Being a friend to a special-needs mom can be challenging at times. I know because I am a special-needs mom and I’ve discussed this very thing with my girlfriends, who also happen to be the best group of friends anyone could ever ask for.
My friends were there when my daughter Reagan had a traumatic brain injury and lost all of her skills at 13 months old. They didn’t ask if I wanted them in the hospital, they were there, in the waiting room. They followed us to our room on the Neurology floor and experienced Reagan’s seizures at the same time my husband and I did. They received Dr. results with us and cried in the hallway of the hospital with us when we got our daughter’s MRI results. Appearances didn’t matter, letting us know they were there for us is all that mattered to them.
While in the hospital, my girlfriends and their husbands made sure we always had a good meal and they visited often. They made us talk about our feelings. They listened. They asked about our marriage to make sure we were doing ok. They asked hard questions and never judged how we handled the situations we were presented with. They walked alongside us.
After coming home, my girlfriends continually called, texted and asked how we were doing with our new normal. They still invited our family to birthday parties and dinners, even though we wanted to withdraw from life. They continued to pursue us when we were at our worst and not the most fun to be around. They sat in the mud and they camped in our valley. They didn’t rush us out of the valley, or tell us to clean up our act; they camped out for over a year in our valley, with us (and sometimes when we make a valley visit, my girls just set up camp). While we all hung out in that valley, they took time to learn how to operate Reagan’s G-tube, so that Rob and I could go out on a date and get reprieve.
Some friends even came to Reagan’s therapy sessions to learn what we were working on. My girlfriends used what happened to our daughter Reagan as an opportunity to teach their own children about special needs. They taught their kids how to pray, they taught their kids compassion and we learned side-by-side what it means to be in the world of special-needs parenting and how to be a friend to a special needs family and their child.
Sometimes I would lash out at my girlfriends and tell them there was no way they could ever understand my life. They quickly recognized my downward spirals on hard days and graciously said they knew that they could not understand…but they so badly wanted to. When I pushed away, they hugged me tighter. They were trying. They forgave me, a lot. They gave me a lot of grace and space to process everything and helped me along through my good and bad days. We had a lot of hard talks about how I needed them to be there for me. And they asked questions about how to best handle delicate situations rather than pretend they didn’t exist. They wanted to share their children’s milestones too, but didn’t know how to without the possibility of hurting me. I told them they can’t protect me from everything, I wanted to be there for them like they were there for me, and be excited for them when their children started walking, even though Reagan wasn’t, yet.
Being a good friend is tough enough, add in a major life crisis and the fight or flight instinct kicks in for everyone. My girls stood with me and fought, and they could write the handbook on how to do it. Together we learned that it’s not about always getting it right or saying the right thing. It’s about being there and being willing to hurt alongside your friend, not just for the moment, for the entire season. When you do that, it’s even more rewarding to watch the growth that happens. If you have a special needs family in your life, you can be there by offering genuine love and care; that’s always the right thing to do. Always.