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  • Writer's pictureAllan Shedlin

The Queen of Goodbye

In which good things can come in short packages

Guest Post by Jane Ehrenfeld

PHOTO: NoName_13 from Pixabay

EDITOR'S NOTE: My earliest work with children was with "severely emotionally disturbed" 10-year-olds at an eight-week residential summer camp. I never liked the label – feeling they were more aptly described as "emotionally disturbing." I was 18 and would be heading off to my freshman year at college after the campers headed home. The loving bonds established with those children and the positive behavioral changes that resulted during those 56 days, set my career path. And so, working directly with or on behalf of children and those who serve them, is what I have dedicated myself to for six and a half decades (yep, I'm old). Of course, my greatest joys have come from my daddying and grandaddying. When I read my dear friend Jane Ehrenfeld's latest Whimsy and Pique newsletter (9/5/23), the memories of countless experiences came rushing back – reminding me of the rewards, challenges, heartaches, and heart joys of parenting and how these tend to take on a particular intensity when your child is labeled "special needs." Of course, I'm of the belief that all children have special needs. Perhaps that's a topic for another blog...


The following is a version of Jane's recent newsletter piece. It has been modified and reprinted here with her permission.


* * *

Ash is the Queen of Goodbye.

This is not a title she ever wanted, naturally. And it is a terrible title for any child, much less a child who loves fast and deep, who has no friends only “best friends,” and who wears her heart, throbbing and open, on her sleeve.

But so it goes in the world of mental illness.


She goes to the hospital, meets children who understand her better than any other children possibly can, and then the gates of HIPAA slam down when they are discharged and the friendship is permanently severed (she cried almost daily for several months after saying a forever goodbye to one particular hospital friend). She opens up to therapists, endures hours of questioning and conversation about all of the topics that make her feel most vulnerable, and the therapists quit, leaving her exposed and raw. She leaves the cohort she has been with since kindergarten when she can no longer function at school, and suddenly her best friend is someone she sees only occasionally. And when she is out of school, the district sends her a tutor, and she spends six hours a week for six weeks being loved on by a marvelous teacher who showers her with kindness and attention, and then leaves when the time is up. Each of these leavings gut her, and yet there is no end in sight.


Off to school for the first time since November 2022. PHOTO: J. Ehrenfeld

Of course, two weeks ago I thought perhaps there was an end – a school placement she could stay with through the end of high school – but then she was rejected from that school for being too sensitive and too academically advanced, and so when the school year started she was relegated to what’s known as a “stay put” placement – the school in our district closest to what a non-public placement can offer, which will be her temporary home until we can work out a permanent placement.

Which is how, as the first day approached, I found myself again trying to coach her through and over the waterfall of leaving that she will inevitably have to navigate again soon.


Love is not bound by human time. We can give and receive love deeply in a day or a week or a month, and it is not lesser for being brief. Of course there is heartache whenever love leaves, but when we live in the light of our blessings, the pain is somehow mitigated by the happiness we feel for a moment or a while.


So, now a week of school has passed and Ash indeed is surrounded by love from the teachers and paraeducators and therapeutic staff in her temporary school. She comes home smiling, full of stories about the kind moments, the funny moments, the happy moments that have strung her day from the first bell to the last. It is not the same, of course, as settling in for the long run, but it is not a trifle either. For the days and weeks she stays, she will be loved, and that love will carry her through.


This lesson is a handy one for parenting.


She must adjust, leaning into the new world, while still nurturing and appreciating the love she has left behind.

It was Tennyson who said this first (and best), “‘tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” But heck, it took him 564 lines in a single poem to get to that truism, so one can imagine that helping a sensitive child absorb the same lesson (again and again) might take some doing. I am here to be that help but, oh, I hope I can send Ash soon into a situation that feels more solid. She deserves nothing less.



 

Jane Ehrenfeld is an educator, lawyer, writer, mediator, single mom to three girls, and a daughter, among other things. A previous contributor to the Daddying blog, Jane also has published nonfiction essays in The Washington Post, Quartz, and The Huffington Post; satirical essays in McSweeney's, Internet Tendency, and Slackjaw; and poetry and short fiction in Prometheus Dreaming, Beyond Words, and The Dillydoun Review. You can find more of her writing at Whimsy and Pique.


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Cassie H
Cassie H
23 sept 2023

I am so glad I read your blog today and totally appreciated portions of your guest's newsletter. I have two adult children and a grandson on the spectrum. I remember navigating the system, fighting for accommodations and services. It was a great share, thank you.

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