Parents, if I were to ask you what your worst nightmare is, what would you say?
I daresay it probably falls somewhere under the category of “safety and health,” and the negative version thereof.
Death. Illness. Suffering.
It could largely summed up as “to watch or know my child is suffering,” an extension of that being “… and to not be able to do anything to help or take it away.”
If you’re not a parent, I’m guessing you’re felt this same way about someone else you’ve loved, so a lot of this probably applies to you as well.
Let’s focus for a minute on the illness angle, as that is where I have a personal frame of reference.
Illness is a painful reality for millions of people around the world.
It doesn’t matter whether that illness is something as seemingly innocuous as the common cold, or something far more sinister on the health scale; for a parent to watch their child get sick and suffer, it’s not a situation that anyone wants.
They’re forced to put on a brave face and shove down the feelings that threaten to bubble over at any point: fear, sadness, guilt, anger, helplessness, frustration, and exhaustion, just to name a few.
Chronic illness has left its mark on my family; spun it’s web, drawn us in.
I may not have been a child when my whole world changed—I was a young adult of twenty-four years old—but my parents had to stand by and watch it all unfold.
I’ll be a child in their eyes—their child—always.
They’ve not only had to witness the initial impact—that devastating moment when they were told to brace themselves, stand strong, for their child was so critically ill that her life was hanging in the balance—but they’ve also had to continue living with those ever-reaching threads for fourteen years.
They’ve watched me overcome adversity and shine, time and time again.
But then the coin flipped over and they had to face the underlying realities of my situation despite my vibrant smile: the ongoing chronic pain, neurological deficits, and life challenges.
When a person is chronically ill, the whole family feels the pain.
Healthy family members are often overworked, physically and mentally, particularly if they have assumed caregiver responsibilities, all of which is compounded by the helplessness they feel when they’re unable to provide relief to the family member in distress.
I’ve always been aware of this impact. I’ve always known my parents would willingly take my illness and make it theirs, if that option existed.
I know my parents often feel powerless; they don’t know what to say, how to act, or what they can do to help me.
I’ve always understood and had empathy for this. But I’ve never fully comprehended the true extent of their experience and feelings.
How could I possibly?
Just like they can’t walk a mile in my shoes, I can’t walk a mile in theirs. Our shoes are unique. They fit only us.
Life lesson coming up…
Horus, my fur child, has had some health challenges over the past twelve months, seemingly one thing after another.
His most recent ailment relates to a leg issue that thankfully is now on the mend, but it’s certainly been cause for worry.
At one of his recent check-ups, his vet made mention that Horus is most likely experiencing a high degree of pain and discomfort, despite the perpetually happy exterior and perky disposition, and it suddenly struck me:
My child, so like his Mumma, is in pain.
Quite possibly a high degree of pain.
I will never know for sure.
And I can’t take it away for him.
A blow to my heart. I’m his Mumma and I can’t take away his hurt and make it all better.
It’s a blow that my parents, and in this example context, my mother, has no doubt felt, time and time again, with my situation. Only I know hers would be amplified tenfold. A hundredfold. And my father’s as well.
Because parents love their children so deeply, they would make any sacrifice required to take their hurt away and make it all better.
What happens when you really can’t take away their pain, despite all the wishing and heartfelt sentiments?
When you really can’t remove your child’s obstacles, in whatever form they may take?
I can’t fathom the agony, anger, guilt, frustration, helplessness, powerless and the myriad of other emotions that my parents must have felt, and continue to feel, when they think about my challenges in life.
And even though I am in an amazing new season of growth, opportunity, and health, the challenges are still real, albeit tapered down—thank goodness!—and I know they still struggle because I struggle.
A parent is supposed to take away all of her child’s obstacles.
Or are they?
Truthfully, that is an unrealistic burden to place upon yourself.
To any parents reading this—or to anyone who’s feeling the agony of being unable to heal their loved one’s pain—please do your upmost to release yourself from these mental shackles.
The mind is very cruel at times, if you allow it untethered freedom, and it will keep you stuck in a place of sadness that serves neither you nor your child. You can’t be there for them, or anyone else, if you’re lost in your head, beating yourself up for not being able to do more.
You’re doing the best you can. Why compound your pain with unnecessary guilt?
To my parents, please know this:
You have equipped me with everything I need in this life.
You can’t take away my pain, but you can be happy that you gave me the strength and the will to persevere.
You can’t take away my obstacles, but you can be there, physically and emotionally, to guide me, to hold out a hand, to lift me up when I fall down, to be my biggest cheerleaders.
Sometimes, all you can do is be there.
But just being there might be enough.