Depression, Reflection and Loneliness: The Journey of Grief For Parents and Families Who Have Children With Special and Unique Needs


We continue to focus on our series entitled “The Movement of Grief” as we reflect on the various movements that families experience in living with children who have special and unique needs.  Today we will talk about the fifth movement of grief, “Depression, Reflection, and Loneliness”

In December of 2009, it all came to a head, a perfect storm of sorts.  I was experiencing the most challenging time of my life.  It was just over 4 years since our son had been diagnosed with autism, his behaviors were off the chart, we were not seeing much progress with his development and on top of it all, we were facing a financial crisis as a family.  I was one year into a family leave that I chose to take from my career after feeling overwhelmed, depressed and conflicted.

It was weeks away from the Christmas holidays.  There was no one in the house that morning so I started a fire in the fireplace, I poured a cup of coffee and I sat on the hearth next to the crackling fire in silence, and I began to think.   I thought about the entirety of our journey that brought us to this point.   There were a lot of thoughts going through my head that morning; our son’s diagnosis, his challenging behaviors, his developmental delays, the therapies that we had invested in that didn’t produce the results we had hoped for, the financial challenges that we were experiencing and the stress that we were encountering as a family.  To top it all off, I was really questioning my purpose and value in this life while thinking about the mountain of challenges that we were up against as a family.  It all felt insurmountable.

I felt depressed.  I felt all alone.  I felt isolated.  I had very little hope.

Life had changed.  It wasn’t the life that I had signed up for.  As a result of our son’s diagnosis, it put stress and strain on the relationships that had been a part of our lives up to that point.   Let’s be honest, one of the most significant contributing factors in deciding who we bring into our lives and who will be in our circle of friends is based upon the degree of need that they present.   When a family has a child with special and unique needs the circle of family and friends who can REALLY be trusted and relied on generally is quite small in number.  In addition to the challenges of having a child with special and unique needs, the lack of support can leave a family feeling quite isolated and alone.   

Depression, Reflection, and Loneliness is the last of the more unsettling stages in the movement of grief and yet it can be the longest and most influential stage in the process.  This stage can last a very long time and there’s no telling how you will cope with it.  During this time, you finally realize the true magnitude of your loss, and it depresses you. You may isolate yourself on purpose, reflect on things you that you had hoped to experience with your child, and focus on memories of the past.

As much as that time in my life proved to be one of the darkest times for me personally, that period of my life proved to be one of the most enriching times as well.   I found myself doing a great deal of reflection and assessment.  I explored who and what mattered to me the most to me.  I considered where I wanted to invest my time and energy.   I thought about the relationships that had been a part of my life and also the ones that could no longer find the energy to continue to walk with us.   It was in facing the darkness that I began to discover my true self.

The only way to come out on the other side of some of the most challenging moments that we face in parenting a child with special and unique needs is to look them in the eye, face them directly and push through them.  We can’t avoid them.  This very principle is true as we work through our experience with depression, reflection, and loneliness.

Here are a few closing thoughts on navigating this particular movement in grieving.

  • Love yourself as if you are your very own best friend. Find the time to take care of yourself, love yourself and only speak positive words about yourself. Though it can be challenging to find time for “self” make this your very first priority.
  • Resource yourself with care providers, therapists, respite care workers and educators who understand. These people will prove to bring you a sense of hope when life seems hopeless.  Be selective and don’t settle for less than what you or your child deserves.
  • Identify those cherished friends who will be there for you no matter what. These are the people who will be your foundation and rock during these moments in your life and are not intimidated easily.  Lisa is not only the co-founder in Celebrate Hope, but both she and her husband are my VERY best friends.  They get it, they understand it, they don’t waiver in their commitment to me and my family, they are ALWAYS there for us.  They are the type of people that we need.

As we have said all along with this series on grief, the journey of grief is just that, a journey.   It is a journey that is unique to each and every one of us.  There is no right or wrong way to move through grief, it is what it is and it is your journey to take.

Next week, Lisa and I will continue our series as we talk about “Reconstructing our Dream”.   We would be honored to walk with you if you are a parent of a child who has special and unique needs. In addition to working with families, we help provide systems of support in educational environments and in the workplace for not only parents but also educators and employers.  Be sure to check out our website at  http://www.celebratehopellc.com. You may also reach us (248) 330-8493.


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