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How to cope when your child has had a permanently disabling accident or illness

Seven years ago, our son was diagnosed with severe brain damage. This was a very devastating experience to our family at the time, but one which has proved to have its blessings. Some of the things that have helped us over the years to cope with the experience are:

  • Remember that you have lost the potential of a child. This can be as devastating as death so expect to have feelings of grief. These feelings are normal.- Find out everything you can about the disability through books, articles and, most of all, asking lots of questions of therapists, doctors and social workers. The more you know, the less you fear the unknown.
  • Seek out support groups for parents, families and siblings. A wealth of knowledge can be learned from those who have been there already.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for and accept help. Many times, ward members, family members and friends don't know what kind of help you need, so when they ask what they can do, don't be afraid to tell them.
  • Don't be afraid to seek help from community, private and government agencies. Many of these provide services to families with disabled family members. They can also help with financial support. These agencies can be found by asking doctors, therapists, social workers and other parents.
  • Don't forget your own physical well-being. Get enough sleep, exercise and try to eat well. It is a lot easier to cope with your situation if you are not over-tired and run down.
  • Try to keep the family situation as normal as physically possible. It is easy to let the one child take all of your time and energy, but your other children's lives are important, too.
  • Stay close to your Heavenly Father through prayer, scripture study and Church attendance. The plan of salvation is a great comfort when illnesses and accidents change lives like they do. - Linda Wayman, Riverton, Utah

What we did:

Each day at a time

I was a less-active member when my son was severely injured and totally disabled at age 14. I reached out for the comfort the gospel offers and found the strength I needed to face each day. Prayer and scripture study helped me find peace as I waited a year for him to wake from a coma.

Trust in the Lord and face one day at a time. Concentrate on abilities rather than disabilities. Pray for help in accepting what has happened, seek temple blessings and have your child receive his or her patriarchal blessing. Accept Church callings; this will help take your focus from yourself and your child's problems and give you a chance to help and serve others.

It has now been 10 years since the accident. My son and I are both active members of our ward, and I know my son is an inspiration and a good example to others of how to accept adversity.

I also appreciated visits from the home teachers and visiting teachers because there were many months and even years when we were not able to leave home very often. With the help of the Lord this burden does become lighter as the years go by. Try not to dwell on what might have been. - Cheryl Cleveland, Puyallup, Wash.

Seeming tragedy

When our 7-year-old son accidently fell at a summer playground party, we didn't expect the bump on his head to be serious. But after three surgeries, the doctor diagnosed him legally deaf. President Spencer W. Kimball, in his pamphlet Tragedy or Destiny?, helped us sort things out at a time when logical thinking was clouded and difficult.

Twelve years later, at age 19, our son serves as a sign language missionary, blessing the lives of many hearing-impaired people. Prayers combined with patience helped us eventually understand the benefit of a seeming tragedy. - Sandra Phillips, La Habra Heights, Calif.

Scripture brought peace

When I realized our 11-month-old baby was seriously ill, the words, "Be still, and know that I am God," (Ps. 46:10) came into my mind over and over again as we drove to the hospital. It has been two years since that drive, but those words still bring great peace to my soul.

Among the many things I have learned is patience. Realize everyone copes with adversity in different ways. Allow others to mourn in their own way. Be patient with those who don't understand the particulars of your child's disability. When life doesn't turn out the way you expect, remember, "Be still and know that I am God." - Lorna Lee R. Anderson, Soda Springs, Idaho

Faith, hope

On Christmas Eve in 1993, our then-17-year-old son, Jason, was in a ski accident, breaking his neck and leaving him paralyzed from the shoulders down. He suffered a head injury and lost most of his sight.

He and our family have many challenges, but we've learned to take things one day at a time and try to enjoy every day as much as we can. We focus on places and activities that Jason can go to. We've been able to be home nearly two years due to wonderful part-time nursing that enables us to function as a family unit and spend time with our three married daughters and their families and each other. We try not to dwell on what Jason doesn't have, but concentrate on the things he is able to do. There are two things no one can take from us, unless we allow them to do so - our faith and our hope. - Darwin and Jean McPhie, Nibley, Utah

Don't blame self

Many times we try to blame ourselves for an illness or accident - "Maybe I could have prevented this." But guilt prevents us from facing the reality. The sooner we accept the challenge, the sooner we can see the Lord's hand in all things and begin a road of love and learning. Though it can be frightening and painful, the Lord knows how much we can bear. - Coralee Mansfield, South Jordan, Utah

Be willing to learn

In March 1987, my nephew was struck by a car after darting out in the street. He sustained a severe head injury and some permanent disabilities. In January 1988, my daughter was involved in an automobile accident and also suffered a head injury. Among the things our families learned are the following:

  • Stay close to the Lord. There is a tendency to say, "Why us?" or "What did we do to deserve this?" Instead, ask, "What can I learn from this?" "How can I help my child?"
  • Be willing to learn and change. Your family may have to make many adjustments in order to accommodate your ill or disabled child. For instance, our child was very well-behaved and intelligent, but regressed emotionally and began to throw great tantrums after the accident. We had to come up with a family plan to deal with this when it happened.
  • Be willing to fight for the rights of your child. You will need to learn to ask many questions and be very involved. Many times, the help that is available to you is not freely offered unless you ask because it costs money and takes time. For instance, in most areas, a child with a disability is entitled to be evaluated for an Individualized Education Program that will suit his or her needs. - Katherine Chambers, Mesa, Ariz., and Kurt and Lisa Chambers, Glendale, Ariz.

How to checklist:

  1. Seek strength, comfort through prayer, scriptures.
  1. Accept support of loved ones, friends; allow grief.
  1. Learn about disability; focus on child's abilities.
  1. Take care of self physically, spiritually; don't blame self.

Write to us:

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Had any good experiences or practical success in any of the above subjects? Share them with our readers in about 100-150 words. Write the "How-to" editor, Church News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, Utah 84110, send fax to (801) 237-2121 or use internet E-mail: [email protected] Please include a name and phone number. Contributions may be edited or excerpted and will not be returned. Due to limited space, some contributions may not be used; those used should not be regarded as official Church doctrine or policy. Material must be received at least 12 days before publication date.

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