Protecting My Boys From Pain Only to Become the Cause of It

Confession: sometimes I find myself trying desperately not to cry in front of my teenage sons. More often, though, I let it right out. You may wonder why I’m not constantly trying to shield them from the tears. Then again, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I’m pretty open about all of this and you may not be one bit surprised.

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Once, a couple of years before I became a mom, I sat in the living room of a family whose baby had been born with serious medical complications and an unclear prognosis. In addition to his total blindness, we weren’t sure how far he would ever progress developmentally. My job when working with very young blind children is to work as much with the parents as with the child himself. So that day, I was listening to his mom’s concerns. But I was getting so frustrated. “I never want him to be sad,” she said. “Geez,” I remember thinking. “That’s asking an awful lot from life, isn’t it?”

I’m happy to report that I was able to muster enough tact not to audibly roll my eyes at her statement, and I somehow refrained from speaking the callous reactions of a childless, 25-year-old know-it-all out loud. I managed not to tell her how unrealistic she was being to want to protect her child in such a way. I’m so grateful for the forces that kept my mouth shut that day because I was so far off base and I had no idea.

That sweet blind baby turned 18 last month. My own first child was born a year and a half after him, and I can’t tell you how many times during the last 16 years I’ve thought back to that conversation and empathized with his mom as I’ve worked to protect my boys from the innate pain of being a human living on earth.

As you can imagine, it got a lot harder last June when my prognosis went from hopeful to dire. Even worse: it’s no longer the evil forces of the outside world working against me; it’s my own damn liver. As gutted as I am at the thought of Max and Dalton feeling such sadness, multiply that by a billion to get a sense of how I feel when I think about their dealing with it without having my shoulder there to cry on. I almost can’t. But I also can’t not.

Is that why I’m not inclined to hold back entirely? Because, if there’s a certain amount of sadness that they’re going to have to endure through this trial, I’d rather be here for some of it. Or maybe there is unlimited sadness, but if I can comfort them some while I’m here, the sense memory of it will carry over to when I’m not.

Here’s another confession: there is something very special about being comforted by them. It’s not like any other comfort. It’s made deeper and sweeter by the pride I feel about what good people they are. It makes me think that they’re learning something unique about how to help people they care about through dark times. It shapes them. It is a gift that we give to each other – one we never would have chosen in a million years, but one we can treasure in our hearts. Forever. 

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