On June 20, 2017 the Grand Rapids News published an article with a title reading, “‘Saw his son suffer too much, too long,’ friend says of principle in murder-suicide.” This article shared a friends perspective of George Heckman, an elementary school principle, who took his son’s life and his own life.
George’s 28 year old son Grant had cerebral palsy, was non-verbal and confined to a wheel chair. If you were a friend of George’s, you would think that he had it together. George was described as being able to make others laugh. He would volunteer and help other families, and he served on the board of an organization that came alongside those who are disabled. If there was poster of a parent who appeared to be doing well and to be thriving, George’s picture would have been on it.
Unfortunately, George’s story is not unique and has been repeated with other parents of children impacted by special needs around the country. In Michigan alone, over the last five years there have been at least 3 attempted murder-suicides of parents and their child who has additional needs.
There may be some days that you feel like George. You may feel like when others see you, they see a person who has it all together. While inside, you are just struggling to make it and it is killing you to see all the extra pain and hardship your child has to endure.
As parents of children with special needs, it is not uncommon to deal with chronic grief. Many have mastered the art of wearing a mask, because we think, “Nobody wants to hear about our pain again. The same struggles, the same pain we’ve been dealing with for the last five, ten, twenty years.”
The pain, hurt and anger can only be buried so long. In time they will reappear in one way or another. It may not be as extreme as George Heckman’s case but it will reappear, unless you address it.
Addressing the pain, doesn’t mean the pain will go away. It might but not necessarily and this doesn’t make you a weaker person. You will have good days and you will have days you really struggle. On those days you struggle, have one or two people that you can really be open and vulnerable with. Have those people you can take your mask off with without fear of how they will respond. It is amazing how much healing can take place when you can be real about your pain.
Do you have that person you can be real with? That person who isn’t scared when the mask comes off but respects and loves you more because of it?
If you read this article and find yourself feeling suicidal or homicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text with someone at the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.