Monday, November 23, 2009

Lessons From My Children

Family walk,
originally uploaded by Jos Mecklenfeld.

Sometimes we find renewed strength, or encouragement, from those who are wise from experience. Sometimes we find it from those who have walked, or who are walking, a similar path. And sometimes we find it in our children.

Today's strength to keep moving forward comes from my two sons. They are 11 and 15 years of age. I started out the day with a therapy session with my older son, and ended the afternoon with one with my youngest. Each exhibited a remarkable effort to face their, and our, challenges with a new found self-awareness. Each were able to express their needs with honesty, and their feelings with vulnerability. And each were able to individually engage me in discussions about what they need and want from our relationship.

It did not so much surprise me, as much as confirm, that as a family, we are in the midst of a transformative time. Throughout this past weekend I was feeling very depressed, and having trouble lifting myself up to remain present to my children. Even though we were often in the same room, I felt so distant. By last night I wondered how I, or we, would get through all of this. Losing my husband, Michael, was a big blow to our sense of stability as a family. For many years I was a single parent to my three children. I often worried that not only was I not missing out on experiencing the joy of a loving relationship, my children were missing out on the lessons that this type of relationship could provide. When I met Michael all this began to change.

Initially my children were so happy that their dad finally found someone to love, and was loved in return. What they didn't expect was that they would also be loved by, and reciprocate their love to, him. This process was not a simple matter. For children to attach, they must build trust. This takes time. They must trust that this person will accept them with all of their blemishes. For children who are adopted, as are my own, they often struggle to trust this acceptance due to a fear of rejection. They want to know if this person will always be there for them, unconditionally.

In the evolution of our family, Michael had just been a part of our lives for a year and a half when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. My kids, and Michael, had just hit their stride in this developing relationship. With Michael's diagnosis their fear of rejection likely morphed into a fear of abandonment. For all of us are faced with the likelihood of losing someone, there is an inclination to disengage. I believe this is a natural response for many people as a way to protect their heart. In time we were all able to work through this, and the kids were able to continue engaging in a parent-child relationship with Michael. He began referring to them as his children, and they to him as their other dad. This was beautifully reinforced during our wedding. Before Michael and I exchanged our vows of commitment to each other, we each exchanged vows of commitment to our newly formed family.

The past two years of Michael's illness was filled with unconditional love and commitment. When the time came for treatment to end, we chose hospice as our plan of care. Michael remained here at home throughout his journey. In the last weeks of his life the kids were able to participate in his care, and be present with him. Michael died here at home. And while painful to see, my children were able to participate in something very special and beautiful. We had to say goodbye to Michael. They had to say goodbye to daddy Mike. For now we are sharing in our grief, each trying to make sense of it all. I know that they, and I, will be changed by this experience.

When I look in the mirror I see an aged, and suffering, person staring back at me. It is hard for me to believe that I will ever know joy again. It is hard for me to see how I could possibly be transformed by this. When I look my children, I also see grief, yet already I see a developing compassion and transformation. It is so clear to me. Maybe it is because they are young that they are able to look ahead differently. Maybe it's because they found in Michael's love, that they would not be abandoned, even in death. I believe it is clear to them that his love for us continues. Perhaps they are comforted by this understanding.

Now I haven't mentioned my eldest child, my beautiful daughter. My daughter is struggling at the moment. I believe she experiences her emotions very deeply. Life is not easy when your emotions feel stronger than you can manage. I now understand what that feels like, as I am struggling too. All I can do is trust that she will find her way. Actually, I know that she will. I just need to let her do that, find her way.

As a parent we expect to impart many lessons to our children. What we are surprised by is how much they teach us. Today I offer my thanks to my three children. I am thankful for their willingness to fully engage in love, life and grief. I will take inspiration from their transformation.

1 comment:

  1. Yet another beautifully stated post. While children are resilient, they are also human. My daughter's emotions are often very close to the surface. At almost three years out, she is still learning how to harness them when they bombard her an inopportune times (the middle of a school day, for instance). You are definitely teaching your children well, and I commend you for it.

    My wife and I were looking toward adoption when she fell ill the last time (hence the adoption-related links on my site). I am always intrigued by stories from those who have actually done so, and I look forward to reading more about that aspect of your family as well.

    Brace yourself for these next few days/weeks and know that there are many of us out here pulling for you. Hang in there.