This should be a time of celebrating and all that goes with a birthday but instead it is a week of sadness and guilt. These feelings lurk in the shadows and rarely make themselves known, but in the last six months they have creeped out of the dark spaces more and more.
The sadness is the recognition that although she ages biologically each year, she remains the same. The developmental abilities of a young woman continue despite the ticking off of another year. I am not celebrating a future of what this twenty-third year might offer her; final years of college, a new apartment, a boyfriend, career opportunities or fun travel adventures with friends. Instead, I am simply acknowledging another year of the same things we have celebrated since she was eight years old; coloring books, TV shows, puppies and horses.
The simplicity of this stings the very core of my heart at times. One might think that after all these years, I would be over it. Actually it is just the opposite. I am finding with each passing year I am feeling more and more sad. I am suffocated at times with the burden of it all and the idea of celebrating makes me want to flee and hide.
In the darkest moments, I ask myself “what exactly am I celebrating”? The answers spill out of my truth, and they are not pretty. What is to celebrate, really? The last twenty years fighting for what is right for her? Longing for a relationship that isn’t based on which color crayon she used in today’s masterpiece? Wishing I had a break from her, and then feeling riddled with guilt? Being anguished by rage at her father for walking out and leaving me to do it all, and then allowing himself to self-destruct to the point of death, leaving me with no hope of support? Acknowledging the drowning of fear about what the future will be? The resentment that surfaces when I see how she has effected my intimate relationships?
The guilt I feel with this sadness and the strangling of shame when I even think those thoughts buries me.
I recall times when she was younger when I had more opportunities to share the experiences of raising with child with a disability with other parents and I would be aghast at some of their raw and real feelings. Perhaps all along I have been wearing a smoke screen that I am now attempting to painfully take off. I judged them for the very things I am now feeling. I did not just have critical thoughts, I judged them greatly. I told myself I was such a better person and parent for not having those thoughts.
And here we are.
I am now facing those judgments eye to eye as I grapple with the exact feelings that they so courageously revealed; the yearning for a different experience, searching for answers that would offer them a life of their own to live, the emotional exhaustion and the imploring of an easier and more fulfilling relationship with their child and the rest of the family.
I am looking right into the eyes of those judgments as I am now feeling the same desperate feelings and the guilt that washes over me is stifling. I am questioning my intentions and my persona for the last two decades. I am asking myself if I have been denying these raw feelings all along. I wonder if the pain that I feel in my physical body is a result of carrying and stuffing all of these heavy emotions around.
I hold hope that like all cycles of grief, I will come closer to peace and return to the gratitude that has guided me all along as her mom.