There are some days that live with you forever.
Some of those days are best days of your life – the day you got married or the birth of your child. Days that bring complete and utter happiness that it takes your breath away even years later.
Others might be the worst.
For my family, we had one of the latter not long ago.
On September 11, 2016, we endured one of the worst family tragedies, one that I hope no one ever experiences.
Early in the afternoon, my husband got a call that his father had been in a motorcycle accident. We didn’t know details, but his dad was still talking so we hoped for the best.
After hours of waiting at the hospital and gathering with family and friends, news finally came that my father-in-law was paralyzed from the chest down. He couldn’t talk anymore and had very little control of his hands. That day changed the way our family functioned.
I’ll never forget my son’s face when he saw his grandpa for the first time, post-accident. My husband and I decided that bringing our son to see his grandpa was the best thing we could do – hopefully it would bring my husband’s father some happiness in the midst of tragedy and remind him why he needed to fight and work hard in rehab.
We walked into the hospital room, my husband carrying our son, to see his grandpa hooked to endless amounts of tubes and cords, with road rash covering part of his head.
Our son was scared to the verge of tears. He didn’t talk and buried his head in my husband’s shoulder.
That day, we made a conscious decision to let our son learn about pain and devastation at a very young age. During the past two years, we’ve made that decision over and over again so our son can continue to have a relationship with his grandfather. From being at home with my mother-in-law to being admitted into various hospitals, from the highs of chasing our son with his wheelchair to the lows of being hospital-bound with pressure ulcers, we still encourage our son to bond with his grandpa.
Trust me when I tell you it’s not an easy decision to make.
I still struggle with this every day. Some days I feel great about it – like when our son sees someone in a wheelchair at Target and says, “That’s like Pawpaw’s wheelchair! How cool!” I absolutely adore how he approaches people that are different from him with such grace and admiration.
Other days, I wonder if our toddler spending so much time in hospitals in his short four years will scar him for life.
I don’t know the answer for sure. I don’t know what’s right for you. What I can tell you are some things that helped us teach our toddler how to deal with devastation, but I hope you never have to do the same.
1. Make a decision and stick to it.
Decide how you’re going to approach the situation, whatever you’re facing, and stick to it. Don’t backtrack or apologize for it. Only you know what’s right for your family. In our case, this was the decision to let our two year old see his grandpa, tubes attached and all.
2. Be as calm as you can.
It’s okay to cry when times get tough, just remember that how you react will set the tone for your kid. The sooner you accept this life change, the easier it will be for your kid to adapt.
3. Have open conversations.
Speaking of crying, be honest with your kids. Tell them when you’re sad. Make sure they know it’s okay to be sad and scared and whatever else they might be feeling. Being honest will help your kids feel safe and calm when they need to express their emotions.
4. Don’t expect it to be easy. Ever.
The fact is, devastating life changes happen and they are always, ALWAYS hard. This is no different for kids. Now add in that they’re confused and overwhelmed by big, new emotions. There will be setbacks. Your kid might be doing fine one day and completely withdrawn the next. That’s part of them learning to deal. If you ever question yourself, see number one.
The truth is, there is no “easy” way to get through tough life changes. It is hard for everyone and that’s OK. The most important thing to remember is that you are doing your best for your family and, together, you can get through anything.
Tracie is a working mom of two boys, ages 4 years and 3 months. With two boys and a husband who is a baseball and softball coach, she spends most of her time at a field.
When not at a game or working, she enjoys reading, volunteering, refurbishing furniture and shopping. She and her family live in her husband’s hometown of Moore.