This week is exactly what a family vacation should be. Well, almost exactly. As I snap a photo of all the smiling faces I feel a knot tighten in my stomach. A man behind us marvels, “Wow 5 kids!” I nod and smile, but my mind is with the one who isn’t here. The hollowness I feel is vast. I’m surrounded by so much love but still feel the emptiness of missing the one.
There is no question that this is the most peaceful vacation we’ve been on since my son was 2 years old. His absence has brought an almost instant sense of serenity. That realization in itself is disturbing. The contradictory feelings of deep love and gripping anxiety have lived in my heart for nearly a decade.
Before my son came to live with us, he lived through unspeakable trauma. His disjointed memories of terror have played out in a drama of sorts. Mom, Dad, Brothers and Sisters play various roles, as our son tries to sort through the fear that now resides only in his mind.
Fear is the rudder that steers his every move. It’s at the core of who he has become. Fear is in the edginess of his voice. It’s in the way he snatches more food than necessary. Fear drives his need for more. More food, more clothes, more toys, more attention…more control. Fear was the mother that bore the hyper vigilance that now lives in his every move.
The fear I see breaks my heart. I long to take it away; to insert the trust of a loving family into his broken soul. It doesn’t work that way and I know it.
When he was a baby, I sewed my own wrap and wore him close to my heart. I wrapped him tightly to my back anytime we were in public. As a pre-schooler I cradled him in my arms as he raged and fought. By elementary age I found myself gently removing fistfuls of my hair from his clinched fists. I talked softly as the fear and fury slipped from him each time he boiled over. By his pre-teen years the fear had turned to violence, the tantrums threatening the safety of siblings and self.
As we drew our attention away from our son, we surveyed the ariel view of our family. We began to comprehend the toll that his fear had taken. Like the aftermath of a storm, our other children were also suffering the destruction of our first son’s trauma. Tattered and torn, our entire family had been limping along on this journey of raising a traumatized child.
After years of searching for resources, we were tired and broken. Each time we allowed ourselves hope, that hope was quickly dashed. Our son’s IQ was too low or too high. Our therapist didn’t believe in Attachment Disorder. The psychiatrist doubted his diagnosis. The caseworker thought we were the cause of the trauma. The police babied him. The habilitation provider quit. Special schools wouldn’t take him because he was too young, too complicated, too aggressive, or too smart. Finally, with only the tiniest bit of hope, we prayed desperately for a solution. The Lord answered our prayers and a place opened at a boarding school. They prayerfully accepted his application and for the first time in years we began again to feel hope for our son, our family, and our future.
Our son is doing well at his new school. He is provided with a structure that no family can create. He is provided with gentle firmness. Finally he is learning skills to deal with his fear. He is living in the present, not in the place of remembered fear. The rest of our family is learning a new way to relate. We are also living in the present, not bracing ourselves for the next tantrum, and just enjoying what each day has to offer.
So that leaves me here, snapping the picture, feeling the emptiness. Inside the emptiness is something new- HOPE! This empty picture is just for now. It’s a temporary loneliness filled with the anticipation of a new future. One in which we ALL enjoy our vacation. One in which we all heal together. This empty picture is about growth, renewal and restoration for us all.
Have you walked a similar road? Are you dealing with severe behavior in one of your kids, or, living with the reality that your child can’t live at your home currently? Share your story with us.