First of all, the affirmation of life—all life—is worth a significant focus. As a Christian, I stand with Anabaptist Disabilities Network in sharing the belief that God creates life, loves each individual, and provides hope during our times of great challenge. As a parent of an autistic child who has an accompanying mental illness, my heart grieves for the child in the news story who didn't receive adequate treatment and for the mother who felt so exhausted, alone, and desperate that she decided that she, her son, and a caregiver were all better off dead than dealing with life as it was.
So I ask myself, what separates me, and others who have children with complex special needs, from the mother who took the life of her son? Is it resources? Support system? Our choice of physicians? Am I in some way "better" than the mother who made this choice?
I know that I have made my own share of mistakes as a parent, and am not better than any other parent. While not driven to the point of absolute desperation, I have done things I never thought I would do. I have been the parent calling 911 because I was unable to handle my child's aggressive outbursts on my own. I slumped in the darkness of my living room when, time after time, she was hospitalized while the doctors tried to find medical answers for her extreme aggression. I stood in my kitchen and wept with my husband after she was finally arrested for battery, having caused increased injury to others with each outburst.
While I am no stranger to lengthy battles with extreme behaviors, somehow, in the midst of life's greatest challenges, hope survived. When we didn't know where to turn and doors repeatedly slammed shut, when darkness seemed to engulf us, hope remained—perhaps just a glimmer, but that was what we needed to get through the exhaustion, aloneness, and desperation. I still think back on the gut-wrenching difficulty of those days with a grateful heart that God kept that glimmer of hope alive when we needed it so.
But what is hope? Sometimes it is the belief that things may somehow get better. At other times, it is having just enough energy to get through another day. A lifestyle of faith, along with a willingness to actively seek out and utilize available resources and support, creates an environment where hope can flourish. If you are in need of hope, I invite you to read “Hope in Crisis," which appeared in the Connections newsletter and talk it over with a supportive friend.
Sue Cassel is a former Field Associate for Anabaptist Disabilities Network and former member of the board of directors.