‘Awakenings’ – Learning the Value of Suffering

Détail d'une photo de Gemma Galgani

During the past year my 6 year-old son was diagnosed with autism, Tourette syndrome, and celiac disease. My 8 year-old daughter was diagnosed with dyslexia and anxiety disorder, and my 3-year-old daughter was also diagnosed as having celiac disease. Then a letter came from the school saying my son was colorblind. My husband took the letter, crumbled it and threw it across the yard. It was the last blow in a series of too many blows.

I was received into the Church at last year’s Easter Vigil after 20 years of agnosticism. As I learned of my children’s autism and dyslexia diagnosis I was also learning about the Catholic faith. Praying the Rosary gave me strength and helped me understand.

As I fought against shock and denial, I learned acceptance as Mary graciously welcomed her fate. As I cried while watching my children struggle, I heard Jesus say, “Not my will, but Yours be done,” and I learned how to let go. As I watched my husband bend under the weight of the sorrow he felt, I learned how to help him carry his cross.

Treatment for celiac disease is no gluten (wheat) for life. I wondered how my pizza, bread and pasta loving children could do it. I wondered how I could do it. I turned to the Saints.

Jesus once said to me: “Do you know, daughter, for what reason I send crosses to souls dear to me? I desire to possess their souls, entirely, and for this I surround them with crosses, and I enclose them in sufferings and tribulation, that they may not escape from my hands; and for this I scatter thorns, that souls may fasten their affections upon no one, but find all content in Me alone. My daughter, if you do not feel the cross it cannot be called a cross.Be sure that under the cross you will not be lost. — St. Gemma Galgani

If you were to ask me “Why Catholic?” I would say, “Because through Catholicism I have learned the value of suffering and that has lifted me up and brought me joy.”

At our children’s Masses there is often a picture projected on the wall as we sing “Hallelujah” of a little girl in a field. Looking up, arms stretched toward heaven, she is smiling. When I see this image I am brought to tears. It is a child full of joy, love and trust. Similarly, my children do not dwell on their disabilities but rather exude love, trust and happiness. As an adult, the suffering I have felt for my children and, in time, the thanksgiving, has brought me closer to this pureness of being. I believe this is the “me” that love has chosen to break so as to embrace.

Like many parents of children with disabilities, I am not where I thought I would be but am in a much better place than I planned. I understand now the trials we face as a family are a blessing. In fact, without the autism diagnosis we might never have been given the tests that uncovered the celiac disease (which can be fatal).

I once believed religion was for people who could not stand on there own. Now I understand that we never stand on our own. During the past year Catholicism has taught me what love is, how to love and the value of suffering.

This long year of learning reached it’s joyous crescendo at this past Easter Vigil as I watched (with arms stretched toward heaven and a smile on my face) as my daughter was baptized. Thank God, and I am grateful.

9 thoughts on “‘Awakenings’ – Learning the Value of Suffering

  1. Wow…I stand in awe of your strength and conviction!
    I think that living without gluten is going to be your biggest test yet. Please continue to share your experiences here.
    I have the privilege of teaching and working with children on the Autistic spectrum, and I see it only as a blessing. Each child brings a joy and newness to every situation that can never be described. Yes , there can be extremely difficult and challenging times, but these should be managed and revised as often as is necessary for the good of the individual child.
    I’m interested to know whether your daughter suffers anxiety as a result of the difficulties she experiences because of the Dyslexia, or is it a separate disorder? I do know that there is much educational assistance out there for Dyslexics, who go on to thrive. It’s hard work though in the early stages before and after diagnosis. Hang in there. She will learn strategies that suite her learning style. Here in England Dyslexia leads to contentious and heated discussion. In school and universities Dyslexics are supported 100% of the way. One of the only ways they can be afforded this help is by getting a diagnosis and being classified as ‘disabled’.
    Much research literature on Dyslexia supports the fact that Dyslexic learners just learn in a different way. That they should not be classified as disabled. Their brain is just wired differently.
    Your family have a lot to cope with. With an attitude expressed in the above post, you are sure to keep on the ‘winning’ side.

    I will keep you and yours in my prayers.

    1. I wish you lived next door! You have such good advice 🙂 At least they are having heated discussions about Dyslexia there. Here I actually had a conversation with our school education specialist who told me there was no such thing as dyslexia and they don’t recognize it as something the school has to help with. She wasn’t failing by two grade levels so they wouldn’t even test her to see what was wrong. Meanwhile we struggled at least two hours every night to get through half an hour of homework. It was awful and yes I think some of the anxiety was from that- some also from dealing constantly with the strain her asperger brother can bring to her world and then I think some is just innate to her little personality. So I paid 2k to get her tested and found out she has a few different issues that basically combined meant dyslexia. Now we found a wonderful teacher who tutors her twice a week in spelling/english with the Barton method (luckily my parents help pay for it) and we worked with the school to NOT teach her spelling and english. Crazy right? Anyway she is blossoming. And our they reclassified Aspergers as just Autism so now our health care provider has to give us therapy. My son so now he is getting in-home therapy 8 hours a week! Before that the only therapy he had was what we could pay for and that wasn’t much (about 30min a week). They are both doing really well. Not eating gluten has been easier than I thought. Even my three year old asks if something has gluten before she eats anything. I am amazed at the awareness they have about it, especially sense they are both asymptomatic. I try not to worry about them but it’s hard (as a mom)! They will be tested again soon. My son already had severe damage to his intestines so hopefully they are healing up! Thank you for your prayers!! God Bless you!

      1. It’s always a hard road long windy road to work out at the beginning. Sounds like you’re on the right path now though! Your son is receiving a great amount of support, and you will too through this therapy. Aspergers is manageable a lot of the time…keep at it.
        Have you researched any websites? Some great ones here:
        http://dyslexiaaction.org.uk/children-young-people-families?gclid=CKrChYHyibcCFRMftAodyTgAFQ

        and this one called the British Dyslexia association here:

        http://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/

        In Christ.

      2. In England we classify Aspergers as being on the Autistic Spectrum. There are amazing strategies to rely on when dealing with Aspergers/Autism. All very individually suited to the child.

  2. Wow, that was beautiful. Yes, the quote that you gave is so true. The more we are hedged in by sufferings so to speak, with nowhere to turn, the more we turn to God. It is the only way. You must have great strength to have gone through all of that, and I can understand how your husband felt. Yet with your positive faith, you will probably learn more and gain more than the average parent. It is a blessing and a trust from God that He gave you these children. God bless you!

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