Hope for the Continual Cycle of Grief Special-Needs Parents Experience

I’ve been seeing a therapist for a few months. A therapist who specializes in grief. Last week she said I’ve graduated, but I’m not so sure I’m done grieving. I may never be done. But I have found hope.

Special-needs parents experience unique grief. Instead of moving through the regular stages and finding resolution, we can be struck with grief at any moment. We go through the cycles again and again.

I asked on my Facebook page what grief experiences have snuck up on them lately. They said,

  • When my 6 year old nephew who is only 6 weeks younger than my son read me a book. My son struggles to approximate any word.

  • My daughter is 10 and nonverbal, and she was so upset over something this past weekend. I couldn’t help her. She was trying really hard to communicate, and I just didn’t know what to do. Sometimes I feel like she’s slipping away from me, and I don’t know how to bring her back. I feel absolutely helpless. After that moment, I just cried and cried.

  • It hits me at the weirdest times. My son is high functioning aspergers. Like when he comes out of the Jr. High alone at pick up and every one else walks out talking and goofing with their friends. When he acts younger than his age at church and all the other kids his age are helping and listening to the service. When my 10 year old says mom, why can’t he act like other big brothers!?

  • My youngest is going to be graduating in May and is excitedly making plans to go off to college. My 20 yr old son with autism is home full time now and I need a caregiver if I want to do anything. It’s hard thinking of how different Alex’s life could be if he wasn’t autistic.

  • Things hit me out of the blue all the time too…most recently was Valentines Day watching the children at his school excitedly exchange handmade cards and candy. Sounds petty but it was just another reminder of something my precious guy isn’t able to be a part of yet.

  • Every single time I hear a child say “Mama”….how I LONG to hear that one day from my son.

Each of us could tell stories of surprising grief. (We can also tell stories of surprising joy!) When I run up against the wall of grief, I open to the Psalms. Psalm 107 is my favorite. Look with me at the hope it presents:

  • For those who are lonely and have no place to call home, He “satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things” (v 9).

  • For those in darkness, in the shadow of death, He “brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and burst their bonds apart” (v 14).

  • For those who were fools and suffered affliction, “He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction” (v 20).

And the one I relate to most, to those who were going down in ships (those of us on a ride we didn’t know we had signed up for!):

“Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
He made the storm be still,
    and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,
    and he brought them to their desired haven.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!
Let them extol him in the congregation of the people,
    and praise him in the assembly of the elders.”

We can follow this pattern when grief threatens to engulf us.

We can cry out. We can experience the peace He brings to our circumstances (even if the circumstances don’t change). We can thank Him for His love. We can praise Him with others.

Wherever you are in the cycle of grief right now, know there is hope. Even if you are like me and experience that cycle of grief over and over again. Each time we feel ourselves going down with the sorrow ship, we know God will meet us there and offer the hand of hope.

Sandra Peoples (M. Div) is a special-needs mom and sibling. She and her family live outside of Houston where she serves her church as co-director of the special-needs ministry. She’s the author of Unexpected Blessings: The Joys and Possibilities of Life in a Special-Needs Family