Dear Fellow Trauma Parents

No child should experience what your child is right now. No parent should experience what you are right now. No parent should witness their child’s suffering. Yet here you are.¬† Here we are.

Everything has changed. Forever. That’s dramatic. But that doesn’t make it any less real.

I know what it is like to have the rug pulled out from under you. To have all of your plans and dreams permanently shattered right before your eyes. Let no one tell you different. That is what has happened to you and to your baby.

Having walked- no, dragged my ass through a similar road- I wish I could take your pain from you. Take your hurt away. Make your baby better. But, I cannot. And neither can you, and I know that that is the hardest part. The helplessness. The fear that smells like hospital soap and tastes like bile and rage.

This sucks. Sucks. It sucks so bad. Everything that you are feeling is normal. And what you and your baby are experiencing right now is not normal. It is OK to grieve that. You have to grieve it.

I know that there are people in your life who are trying to be helpful. They are filling your Facebook feed and texting you with messages of hope and “this too shall pass,” and “you’re almost there,” or “I can’t imagine,” or the worst one, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” Bullshit. I call uncle. God has nothing to do with this and everything to do with carrying you through it.

They mean well. They’re still good people. But you are in a different category now. You are not like them. You never will be again. What is happening to you, to your child, to your family, it is changing you. It is making you into a different person from the inside out. You are in the beginning stages of your “new normal” and you will not go back to who you were before. That person is gone.

Your new normal involves an entire team of people who were strangers to you just days ago. They are your family, now, your tribe. You believe in them. You trust them in ways you didn’t know were possible. You know things you shouldn’t know. Medical terms. Diagnoses. Prognoses. Some days, you will barely make it out of bed because the weight of your new life is too much. Other times, a ray of hope will worm its way into your heart and you will smile again. A real smile. Not a fake smile like the one you wear for your mother-in-law or your co-workers. Joy is not gone forever. It just looks different than it did before. And in many ways, it’s better. More pure.

I will not tell you that when this is over, you will look back on this time and feel awash with gratitude for all you have been through. Because this will never be over. And I know that there is nothing you wouldn’t do to take this from your child, to swallow it whole and let it be you instead. It is jarring that your greatest lessons as a parent have come to you through your child’s trauma. Something inside you has been broken.

It is OK.

Broken things can still be useful and beautiful. The crack makes them beautiful.

Continue to let people help you. Post on social media, share or not, rage, sleep, drink, hold each other. Do what you have to do. Lean into your fear, your hurt, your anger. It is healing. Lean into the prayers of others and let them hold you. We are carrying you. I promise.

I am thinking of you. I am praying for you. Tomorrow, you will get up and do it all again.

You can do this. You have to do this. You will do this.

Reconciliation

This year our older son will make his First Reconciliation (Penance, Confession). This sacrament involves an examination of your conscience and then a confession of your sins to a priest. My husband and I went to the parent meeting this morning. The very scattered, but in the end very wise, Religious Education Director asked us to go around in a circle (shudder, shudder) and share our experiences with this sacrament. I am a “cradle Catholic,” meaning born and raised. I went to Catholic grade school, high school, and even college. I cannot remember the last time I went to Confession.

As we went around the circle sharing our experiences, a common and very sad theme emerged. Few of us in that room had a positive experience with Reconciliation and only one parent continued to go regularly. Many of the people in the room were in my age cohort and our early, formative experiences of church and sacrament were focused on shame, guilt, and fear. One woman shared that her first Confession was so awful that she is still getting over it. Oy.

Almost all of my early experiences in church were focused on things that I had done wrong (shame). I had chosen to sin (guilt). I had made God angry with my bad choices (talk about fear! Yikes!). At my grade school, we had to carry a discipline folder at all times. It had one piece of paper in it and one piece only. The color of that paper changed every quarter. If you committed some sort of infraction, you were given a check on your discipline sheet. Ten checks equaled a major, which equaled a detention. Not having your folder was check-worthy. What the what? The focus, as I remember it, was punitive. The focus was on doing wrong, not on striving to do better.

Somehow I managed to never get a detention. Although in sixth grade, I dropped the F bomb at recess, which should have been an automatic major, but the teacher took mercy on me and instead, reamed into me in the hallway so all my peers could hear. That was uplifting and life-giving.

My #oneword2014 is risk. I am taking a big personal risk here and for the first time publicly calling out the church. You failed us. You failed an entire generation of young people who are now trying to raise our children in the same faith that failed us. You taught us to live in fear. You taught us that we were beings who needed fixing, not gifts that could be polished or refined or shone for a greater, higher purpose.

I made my first confession in second grade. Everyone did. It was just the hoop that you went through. The only things I remember from that day are: one of my classmates bawling his eyes out because he was so nervous and me making up some story about not eating my vegetables and disobeying my parents. I have no idea what I wore, how long it lasted, or how many times I have gone to Confession since then. Clearly a formative experience that stuck.

In my time to share, I stated that I could not remember the last time I went to confession. Yet, I feel deeply connected to the Eucharist and we attend Mass regularly as a family. Both of these are true. I love going to church and I love going to our church in particular. It feeds me, literally and spiritually. I love the music, the sense of community, the diversity.

I started the meeting with a chip on my shoulder, thinking that L would jump through this Reconciliation hoop too and then that would probably be the end of it. I don’t go to Confession. I don’t need to because I confess my sins before I go to Communion. I pray for forgiveness and strength, daily. Isn’t that a confession of sorts? As the meeting progressed, the Religious Ed Director shared her own experiences with the sacrament. She joined the church as an adult and said, “I feel very fortunate that my own formation was so positive.” She then shared a new analogy for the sacrament. She encouraged us to think about it like you would a relationship with a personal trainer. You don’t go and get beat up because you ate a doughnut or didn’t work out. You go to make improvements, to get better, more fit. Confession is not a program about what you did wrong. It’s about a clean slate so you can be the best version of yourself.

Whoa! What a refreshing and life-giving idea! Talk about a complete paradigm shift from the lessons I learned as second grader in 198…. What a wonderful way to think about this sacrament. She then encouraged us to think about going to Confession regularly (whatever that looks like for you personally). If we go, then our children will go. If you only do something once, “it won’t stick” she said. And, they will value it even less because there was no purpose or meaning behind it.

Gut check.

I grew up in a household where one parent’s motto was “Do as I say, not as I do.” I often feel that this was the motto of the church in which I was raised as well. This is hypocritical at best and the first violation of good parenting. Children will see everything¬†you do and remember very little of what you say. Yet, when I acted in a way that was consistent with what I observed, I was shamed and made to feel less than. I do not want that for my own children. If I am going to require that they invest time in the sacraments, then I must as well. Do as I do, not as I say.

So, in keeping with my #oneword2014, I will be going to Confession. Soon.