One thing I enjoy after a long day of caregiving is watching a little television. I have been a fan of most of the Bravo Real Housewives series for years. My favorite has always been the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. I could call it a guilty pleasure, but I have no guilt watching it.
As I watched the story of Tom and Erika Girardi unfold this season, it stirred up emotions of sadness. Erika Girardi always appeared on the show with confidence and a fire in her soul. This season the camera captured a woman who is struggling. She seemed lost and abandoned.
I could empathize with the woman I saw on the show. She was invited to lots of parties and had an amazing social life. She had lots of friends and invitations to all the events. A circumstance came along that caused things to change. Overnight many of her friends quit calling and texting. The invitations no longer were coming in the mail (or inbox). Her circle of friends began to shrink.
Maybe you are curious about what Erika Girardi and I have in common. No, I was part of the A-list crowd and suddenly B (or C-listed) due to my husband’s alleged crimes. I am raising a child with physical and developmental delays.
I gave birth to two beautiful and incredible children. I had a close circle of friends that had kids at the same time. We did everything together. There were pool parties and sleepovers. We would plan vacations and weekends away together with the kids and without. We shared the struggles and joys of being moms. Our children played together and got along. These moms were my rock. They listened to me and loved me through the early years of tears, testing, therapies, and doctor’s appointments. They were the people I could call at any time. These women had my back.
When Emily turned 7, there was a shift. You could call it the 7-year itch (or perhaps the complexity of raising a child with physical and intellectual disabilities). The gap in ability between Emily and her peers widened as the kids grew older. She was unable to communicate her needs like her friends and would express herself loudly. She was unable to participate in the same activities as her typical friends. Her behaviors did not comply with “normal standards” of what is appropriate.
As her differences grew, our circle of friends shrunk. The invitations to parties quit coming. There were no more sleepovers.
I never discussed my pain with these women. I pretended I was good. My husband would hold me while I cried about missing a party or not being included. He could not understand my pain.
In retrospect, I realize I was grieving. I was sad for milestones that Emily would never reach. I was excluded from celebrating the milestones of kids I cared about. I was also grieving the loss of friendships that faded as Emily grew.
I did not set out to share this experience openly. Over the last several months, I have been able to find the words. They have been inside for years and longed to be expressed. I decided it was important to share my experiences as a guide or comfort to other moms just starting the journey of raising a child with physical or mental challenges.
Grief is a part of this journey. You can be grateful for the child you are blessed with and grieve things that will never be. There is beauty beyond the grief and grief within the beauty.