Parenting brings such joy sometimes the euphoria makes you want to explode into a million sparkles. Other times, though, the pain’s so great you’d like the whole world to collapse into a dark hole.
You suffer for your child. I’m not talking about him not fulfilling your dreams, not even the basic dream for them to be “normal”. My oldest son’s developmental disability, for instance, caused me untold pain.
He didn’t mind — I mean, not more than you’d mind being hopeless at backgammon or cross-country skiing. My pain stemmed from my own hang-ups and conviction that a life of purpose and satisfaction was extremely unlikely for a person with autism and low IQ.
Was I ever wrong! Diego, it turns out, is the person I know with the clearest purpose: to love fully (along with knowing everybody’s birthday and acquiring every single version of all Disney movies ever made).
In any event, the pain gradually led me to question my assumptions, face my bullshit, accept what is, and celebrate my amazing boy, autism and all.
All told, the pain enlightened me.
Is parental pain and suffering always enlightening though?
Hell no. Parenting involves the worst suffering for another person I have experienced.
Sure, I was sad and worried when my father was intubated and in an induced coma for weeks after a nearly fatal car accident.
But I felt like I was drowning in a swirling vortex of thick oil when my son Andres suffered a brain injury three years ago. I nearly couldn’t breathe on the way to the hospital.
I also mourned with Andres when a breakup nearly pulverized his heart.
And don’t expect the pain and suffering to diminish as your kids grow into adults and — perhaps — have their own kids. My mom once said to me she suffers double when my kids suffer. She aches for (1) her grandchild, and, (2) for me suffering over my child. Still, I do want grandkids! Go figure.
Yeah, your children will experience loss, disease and heartbreak. And you’ll suffer with them.
But that’s not the worst suffering one can imagine. Death is. Yes, death. Yours and theirs.
I don’t fear death per se, but my kids suffering because I died. I dread it so much I’ve told them — too many times probably — that if I suddenly die, I want them to know I don’t mind. Yeah, they can grieve for a little while. After that, they must smile when they think of me.
Your dying, however, is nothing compared to the opposite: your child dying before you, especially if the death is sudden and unexpected. It happens, even if we almost believe it cannot possibly happen.
That is, until you read about the famous hedge fund manager’s son who recently died in a car crash at the age of 42. Or about a fellow writer’s son who passed away unexpectedly. Then you think about parents you know who’ve lived through this nearly inconceivable loss.
And your heart goes out to them. And you think about your children. And your heart feels like it’s being wrung by The Hulk.
And you know, you know the magnitude of your love for your children can both crush and enlighten.