Monday, June 22, 2009

In between sharing about the journey that I have been on let me share an exciting story from some friends of mine. They are the Fore Family and they live in the US and I have been in touch with Stephanie the mom for a few years now. They have a son Brady who has Angelman Syndrome - like Elijah.

The full story can be read at Brady's blog - or at

In short the Fore family were on holiday - it had been raining - Brady loving water when it stopped couldn't resist playing in the puddles - que the kids of Marcel Cairo who met Brady in the puddle and both family enjoyed a time of puddle splashing together, the parents met and Brady's parent shared something about Angelman Syndrome.

Marcel shares "

Though our time with Brady and his family was short, it was one of those life-changing moments you hear about on Oprah, and maybe not for the reasons you would assume. Sure, Brady and his syndrome elicit an instant empathy, but I had an epiphany, not just empathy.

The epiphany I experienced was not instant, nor was it sought. It basically crept up on me, and then on my wife, Leigh. When we left the campground in Florida, there were no long protracted goodbyes, no fanfare, no exchange of phone numbers, no promises, only a simple, “look us up on the web wen you get home and I hope you stay in touch,” from Brady’s mom, Stephanie.

Two weeks later, when I started making the movie of our camping trip and saw the footage of my kids playing with Brady, all those joyous feelings returned, and that’s when everything just came together in my head.

Camping isn’t just fun, it’s therapeutic. For Angelman kids and their families, camping is also an escape from the limitations of the syndrome. Angelman kids love to laugh, make noise, throw things, horse around, play in water and socialize. Parents of Angelman kids want to give their angels the freedom to do all those things daily, but without wrecking the whole house or turning the neighborhood upside down."

And from this "Big Happy Tent" was borne - check out this work - a foundation to help AS families go camping.

As I reflected on this wonderful encounter - I recognised an ability our kids have to enjoy the simple things and take delight in sharing the simple things with others I am learning to take time to enjoy the simple things.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Life is full of seasons and I guess this is one of these seasons for me, on the Journey of life. Down here in the Southern Hemisphere it's been Fall(Autumn) and is now Winter. Since Easter I feel like I have been in a bit of a trough, I hadn't felt so excited about alot of things. Things have been pretty ok but emotionally not alot of movement - not high but at the same time not low low. At the beginning of May I started to take stock of this. I started to do some more reading about where I felt I was. I began to read about loss, bereavement, depression. Did I think I was depressed ? well maybe. Did I think I needed to see the doctor ? Maybe, did I think I needed to take the path of medication again like I did in the latter part of last year? not sure that I did. Was how I was feeling connected to grief and bereavement - re the loss of Elijah - I am pretty sure it was. In April and in May I had given presentations about Angelman Syndrome to teacher aides and teachers at a special needs school here in Christchurch along with another mum whose son Daniel also has Angelman Syndrome. Had this amplified my loss? perhaps it had.

I did find myself asking questions like - do I still want to be part of working with families whose children's lives are impacted by Angelman Syndrome ? Did I still want to try and attend the ASF
conference in Orlando at the end of July? was was my motivation for doing so? was my life always going to be a journey of dealing with the grief of the loss of Elijah ?

As I began to read - there were some things that I could relate to - things like -

In Loss and Change (1986), Peter Marris wrote "The fundamental crisis of bereavement arises not from the loss of other but from the loss of self." When a child dies the "loss of self" is amplified.

Wow this resonated with me like a ton of bricks - I do recall reading in another book about loss of self in the context of amputation - something that is there no more and yet like amputees - there are feelings and experience of a phantom limb.

I know the basics - I am male - now 42, married to Julie, father to Francesca, work for Gen-ilive in Burwood, Christchurch etc. I now faced the questions of who am I to Elijah and who is he to me. I am Elijah's Dad, but he is not physically with me and so in a way I am not, but yet I still am. How do include him in conversations when people say do you have children ? I felt the need to read and understand something of other people's experience of losing their children, hoping it may may contribute to my understanding of mine.

I found full of insights and quote and experience which mirrored my own

Parental grief is boundless. It touches every aspect of [a] parent's being...When a baby dies, parents grieve for the rest of their lives. Their grief becomes part of them...As time passes, parents come to appreciate that grief is [their] link to the child, [their] grief keeps [them] connected to the child. - ARNOLD AND GEMMA, IN CORR ET AL. 1996, 50-51

As part of the grieving process, bereaved parents experience ups and downs and a literal roller coaster of emotions. For these parents, a personal history includes a past with the child and a present and future without the child. For most grieving parents, it is vitally important to verbalize the pain, to talk about what happened, to ask questions, and puzzle aloud, sometimes over and over.

There is no relationship like that of parent and child. It is unique and special...The bond between parent and child is so powerful that its strength endures time, distance, and strife. No loss is as significant as the loss of a child...On the death of a child, a parent feels less than whole. - ARNOLD AND GEMMA 1994, 25-27

Grieving parents should learn to be compassionate, gentle, and patient with themselves and each other. Grief is an emotionally devastating experience; grief is work and demands much patience, understanding, effort, and energy.

I found that these plus a whole bunch of other writings were putting into words what my journey has been like - especially how physically exhausting this journey can be at times.

Did this just flick the switch for me and things were suddenly different? No but it did help give me perspective on my journey and I began to read of other parents pain and journey and I recognised in them my own. I recognised companions on journey. Some of the journeys had points of familiarity others not. Not that I thought I as the only one on the jouney of grieving my son Elijah, but I have come to realise that good part of this is who I now am. I recognised I was in a season of disorientation - an opportunity for orientation. All part of my growth and experience as a human being as a man and as a Dad.

To becontinued