You just couldn’t help but notice that this weekend was Valentine’s Day. Everywhere you looked there were images in pink and red, of hearts and flowers, chocolates and champagne, teddy bears and those cuddly wuddly fluffy words each screaming out the message “I love you!”
(Shame my postman appeared to be on strike….again!!!)
For thousands of years the most articulate of wordsmiths have tried to sum up love in prose, poetry and song lyrics. In fact there are so many songs dedicated to love it is surely obvious we can define it more accurately than anything else on the planet. Right? Well I’m not so sure.
Remember the ‘80s song “I wanna know what love is” by Foreigner? Course you don’t, you're way too young. They could have looked in all the shops and found their answer surely. But I’m convinced that love is more than the feeling we associate with all that we see in the shop windows during the first half of February. In fact it’s probably not simply just a feeling at all (though in part it obviously is). Instead love is something which is not dependent upon our feelings but more on our experiences, our attitude and response.
Now let me get this clear, I am no expert in the mysteries of love; far from it. Indeed, when it comes to the sweet, sticky, sugar-coated love associated with Valentine’s Day I confess to being as one without credibility or expertise and I get it wrong more often than not. However, I have a completely different love in mind. A love which is lasting, a love which has foundations built upon something stronger than a bottle of bubbly and a box of Ferrero Rocher!
Having children changes your perception of love. Having a child with special needs takes it to the next level - not that I love Emily any more or any less than my other children. However, there are certain lessons of life which are learned when you have a child with special needs which we don’t necessarily learn with our other children.
The journey towards learning these lessons and the love which accompanies our journey will look different for each and every one of us, so I don’t presume that everyone will have the same experience as me. However, there may well be echoes of a truth which resonate.
Love is often forged in the furnace of frustration, in disappointment and anguish which we feel from time to time. It is shaped by the hammer blows of rejection by people we might have regarded as friends and by the society we thought was accepting but who we found to be intolerant and cruel. It is tempered by the tears of tiredness when we feel overwhelmed and incapable of coping, when the endless rounds of appointments and meetings go on and on and on and still no-one understands what we’re going through.
Love is seen in the scars of our struggles. The house needs tidying, the clothes need washing, the shopping needs doing, the kids need feeding, the family needs ……everything, the school needs educating, the doctor needs informing, the days are grey and long and boring, boring, boring……
And yet we hold on.
We persevere. We learn to overcome. We become strong and resilient. We see that love is found in the cry of a baby, in the smile of a child, in the encouragement of a friend, in the kindness of a stranger. We begin to see with different eyes. We look for signs of progress and stages of significance in the life of our child. Our hearts are tenderised by all of the things we go through. Yes this means we may bruise more easily, we may find offence in things we would have overlooked before, we may hurt….and that’s ok.
In all of this Emily has taught me that love is accepting one another for who we are, not judging, not simply tolerating but fully accepting. When we are accepted we feel loved. Emily has taught me that love is finding the strength to forgive one another when we get it wrong because nobody gets it right all the time. And forgiving ourselves is vital but also probably extremely hard for some of us. Emily has taught me that love is patient and kind and resilient and courageous.
So, Foreigner, this is what love is, at least through the lens of my life. There’s always room for hearts and flowers and a glass or two of bubbly. There’s always room for balloons and cards and words of desire and affirmation (and we need to do this to encourage one another) but perhaps the greater love, the selfless love, the kind of love exhibited by parents of people with special needs, is spelt S-A-C-R-I-F-I-C-E.
Check out Mencap's video Celebrate the Love - brilliant!