Not too long ago I was having a conversation with a gentleman. We were discussing his middle-aged son that is living with mental illness. It made me sad when this father hung his head and said, under his breath, “What a wasted life”. I wondered to myself “His life isn’t over….how can it be wasted?”.
Last week, my husband and I found ourselves at a memorial service. It was for a young man in his late 20’s who had lived the last decade with schizophrenia. Following a beautiful eulogy given by his sister, this young man’s father stood up to speak. Instead of only talking about the happy memories or positive moments of his son’s life, this man spoke of his son’s illness. He spoke of how it changed their family’s life….and perspective. He asked all of those in attendance to open their minds in regard to mental illness, to let their hearts outweigh their fear when experiencing a person who is living with challenges that we cannot fathom. Because of his son’s life, other’s lives will be made better. Even in death, his family will continue to advocate for him and others. Even in death, his life is not wasted.
When I was young, I used to think that I would grow up and do something great. I had so many things that I enjoyed doing that I really wasn’t sure what that great thing would be…..but I was sure it would happen. That feeling of greatness ended after my first stint in college and I was convinced that my life would turn into something routine and stagnant…….wasted. It all changed when I became a mom.
CJ was born 10 weeks early and he was a fighter even though he was less than 3lbs. I would look at him in his incubator and think, he is my something great. At that time, as most new moms do, I thought his greatness would be success, a doctor, a lawyer, an educator. It didn’t take me long to realize that my son’s challenges might prevent him from the stereotypical ideal of success…..but it didn’t mean that his life would be wasted, I would make sure it wasn’t.
My son still has many chances to make a difference for himself. Should he choose it, he has the ability to do amazing things…..but regardless of what he decides to do in the future, his life is not wasted. Because of him, my life is not wasted. He has made me strong, he has made me resilient and he has given me a different perspective on the world. He has made me a fighter. I will spend my life fighting for him and for others with mental illness. I will fight the stigma that is placed on mental illness. I will educate anybody within the sound of my voice. I will do this with the hope that, one day, this world will be a better place for people living with mental illness and their families that support them.
Regardless of our children’s abilities or challenges, it is up to us as their parents to want more for them. Whether they make a difference in this world, or we do it on their behalf, we can make sure their lives are not wasted.