Spousal Relationships when Dealing with Special Needs Children – Part I: Grief

Grief Special Needs Child 2I remember laying in bed the night the doctor diagnosed our son, Will, with lung disease.  Earlier that day, the doctor informed us that our son would need oxygen 24 hours a day.  He told us that doctors did not know much about the long-term affects of the disease.  The disease had only been “discovered” about 10 years earlier.  That day, our son’s future suddenly became unclear.

As Tyler and I lay next to each other, staring at the ceiling, with tears running down our cheeks, we talked about Will’s future.  Our conversation went something like this:

Tyler: “Well, I guess he’ll only ever be able to play golf.”

Me:  “No way.  This might not look like what we expected, but Will is going to be fine.”

We still shed tears and worked to adjust to our new future, but my adjustment seemed to happen more quickly than Tyler’s adjustment happened.

Fast forward six years…I walked down the hall of the hospital right after finding out that David’s “episodes” were seizures.  I felt hollow.

After the diagnosis, each time David had a seizure, I freaked out.  Gasping for breath.  Panicking.  Crying.  I could not handle knowing that seizures consumed David.  Panic attacks hit me for weeks.

HERE IS THE IMPORTANT PART…how did Tyler handle David’s diagnosis?  COMPLETELY DIFFERENTLY than me.  Tyler’s heart stayed calm. He kept saying, “Trish, it’s going to be fine.  David is going to be fine.”

With Will’s diagnosis, I had an easier time coming to terms with it than Tyler.  With David’s diagnosis, Tyler had an easier time coming to terms with it than me…and that is okay!


I’ll never forget Aimee talking about how she and Ryan had to GRIEVE when Tex was diagnosed with autism.  I had never thought about the fact that Tyler and I had grieved over Will’s diagnosis.  Recognizing our grief made a big difference for me.

I think it is important to understand that grief is a MAJOR part of receiving a diagnosis for a special needs child.  Grief does not just happen when someone dies.  Grief happens when there is a LOSS.  With a diagnosis that your child’s future looks differently than what you expected, grief comes.

I remember Aimee talking about how she and Ryan each grieved DIFFERENTLY with Tex’s diagnosis.  I immediately thought of how Tyler and I reacted differently to Will’s diagnosis.  Suddenly recognizing that our reactions that seemed so different, our view of our son’s future that seemed so different, our ability to move forward that came at different times, recognizing that all of those things translated into Tyler and I grieving in our own ways made everything so much better!  The times Tyler and I felt frustrated with each other because we did not understand why the other person said or did or felt differently…it was all because of grief!  We simply needed to grieve and everyone one of us grieves differently!

I’m no expert on grief.  But, for me, the road to getting through grief started with recognizing that Tyler and I WERE grieving.  For me, RECOGNIZING that Tyler and I were grieving helped me take a step back.  Recognizing that we grieve differently helped me love my husband even more; it helped me want to love him THROUGH our grief instead of feeling frustrated that he was not handling it like I was handling it.  At the same time, when it came time to grieve for David’s situation, recognizing that my grieving process took more time, that it felt desperate, helped me communicate my sadness with Tyler.  It helped us grieve TOGETHER even though we grieved differently.

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