A Letter to the Parents Who are Chronically Ill – You are Not a Failure
My mum has a chronic illness. She’s been sick for as long as I can remember. Mum, this letter is for you.
Dear Parent with a Chronic Illness,
You don’t have to say it aloud. I’ve read it in your sighs, your looks, your actions.
The confession. The apology.
My sickness has damaged the happiness of my child.
I, who brought them into the world, who had all these plans, these hopes – have been able to do one percent of all I dreamed.
I wasn’t the one to bake with them, to take them to the beach, to bush walk, to laugh – someone else did these things, and sometimes, no one did them.
Am I a failure?
You don’t think these thoughts all the time. You are too strong, too smart, too sensible, for that. Your hope in the life that will be (which will more than make up for this one) is too tenacious. And yet, sometimes, I suspect these thoughts wander through your mind. I know they would wander through mine, were the situations reversed.
So I write you this letter. Not because written words can replace spoken ones, but because there’s something formal about them, something reassuring. Besides, this letter is long, and often you don’t have the energy or health for an extended emotional chat. And that is okay.
Where should I start?
I could remind you that I love you (and would never wish you away), simply because you are my mother. But you would laugh and shrug that off, because you believe that “all children think that.” Perhaps you are right.
I could explain that I never wanted any of the things healthy parents give their children. I never wanted to bush walk or cook or play Monopoly. And while that would be true in one sense (you are more important than your gifts), it would be a lie to say I have never dreamed of an alternative life with a healthy version of you in which we did those things.
I could shrug away your concerns and point out that none of this matters, because we can’t change the past and we have a future to look forward to. What will be will be. But that would be unhelpful, as it would trivialize your pain and mine.
So instead of explaining that your sickness has not minimized my life, I will tell you how it has enriched it.
Because you are sick, I know:
- What it is to give, even when you don’t receive.
- To receive even when you can’t give.
- To live in a world that does not revolve around me.
- To seek something better than this life.
- To comfort someone older than myself.
- To view sickness as just one component of a person, and to respect them.
- To love in plenty and in want.
- To accept that life is not perfect, not ideal, and that’s okay and even good.
Those are the lessons I’ve learned from your sickness, but you are not your sickness.
You are you.
And from you I’ve learned to love the elderly, to make do with little, to double question every fact and make rational decisions, to delight in animals (even those society does not deem cute!), to care enough about my appearance to look nice when I ought to, and not to care when I can’t, and most of all … to persevere, to get up and live each day, not because it’s exciting, not because life is always good, not because things are going my way, but because that is how we love others. And that is how we live for God.
Dear Parent with a Chronic Illness,
At times you may feel like a failure. You may feel as though you have little to offer, and even less to delight in. You may feel as though you have not changed the life of your child one iota.
But know this:
In loving, you have taught your child how to love. In being imperfect, you have trained your child to seek perfection only in God. In being sick, you have shown your child how to genuinely live this life with all its ups and downs.
Dear Parent, you are loved, and your sickness has not lessened who you are, but has added to it.
Illness is not a good thing, but it has brought good.
Even if you can’t see it yet.
Child of a Chronically Ill Parent