When we think of learning, we often think of opportunities available to us: courses to take, books to read, conversations to have. We reach out, we search for information and we soak up facts, opinions and ideas as a way to expand our minds.
Sometimes, learning takes a different shape. Sometimes life happens to us and we learn from our experiences. Each challenge in life is a chance to look in, to reflect, to find ourself, or to discover what we are really about.
I’ve always considered myself to be a strong person. I like to think I have grit. I am the classic multi-tasker, the over-scheduled working mom, and generally able to have a positive mindset while managing work, family, community involvement and personal or social commitments. I thought I was rather resilient. And I was – until life got tough.
Through a community project, I have spent countless hours interviewing our most vulnerable members of society and have written about their struggles http://www.beyondhello.org. I have worked as a counsellor and I have dedicated most of my career to helping others. When I have seen others struggle, I have commented time and time again that we are more alike than different. It’s foolish to think any of us would be where we are today if we faced the hardships of our most vulnerable citizens. I understand that we are all influenced by what life throws at us. I thought I understood adversity. I also thought I had endured some struggles: divorced parents, an absent father, losing people I love. They all brought some amount of pain.
And yet, all of that pales in comparison to the new pain in my life. The pain that rips at my heart, scares me and teaches me I am not nearly as strong as I thought. Sometimes life changes direction when you least expect it.
Mid January, my eldest son began to complain of excruciating stomach pains. He had no other symptoms. Like many busy parents, we chalked this up to be a bug, a virus or perhaps a 12 year old’s over exaggerated response to dinners he didn’t like. The pain didn’t happen at school. Only at home with us. After three weeks, we took him to our local hospital where they checked his blood and hurriedly explained there was nothing wrong with him.
One week later the vomiting started. He began to tire easily, he lost his appetite and his skin took on a greyish colour. We continued to treat it like a virus, checked in with our family doctor and figured he would be himself in days.
Mid February we realized he wasn’t getting better. Needing answers we drove to Children’s Hospital and waited in an eight hour line up. We decided to endure the overnight wait so we could get the answers. The prescription. Whatever we needed so J would be better. Frustrated by the long waits, we were willing to give-up one day so we could get the right drugs and cure our son.
We weren’t expecting to hear that this was not a virus, but likely a disease. A disease with no cure. How could our athletic, thriving child suffer all of a sudden? What had caused this? What did we do? When will he get better?
Three months after the initial pain started, we are getting some answers and our son is learning to manage his life with Crohn’s. He has lost close to 20 pounds though we hope with new medication, his body will begin to strengthen again, and his spirit will once again shine. As a parent, this has been an incredibly difficult few months – but like all obstacles in life, it’s also been a time to learn.
I’m learning a lot about my son. I’m learning how strong he can be, how kind and gentle his soul is, and how much he can endure. I’m also learning a lot about myself. I’m learning that I am not invincible. I am learning that watching your child suffer is a pain stronger than any heartbreak I have ever felt. And I am learning that all the strategies I have offered others to help them through difficult times are actually habits I need. Positive thinking, mindful moments, nature, writing, exercise, health, sleep, social connections and time with family mean more than ever before.
I am learning that I am not helpless. I can learn about Crohn’s and support my son, and I can participate in efforts to find a cure. We have created Team Jaden and registered for the annual Gutsy Walk on June 4th (to support Crohn’s and Colitis research). To join Team Jaden for the walk / run or support his fundraising efforts click the link here. https://crohnsandcolitiscanada.akaraisin.com/pledge/Team/Home.aspx?seid=13282&mid=10&tid=129682
There is no pain like the pain a parent feels when their child is in a tough place and they can’t fix it. I remind myself daily I am a lucky one. There are parents who walk into the hospital to hear the their child’s illness is terminal. I am not that parent. But I have a new respect for the parent of every sick child. And a new understanding of everyone who has endured tough days.
We don’t always get to choose what life throws at us. But we do get to choose how we respond. I am learning a lot about my son, about Crohn’s and about myself. And I will hang on to hope. Hope for brighter days. Hope for a cure. Hope for health. And hope that with each day, my baby will grow stronger.
We are all a little fragile.