Christian woman: “She’s pulled the plug on her own son, whom I love and cared for. How do I deal with my anger?”
Got this in last night:
I’m having a spiritual problem right now that I hope you can advise me on.
Through a community services agency, our family does respite care for Tim, a boy with special needs. Respite care means that we take care of Tim so that his mom can work, take a break, and generally do what she needs to. Tim has his own room in our house, equipped with a hospital bed and everything needed for his proper care. For the past ten years Tim has been at our house more often than he has at his mom’s.
My family loves Tim more than I can possibly say. He’s been as much a part of our family, as much my little brother, as if he were my flesh and blood. And there’s no doubt that our care and love for Tim has extended his life. Everyone tells us that it’s because of us that he has lived as long as he has. Tim was expected to die one year after he came into our lives, when he was nine years old. He is now eighteen.
Timmy is such a light, and has taught me so much about love and serving God through serving others. I wish the whole world could learn what we have learned from knowing, caring for, and loving this sweet child. He has taught me the very meaning of unconditional love, and I think it’s as close as I’ll get to seeing Jesus until it’s time for me to go meet Him myself.
John, last Friday Tim became seriously ill, and was taken to the hospital. After high doses of antibiotics he started pulling through, but then his body temperature and blood pressure dropped.
Suddenly his mother decided to stop all medical care for Tim, including his feeding tube and i.v. fluids.
It’s about Tim’s mother that I’m writing you. I don’t know what to do with my anger toward her.
Tim’s mother is an alcoholic who has always neglected Tim. Basically, her main interest in Tim lies in the checks he gets for social security and child support, which she uses to support her habits, which include gambling. (And smoking, which has been the cause of some real grief in our family, because even with all of Tim’s health problems, his mother and her boyfriend smoke in their house, even when Tim is there.)
The bottom line is that we’ve known for years that his mother wants Tim to die. She likes the money he brings, but other than that it’s clear she has no use for him. But Tim has plugged on anyway, thanks to the quality of care he gets at our house and the prayers of so many who love him.
Though for years we’ve begged the social services agency we work with to do something about Tim’s mother’s neglect of him, they’ve always kept their distance, always said they say they can’t get involved, because of a mother’s rights. This has always been so angering to me. What about a child’s right to a decent life? How does that not count for anything?
For the past few months we have pleaded with Tim’s mother to take him to the doctor, since we knew he was getting worse. But all along she refused, until last week, when he finally got so bad he was taken to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with aspiration pneumonia.
And now it seems she’s taken advantage of what’s happened to finally get her wish for Tim’s demise. Because of her decision to cease all efforts to heal him, they’re now only giving Tim “comfort care,” including morphine, which is a respiratory suppressant. Without his tube feedings and fluids, it will only be a few more days before he passes.
My dad is a registered nurse, and after speaking with the doctors and nurses, he knows Tim had a fighting chance if Tim’s mother had continued his feedings and i.v. fluids.
Tim is still alert; he smiles and laughs when my parents or I am there. If once this week while talking about Tim I have used, or thought of, the name Terri Schiavo, I’ve done so twenty times.
On Friday, before he got so sick and his mother made her choice, I told Tim that he and I had a date for the Final Four. (Timmy loves basketball and fusses and quarrels at the TV when his team isn’t winning.) He smiled and laughed. I don’t see how any mother could take such joy from their own child and not fight while her child still has a chance to live.
How does a mother do this to her child? That’s what I’m really struggling with, John. I thought a mother’s love for her child was supposed to be the purest form of love next to the love of God and Christ Jesus.
And how do I keep from judging this woman? I know I’m judging her, and I’m so angry. I want to fight for this child, but there’s nothing I can do because he’s not my flesh and blood. How do I keep from hating his mother?
You’re really the only person I thought I could reach out to for a Christian perspective. I’ve prayed and asked God to either be merciful and take Tim home, or to intervene on Tim’s behalf. Am I praying the right thing? I’d really like to ask God to smite Tim’s mother down in her path, but I doubt He would be really happy with me . . . He’s probably not happy with me for just typing that.
Could you give me some insights, or at least pray for me?
Well, first of all, of course you’re going to judge the poor boy’s mother. Wrong is wrong. You’re not judging her soul; you’re judging her actions. You get to do that: you get to call wrong wrong. You’re supposed to do that. We all are. Why else did God give us a conscience?
And you can right away jettison the weirdly enduring myth that a mother’s love for her child is necessarily sublime and wonderful and cosmically inspired. It’s not. Most mothers love their children in that special, super-intense way, yes. But most is a very long way from all. If I had a nickle for every mother I’ve known who neglected, beat, abandoned, emotionally tortured, or in any other way basically did everything she could to trash the life of her child, I’d buy Disneyland and Disney World—and let every kid in for free forever.
It’s so sweet that you believe that, as you so well put it, “a mother’s love for her child is supposed to be the purest form of love next to the love of God and Christ Jesus.” Sweet, but, alas, also wrong. It’s terrible that your first experience with Deplorable Moms is that of poor Tim. That’s like having the first spider you ever see be a nuked-up tarantula. But, as I’m sure you know, Tim’s won’t be the last reprehensible mother you’ll ever wish you never met.
In so many ways this world really is a vale of tears. And that’s in no small part due to the endless numbers of mothers who are no more suited for motherhood than I am for operatin a nuclear submarine.
And yes, in praying and asking God to either be merciful and take Tim home, or to intervene on Tim’s behalf, you have prayed exactly the right prayer. What else can you pray for? Those are your two good options. That prayer of yours nails it.
