For the past approximately eighteen years, I have been visiting a woman with a significant learning disability several times a year, when she comes into respite in Derry. When our children were small they used to come with me. Sometimes I take her out for a walk or bring her out to our house, other times I sit and chat with her in the respite facility where she is staying.
Tonight when I went to visit her, she had a beautiful flower arrangement ready to give me to put on Leah’s grave. She had got one of her carers to take her to a local shop earlier in the day to purchase it. She expressed concern that it wasn’t ‘good enough‘, but to me it was absolutely beautiful, especially as it was adorned with love.
This woman is quite comfortable talking to me about Leah and about grief and sadness, she always checks with me that I’m not ‘bottling things up‘. She doesn’t for one minute expect me to be ‘over it‘ in any shape, form or fashion. Despite her very significant learning disability, she totally gets it.
After I had said goodbye to her, I went straight to Leah’s grave with these very special flowers. As I stood there in the darkness sobbing quietly, a form emerged from the shadows and a friendly voice said ‘hi‘.
It was a former school friend of Leah’s, a young girl who’s had to deal with some very significant challenges in life. She was en route to an after school activity and recognised my car parked outside the cemetery. She took the time and the trouble to walk through the cemetery in the pitch dark, knowing exactly where she would find me.
My youngest child is having swimming lessons with her primary school at the moment.
On the day that she is going swimming she needs me to plait her long hair.
She also had a series of swimming lessons with the school 18 months ago when Leah and I were away in Bristol.
Last week she said “You know Mummy, whenever you were in Bristol with Leah, the swimming instructor shouted at me because my hair wasn’t in a plait.”
This has really played on my mind since. I get upset every time I think about it.
I’m not angry with the swimming instructor – we all have a tendency to take situations at face value. We make judgments based on insufficient information.
I feel very sad that my 9 year old daughter was motherless for 16 weeks, (except for the two weekends when she got to visit us in Bristol.)
I asked Miriam how she managed the other weeks that she was going swimming with her class. She said that she got her daddy to put her hair in a ponytail. Then one of the other children on the school bus plaited it for her.
Being a mother is so important to me.
It’s what I’ve always wanted to be.
I work as a Parent Support Worker.
I’m passionate about such subjects as bonding and attachment.
Yet, I had to abandon my nine year old child (and my 14 year old and my 19 year old) for 16 weeks.
Then Leah and I were only home for six and a half weeks before she was admitted to Belfast City Hospital and we were gone again.
Two and a half weeks later I returned home without Leah, immersed in grief.
It is SO difficult and complex being a parent in this situation.
This in many ways is also the dilemma faced by many parents who have a child with a medical condition, a learning disability or a mental illness.
How do you meet the needs of your ‘ill’ child, without short changing your other children?
In many cases you can’t.
Quite often an exhausted mother tries to be all things to all her children and still ends up feeling that her best is never quite good enough.
When a child or young person has any kind of “additional need” it can put a huge strain on the family unit.
In reality I’ve only had to do this for a relatively short period of time. Some parents have to juggle the conflicting demands of the needs of their children throughout their parenting years.
For other parents it can be the demands of caring for an elderly relative alongside rearing their own children.
For many of us, life is far from ideal.
The life that we find ourselves living may be far removed from the script that we wrote in our heads in our idealistic teens or early twenties.
That’s where prayer comes in ………. and trust.
When we can’t be with the ones that we love, or provide for them in the way that we wish that we could, we can still pray for them.
We can trust them into God’s loving care, knowing that no matter how much we love them, He loves them even more.
We can trust that God knows what He is doing and that He has a good plan for each of our lives.
Prior to Leah’s transplant she had many hospital appointments in Belfast.
On some of these occasions Leah insisted on us visiting a Christian bookshop.
Unfortunately I am navigationally challenged, but Leah used to be my sat nav., I didn’t get lost when I was with her.
On one of our visits to the Faith Mission Bookshop the song “Forever Reign” by Hillsong was playing and we talked about how we both really liked that song.