A few years ago I was a mature student enrolled in a course exploring spirituality and suffering. As the mother of a medically fragile child, who at the time was quite ill and coping with chronic pain, the course was a rare opportunity to unravel some of my feelings about this journey I was on with my son. At this stage of my son’s life there was no doubt my son was suffering, and due to the deep connection between mother and child, my concurrent suffering was equally profound.
I was very early for class. The class was not scheduled to start for another thirty minutes and I was passing time sipping my Tim Horton’s coffee outside the classroom distractedly skimming some course reading. A few minutes later a fellow classmate arrived and we began talking about the day’s lecture topic. Eventually my classmate asked me what brought me to a class on spirituality and suffering. Without going in to too much detail I shared that I had a profoundly disabled child with complex medical issues and the class offered a unique opportunity to probe some of my own feelings about God and suffering.
Now I will pause here for a moment. Many parents who raise very complex children often have society tell them how strong and resilient they are. We get used to these responses. They often go something like, “Wow. I admire you. You must be amazing”. I have often described that response as the saints and superhero narrative. It has often seemed, that without knowing anything about me, people are quick to identify me as some sort of Mother Theresa and create this saintly story about what I must be like.
My classmate seemed to go one step beyond the standard response of “Wow!”. My classmate took a deep breath and took one step closer to me. She looked at me and asked if she could touch me to take part of “my amazing strength and energy”. I didn’t know what to do as she reached out and began stroking my arm. It was pretty weird. And surreal. I am fairly sure I laughed and said something like, “Strength and energy, if you only knew the truth”.
I personally hate the saints and superheroes narrative our cultures seems to pin on us caregivers. Superheroes are limitless beings and can move buildings and possess boundless energy. I assure you I have limits and my energy is starting to wane now that I am in my late forties. Saints work miracles, a skill I lack completely.
I am not a saint nor am I superhero. I can only wish. I am human. I need to sleep. I can no longer lift my son without risking injury, so forget about lifting those buildings. I cannot work miracles to relieve his pain, or prevent his illnesses. On many occasions I have stood by watching him suffer because there was nothing I could do. I am human. There is no strength or energy radiating from me.
If I had to share one thing with people who are quick to label me as Mother Theresa it would be that I am SO. VERY. NOT. I am the same as you and I am simply doing the best I can because I don’t have any choice in the matter. This is life and I owe it to my son to give it my best shot. Some days it is enough. Some days my best is completely lacking. Often I am, and have been, overwhelmed and exhausted and absolutely certain that this life is way more than I could ever handle. When you share with me that I am uniquely strong or special I am often left with feelings of inadequacy and shame because I know it is not true. Further, I feel that these comments place me in a situation where I am seemingly not allowed to have limits or boundaries, the former I assure you I have and the latter I desperately need.
Please see me for who I am. A very tired human being who would love your support and friendship, not your idolizing.