As to your most pressing concern, which is the anger you are now harboring towards Tim’s mother. It’s really good that you’re already focused on the (God knows) sometimes unclear truth that hatred is, in fact, your greatest personal enemy. Hatred kills. And it mostly kills—however slowly, however corrosively—those who hate. So you’re wise to already be thinking of how to process your feelings toward Tim’s mom. No use letting the [expletive deleted] take you out along with her son.
The type of anger this terrible series of events has occasioned in you is the most acute emotional pain there is. Someone you dearly love has become the ultimate victim of someone else—and there is nothing that you can do about it. That’s the worst. If you are the one being victimized, at least you have some control over what’s going on; at least you can in some way control or measure your response to what’s happening: you’re engaged in that way. But when you are forced to do nothing but witness harm being done to a loved one?
Man, that is one difficult place to be.
But look who I’m telling.
So what I think it’s important to understand is that the way the anger that you are now experiencing feels to you is as nothing so much as it is anguish. The root of our word anger is, in fact, the Old Norse word angr, which means anguish, distress, grief, sorrow, affliction. And I wasn’t surprise to discover that’s so, because in its purest, most concentrated form—which is to say when it’s attended by perfect helplessness—that’s what anger is: anguish.
You are angry, yes. But mostly you’re anguished.
And now we come to the part where it’s really, really good that you’re Christian. Because if you believe that the whole point of your life is to as fully as possible identify with Christ—which is to say as fully as possible have your conscientiousness replaced, or inhabited, by Christ’s—then you actually and truly need this pain.
And let me hasten to add that I know that’s a fairly repulsive thing to hear: when you’re suffering, there’s nothing like, “But this is a good thing!” to make you want to punch somebody’s lights out. But for pain as deep and hard and real as yours, it’s … Christ time.
So much of Christianity is about peace, joy, happiness, wholesomeness, love, etc. And we all love that stuff. Bunnies! Sweets! Colored eggs for some reason! All great.
But the other side of that reality—the opposite of all that fulfilling, happy light—is shattered, ugly darkness.
Christ’s life was definitely a heavenly miracle. But just as definitely his death was an earthly horror. And if you want to really know Christ, you’ve got to really know both.
Don’t think of Tim’s mother as an evil murdering witch who needs to die. Think of her as the vehicle by which you’ve been driven directly to the state of knowing more about the pain and suffering of Christ than probably God himself wishes anyone ever had to know.
Bottom line: you can’t know Christ if you don’t know profound, dogged emotional pain. And I’m sure this isn’t the first emotional trauma of your life—I mean, obviously. But I’ll bet it’s as bad as any pain/anger/despair you’ve ever felt; this one is certain to be with you for life. It’s bad enough for you to feel as if you yourself have been rudely forced down onto, and then nailed to, a cross. Like you’ve had great strips of flesh whipped off your bones. Like you’ve had jabbed into your cut and bleeding mouth a fetid rag soaked in vinegar and bile.
Like you’ve been, in a word, massacred. Sacrificed on the unholy temple of animal ignorance.
So my advice is to run toward, and not away, from your infinitely righteous anger. Claim your pain. You’re sad; you’re angry; you’re suffering; you’ve had to stand by and watch someone you love essentially be murdered by the one person on earth who should be most driven to protect them.
You were God to Tim’s Christ.
Get some serious time alone, I say, and close your eyes. In your mind, fall slowly backwards into the darkness. Come to the moment where finally, inevitably, you feel the wooden plank pressed against your spine.
And then spread out your arms. Feel them being attached to the cross beam.
Hold that sacred pose.
And there you will be.
And there, inhabiting every last cell in your body, will be Jesus Christ.
* * * * *
So the deal is, anger is like ignited rocket fuel. If that lit fuel is in a rocket, and it’s going to help that rocket do whatever it’s supposed to, that’s great. But if when ignited that fuel is locked up in storage containers, or in a rocket that’s broken, that’s extremely ungreat.
Your rocket fuel has been lit. And for awhile that’s going to force upon you an implosion—and using Christ’s sacrifice to hold the magnitude of that implosion is real and good. But once that phase of your processing has has passed or waned a bit, you might very well find yourself wanting to do something to balance out the injustice to which you were made an unwilling participant.
Track in yourself that feeling. If after a time—or right away, for that matter—you find yourself thinking in terms of at least attempting to make right what in Tim’s case went so very, very wrong, do. Get busy. Feel the truth of the fact that you are empowered to help change the system. Something broke somewhere, didn’t it? There is deeply embedded in child welfare and related services a resistance to compromising or violating parents’ rights that entirely too often causes utter failure to protect our most vulnerable children. Anyone involved in this sort of work has all kinds of stories about instances in which, out of the fear of being sued, basically, already-strapped-for-funds child welfare people kept their distance while the parents of some poor kid continued to exact upon that kid more harm than any sane person could stand to be aware of.
That happens all the time. (And it’s certainly not any particular fault of child welfare agencies, who will get sued, and who are—to what should be our national shame—perpetually working on half a frayed shoestring.) Maybe you can help change that system. You’re in the system, yes? So you have that advantage. Start where you are; go up the food chain; find the weakest or broken link in that chain; and get busy.
Maybe there are care standards that can be defined and qualified in such a way that they can then be codified into some sort of enforceable evaluative processes. Maybe special legal protections can be formulated and then applied to child welfare cases that meet certain conditions and standards. Maybe you can help figure out a way to get child welfare agencies funded in a way that doesn’t make clear to the world that Americans really don’t care about their poorest and most vulnerable children. Talk about doing Jesus’ work in the world.
So, in summary, relative to this unbelievably awful place you’ve found yourself: Go Christ inside, and then go Christ outside.
And know that we’re with you, sister.
Please keep us up. Love to you.