The child was about 12 years old and weighed about that many pounds or a few more. As a young high school aged student I didn’t know how to relate, respond, or inquire about my friends sibling that I was seeing (not meeting) for the first time. I’d known my friend for at least 3 years, and not once did my friend mention this sibling. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. It was my first introduction to someone having a family member with special needs….and quite severe needs to be sure.
This sibling made no eye contact, arms were flailing, drooling, and making noises. My friend might have mentioned their name but I might have been too stunned to hear it. What actually stunned me the most was that I never knew of this special needs person in their life. Even after that, I don’t recall my friend ever saying anything further. I didn’t know what to ask, something I wished I been able to figure out; and did regret.
It seemed such a secret; I guess I figured the topic was off limits.
Fast forward to our life with our son Joey. As he nears 40 years old, he has never been a secret; he’s always been our story. While I’m sure my friends’ sibling had woven much specialness into their family, as Joey has in ours, it wasn’t shared very much – or at least I wasn’t aware of it if it was. It’s hard sharing some stories, and not all stories need or should be told. Some are just for our family. Perhaps there is that part of us that wants to protect our loved one and not share the really hard or really personal or private things that, if the person could understand, would embarrass them.
No matter the reason for some of the secrecy some of us feel we need, we felt that God used Joey to weave so many wonderful things into our individual lives, our marriage, and our family that we felt the need to share it with younger families on this journey (and also with others) as a way to instill hope, give encouragement, and help them to take the next steps with a positive attitude.
Sharing our story through our books, speaking, and meeting with others has been how we’ve done it, but no matter where we are on this special needs journey, there is someone a few steps behind us that has lost hope, is in denial, doesn’t know what to do, has little help from family members, or other challenges that might make them give up if not for one of us to be there to help them in those next steps. Giving others “permission” to feel frustrated, lonely, angry at times, and even on the verge of quitting can be so helpful when no one else seems to understand….because unless they’re on a similar journey….they don’t understand.
Perhaps we can all take a moment and ask ourselves if there is someone new to this special needs journey to offer a listening ear, prayers, and even some practical helps when they need it. We might not have all the time and answers, but we do what we make time for. Let’s help someone in his or her next step; maybe then there won’t need to be a secret…but there will emerge a sweet story!
Dr. Joe and Cindi Ferrini share their newest book: Love All-Ways: Embracing Marriage Together on the Special Needs Journey (order at www.cindiferrini.com). They are authors, speakers, and bloggers for several blogging sites on marriage, family and special needs. They speak nationally for FamilyLife Weekend To Remember Marriage Get-a-Ways, authored Unexpected Journey – When Special Needs Change our Course, and have been interviewed on Focus on the Family, FamilyLife Today, Janet Parshall at “In the Market”, Chris Brooks of “Equipped” and various other radio and television venues. Connect with them at:
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