wondered if I could ever balance day-to-day needs of the persons I was caring for with the organizational needs to keep a program going.
* I wondered if I was spiritually prepared to do all that I could to love my son and all of those others in my care.
I realized that I was probably feeling more sorry for myself than for my son.
* It was I who longed to feel proud of a college honors student rather than a person who struggled mightily to get through high school.
* It was I who wanted to feel the accomplishment of someone who would get a great job rather than just getting a job.
* It was I who wanted someone to follow in my footsteps rather than having to monitor his footsteps into adulthood.
Nathan’s needs are simple. What brings him pleasure is simple. And the experiences I have had because of my son are tremendously valuable; I would not want to give them up. And yet, finding those emotions surfacing again, I need to acknowledge the sadness and realize that the dreams die hard. I need to face again in a new way both the simplicity of what I have been called to do and complexity of doing it in the world in which we live.
So I’ve decided it’s fitting to grieve again. In grieving, I gain an even greater sense of the realism and the wonder and the honor in what I have been called to do–to build community with persons who usually are at the margins at the very center of its life.
I wish I had more resources to suggest on the Internet for dealing with grief. Perhaps the most fruitful site I know right now is the Pathways to Promise site (http://www.pathways2promise.org/) which has some good articles on ministry to families dealing with a loved one with mental illness. Simply type “grief” into their search engine to find the articles.
Another article that I did find gives some suggestions on how to help persons with disabilities themselves deal with grief. It is found at http://thearc.org/faqs/grief.html
Hopefully, I will get around to updating the web site sometime soon. Until then, may you find encouragement and hope through your own community of support, even in the midst of grieving. May the tears water the seeds of new life in your own community.
Blessings and peace!
Paul D. Leichty
The Goldenrod Community
“People Using Technology Building Community”