Will I survive….I am asked this question many times by the parents I support at True Colours. Parents who have just been told their child has a serious health condition, that will take them on a hugely different life path; parents who are exhausted by the relentless complex care their child requires; or those parents who have had their precious child pass away.
Each time I hear this question, I have a visceral body response that causes my breath to catch as I consider the depth of pain that comes behind this query. As I pause to reflect on a possible answer, I have to be honest in my reply. I do not know how parents survive the soul destroying news that their child has a serious life-limiting or life-threatening illness, or that their child has passed away and they cannot imagine living beyond them. However, I can be honest in my answer; while I do not know how parents survive, after working in this field for many years and walking alongside parents in these situations…. remarkably, I know they do survive.
It truly amazes me that this is actually possible. That parents, through their own strength and courage, manage to duly carry on functioning on a day-to-day basis. Admittedly, parents share with me; they do not have a choice. They are propelled to keep going even if they do not want to live beyond the news of their child’s diagnosis or death. However, I witness the choice that has been made from a more objective viewpoint.
The choice is that they have survived one day, then another, then another despite their bodies physically, emotionally and spiritually longing not to keep going in those toughest moments.
They have made the choice to stay, either for something that keeps them here, or for their children and loved ones.
I have come to know that as humans, we can survive the most unexpected, shocking events. We do this is in different ways, with our bodies being well equipped to help us ‘keep going’. Each of us have our own coping strategies to enable us to physically survive shocking news or witnessing a shocking event. We just need to look at those who live in war ravaged countries or refugees on the run, to understand we can amazingly gain strength and resiliency to keep moving ‘forward’ taking our experiences with us, integrating them into our lives.
It is important to know that we each have personal strengths that will enable us to adjust to our different life experiences. At times, we need to cling to this when we do not believe we have anything that is going to help us get through each day. It is useful to also understand that our needs may change over time. We must acknowledge that what we want the most may not be what we need the most. Support, distraction, living in the moment and kind caring connections are what will enable adjustment to new circumstances and survival.
The True Colours team provide counselling support to parents going through the toughest of times. We cannot take away a parent’s pain or change the circumstances of the event that caused the rupture into a parent’ life path. What we can do though is listen, to ‘hold’ the space of pain that is being shared with us and to help keep parents ‘standing’.
Living beyond the pain
I am constantly moved and inspired by the children I meet with each day. They teach me about life in fun loving, serious, and caring ways. However, it is their parents that I meet, who teach me that you can live beyond enormous heart wrenching pain, loss and grief; surviving regardless of the life changing experiences that have set them into such unfamiliar unchartered waters.
Therefore, I will continue to say… I do not know how you survive, but you do because I have witnessed it repeatedly, over many years. True respect and honour to all of the parents I have met along the way. This blog is my tribute to you. Kia kaha
‘What we have once, we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us’ – Helen Keller