Dear Family,

I don’t have many disabled friends, although time and again, friends and friends-of-friends give me numbers to call of people adjusting to a disability, disease, or illness. In addition to living with a disability, my counseling experience seems the perfect fit. I can listen with an empathetic ear, answer personal questions, and offer practical solutions for daily living. Before moving away, one of these women became a dear friend.

She was a go-getter. Obstacles were met with determination. She thought of tomorrow as the result of what she made of today. She was, and I’m sure she still is, a trooper. We lost touch after she and her husband moved. It was fun with the both of us rolling around together in our homes. I hadn’t been in a room full of wheelchairs since rehab!

From all the conversations getting to know my comrades-on-wheels, with the exclusion of my friend Julie, this is what I’ve found: Most of them succumbed to disability.

Understandably, they were overwhelmed with the drastic lifestyle change. But, the added stress of dashed dreams, the uncertainty of tomorrow, and pressure to adjust before the impact of the new reality had sunk in, brought an emotional tailspin—depression. This is when family is needed the most, but it was their families that seemed to be the insurmountable barrier to their emotional freedom and physical independence.

Caustic remarks fueled emotional eruptions. Innuendos, hints, and sarcastic tones of unspoken resentments from care-giving family members were destructive to all; particularly, the ones with broken wings. They couldn’t fly away to safety, and healing. They were sentenced to flop around and be pecked to death.

The saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” is untrue. Words maim, as well.

Family should be a safe environment nurturing us back into a productive life. Even so, it’s difficult for you who love us to stand back and watch the struggle—dressing, feeding, wheeling ourselves—when you could easily do it for us. But, we need to be allowed the struggles. This not only increases our endurance but also our confidence toward independence.

We need to care for ourselves, apply make-up, or shave. We need time for our doubts and confusion to settle. We need time to gain confidence on the slippery slope of acceptance toward a healthy adjustment. We need to be encouraged to hope, to make plans for a new future. Because when the time comes, we need to know we will be okay on our own. After all, isn’t this true for anyone?

We don’t want to feel helpless. We don’t need to feel we’re a burden. Help us not to be either.

We are aware that it’s a difficult adjustment for you. We do know you’re suffering, as well. Your dreams for and with us have been altered. You miss the way we were. You feel guilty because you do. It’s natural. It’s okay. You have your own adjustment. Together, we can do it.

Once we gain emotional freedom, prove our independence, and begin to laugh again, you can push us around.  We’ll accept a freebie, any day.


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