I was reading an extremely upsetting article the other day. Gillian Relf , a woman aged 69 (who is quickly approaching the day she may need constant attention and support) wishes desperately that she could be free of caring for her son, who needs special care.
In fact, she is so resentful of having to care for her 47 year old son, Stephen, that she says that she wishes she could turn back time and have him killed.
I don’t wish to sound unsympathetic to what she has been through. I realize it would be an incredible challenge caring for a child who had Down Syndrome. I can’t even fathom what all she has been through. I understand that she has to clean the bed sheets every day. I understand that there is constant worry and guilt that she endures on a daily basis. I understand that she feels embarrassed when he acts out in public. I get that. But since when is life supposed to be free of struggle and challenge? And how is someone’s worth determined by their “normalcy”? And when does love come into the picture?
Read this quote by Gillian:
“Perhaps you’d expect me to say that, over time, I grew to accept my son’s disability. That now, looking back on that day 47 years later, none of us could imagine life without him, and that I’m grateful I was never given the option to abort.
However, you’d be wrong. Because, while I do love my son, and am fiercely protective of him, I know our lives would have been happier and far less complicated if he had never been born. I do wish I’d had an abortion. I wish it every day.”
Artwork by Amelee-
I think that Gillian is mistaking her (sometimes) fondness for her son, or her having cared for her sons physical needs with the term “love”. To me, this statement above gives the impression that her son is a stray dog. Not a human being with feelings, dignity and worth. It suggests he is disposable.
I think Gillian is wrong when she says that she loves her son -because love is not selfish or rude, it does not seek it’s own. She may feel fond feelings for him (although, if she does, it’s not apparent from her article), but that’s not love. Love is focused on others, not self.
It is fooling herself to say she is fiercely protective of him. How is wishing she could have her son killed the mindset of one who protects him? (As for protection, I would assert that the biggest threat Stephen needed protection from was his own mother).
Here again from Gillian:
Don’t misunderstand me, we have had some lovely times with Stephen. Like when we took him to Disney World in Florida ten years ago.
He loved the rides – his favourite was Dumbo the Flying Elephant – although poor Roy had to accompany him on every single one.
Poor Roy. That speaks volumes, doesn’t it?
“But I’d challenge any one of them to walk a mile in the shoes of mothers like me, saddled for life as I am, with a needy, difficult, exasperating child who will never grow up, before they judge us,” she says.
“They should experience how it feels to parent a grown man, who is no more able to care for himself than a toddler – and at a time of life when your children should, all things being equal, be taking care of you.”
The idea that one must have experienced what you’re going through in order to have the right to judge or discern right from wrong is a huge logical fallacy. Imagine applying that logic to animal abuse. Someone could say, “until you’ve walked in my shoes, seen what this miserable mutt has put me through, you have no right to say that I was wrong to beat my dog.” That excuse obviously doesn’t work because we do not have to experience the owners life in order to say “animal abuse is wrong”. And in like manner, one doesn’t have to go through this woman’s struggle to know that wishing your child dead is wrong.
Let’s just put that aside for a moment though… there are multitudes of people who have gone through this very thing Gillian has, and the idea of losing their child, or even of abortion is absolutely detestable to them! The difference is their attitude!
Gillian’s attitude is one that is very dominant in today’s society – self-centeredness. She is eaten up with her bitterness, dwelling on what she imagines her life could have been without Stephen. In doing so, she has completely dismissed him as a human being, and I assert she has never really lived at all (and that’s not his fault).
Instead of accepting her son for who he is, she has spent the better part of 47 years wishing she had a different life! What a waste! Just imagine how different her life could have been if she had embraced her son wholeheartedly. She could have been sharing a very different story today. She could be living a fulfilling, happy, and thankful life with her son- THROUGH the struggles. She could have found things to be grateful for. Her son would have happily reciprocated her love. Instead, her character has been exposed as being cold, uncaring, and narcissistic….and unhappy! Now that’s not inspiring at all.
Let me also mention that in the article Gillian explains that she had Stephen put in a boarding school at the age of 13, and since then has only had to visit him and have him over on the weekends. (For all the complaining Gillian does, you would think she was his 24/7 caregiver. But she’s not).
She also wrote that sometimes he refuses to come with them… Is it any wonder?
Gillian’s article incredibly ends with a plea to other mothers to kill their own children who might have Down syndrome, before it’s too late to do so (just spreading the love!):
“Years ago, I was so worried about history repeating itself that Andrew, Roy and I went for genetic counselling at Guy’s Hospital in London and found Stephen was just ‘bad luck’. I say ‘bad luck’, but that’s the greatest understatement that anyone can imagine.
And so I appeal to every mother-to-be out there, facing the knowledge that they may bring a child like Stephen into this world. Read my story and do what is right for you and your family.
I sure would hate to be in Stephens position. I sure wouldn’t appreciate knowing that my mother thinks I am “worse than bad luck”, for something I had absolutely no control over…or knowing that my mom hopes others will kill their children because they will be like me (granted, he may never know that particular thing…but I guarantee he is aware of her attitude toward him).
I hope that one day Gillian will see what a blessing Stephen really is. No, he will never be able to care for her in her old age. No, he will likely never be married, and no, he will never have a life that she deems normal. But I pray that one day she sees through that to see his heart, and to love him for who he is…to see what a wonderful person lies beneath the skin.
I wish I could tell Stephen, “Your value is not a result of anything you do. You are a precious human being because you were made in the image of God. Your thoughts, feelings, and everything about him are valid, and your life is worth so much more than you could ever know. Don’t listen to the negative things that people might say about you. They simply do not have the understanding to see you for what you truly are. You are loved.” I would love to hug him. Maybe someone who is present in his daily life tells him this through their actions each day. I truly hope so.
What are your thoughts? Do you have experience with a child with Down Syndrome, or know someone else who does? What have your experiences been? Do you have anything you would like to add or express?
Here are some videos that I would like to share, regarding people with Down syndrome. I hope they will be food for thought.
WWYD Employee With Down Syndrome Insulted By Customers
Dear Future Mom