Eulogy For My Idealized Child

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To My Dear Idealized Child,

I had a funeral in my heart today.  I had to lay to rest, every last hope and thought of you.

You were the child I thought I could have.  You were the child I thought I did have.  For a little while, at least.

I had done everything to guarantee you.  I took prenatal vitamins, ate organic, listened to classical music and read books to you in utero.

The day you were born, you came bundled with all unlimited possibilities every new mother assumes as a birthright:  birthdays and bicycles, proms and parties, tuxes and toasts.  A charmed and carefree life.  A normal life, just like everybody else.

But something was wrong early on.  You didn’t look up, you didn’t respond, you didn’t run to us after a long day apart.  But you didn’t cry or cling either.  You were content to sit alone in a corner, absently clapping your toys together or staring into space.

Through forced smiles we declared, “Oh, he’s such an easy baby!”  And even though you never called us Mommy or Daddy, we knew that you knew us.

But others were concerned. ”Does he make eye contact? Does he point?  How often does he use words?” So many rude questions!  I justified and dismissed every failed test. ”It’s because he’s hungry.  He didn’t nap.  This is a new place.  He doesn’t like people in lab coats…”  

In my heart, I knew I was losing you.  Months of evaluations and assessments couldn’t prepare me enough for that inevitable day. How do you brace for a bomb headed towards your house?  Nothing can prepare you enough for that moment of impact.

The day you were diagnosed was the day you died.  They snatched you from me and drowned you in cold, meaningless babble,

“Patient meets diagnostic criterion 299.00 of the DSMIV.  Moderate to severe autism.  Severely disabled. Mentally retarded.  Cognitively impaired.  Non-verbal.  Aggressive intervention of 40 weekly hours of applied behavioral analysis, speech therapy, occupational therapy, plus ancillary supports strongly advised.  Prognosis unknown…”

How I fought to resuscitate you!  I knew I could fix you if I just worked hard enough.  So for years, we hemorrhaged money we didn’t have on therapies, medicines, attorneys, and even experimental procedures “unapproved in FDA trials.”  Desperation is expensive and accrues a heavy penalty over time.

One person I defied the most, he didn’t have a fancy credential or license.  He was a silent little boy who looked just like you.  But I knew he wasn’t.  You’d been rudely swapped out for this broken substitute.  He came to live with us, uninvited, and I was offended enough that I refused to accept him.

This boy wandered aimlessly about our home, touching everything but connecting to nothing; surrounded by people but relating to no one.  I didn’t know what to do with him.  I couldn’t figure him out.  And deep down, I didn’t want to.

He ruined our furniture and all my Hallmark-card-fantasies of motherhood. Deep down, I resented him because he made me feel incompetent.  I secretly enjoyed other people’s children more.  At least they talked, giggled and played.  They responded.  They gave back.  But this child looked right past me and never met my eyes, despite the mental gymnastics I went through to try to engage him.

Obligingly, I did my duty to help him.  And obligingly, he acquiesced to my demands.

“He has to talk, he has to play, he has to read, he has to write, he has to fit in, and he has to change…!”  

My requirements were endless.  But the more I insisted, the more miserable we all became. In my woundedness, I was trying to remake him into you.  But how could he ever replace you?  He could never become my Idealized Child.

My dear Idealized Child, I wish I could keep you.  But I have to let you go.   You’re actually quite wicked, I’ve learned.  You haunt us at every graduation, birthday party and wedding, lurking in the shadows to taunt us with what could have been.  The longer I hold on to you, the more you hurt us.  So I finally summoned up the courage to bury all those fantasy pictures we’ll never take:  the prom, our mother and son dance at your wedding, holding your first child.


After the lid was closed and I said my goodbyes, I was surprised to find him still standing by.  He’d been waiting for me to love him, all this time.  I’d been so preoccupied with my grief over you that I didn’t really notice.  Yet he was patient and happy for whatever crumbs of affection I gave him.

Idealized Child, you’ve been a distraction, causing me to neglect the son I’ve been given.   The more I linger with you, the less I’m present for him.  It’s not fair to compare him to you — or any other child.  Besides, you never really existed.  The child I wanted, I didn’t get.  The child I got, I didn’t want. But the one I got, was the one I needed.  I tried desperately to refashion him into you.  But he has been recreating me into a mother I didn’t know I could be.

So farewell and be gone.  I loved you although I never knew you.  I didn’t need to know you to grieve you.  I have to surrender you because my son needs his mother right now, not lost in a future that will never be.  He’s been waiting, and I’ve wasted so much time.

I’ve resolved to learn his language. I promise to try to understand him, instead of getting frustrated when he doesn’t understand me. Instead of glaring at him, I’ll get down and embrace him, eye to eye.  And when words and repeated instructions fail, I’ll just hold him, fiercely willing my heart and intentions into him until they permeate his understanding.  We will figure something out.


Today is his eleventh birthday, and we’re having a little party.  Instead of despairing over parties we don’t get invited to, we’ve decided to throw our own.  Maybe not a typical party for an eleven year old (those don’t really work for us, anyway.) But a party just the way he likes, with a bounce house, cheap pizza and scandalous amounts of candy.   It will be a happy birthday because you’re not invited.  Because it’s my son’s birthday, not yours.

Today, all his “inappropriate” laughter will be appropriate.  I’ll be grateful for bewildering laughter instead of screaming.  I’ll be grateful for the precious VIP’s who know how to celebrate him, just the way he is.  Today, celebrating him just the way he is shall include me.

Idealized Child, I know we’ll be together again, some day. I’m confident in what I hope for, and have assurance about what I do not see.  Because one day, my son will be whole, complete.  He’ll finally be free of all labels, diagnostic criteria or disability.  He may not be perfect here on this earth.   But God has planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

For now, I may only know this non-verbal child partially, as if through a glass darkly.  But one day, this child will become my Idealized Child.  He’ll be perfect in every way, just as I will be made perfect when I’m reunited with my Father in glory.  For none of us were ever meant to be misunderstood or separated.  We were meant to be perfect, just as our Creator is perfect.  For now, I can only imagine.  What we will be has not yet been made known.  But in that day, we will all know and be fully known.  What a day of rejoicing that will be!

In the meantime, my son and I have many new dreams to envision, and many new pictures to take –even if he never learns to look at the bloody camera.  In a few short years, when other mothers lament how their teenagers push them away and use ugly words, I will muse how my son will always need me, and cherish that he uses any words at all.

And the prom?  Screw the prom.  We’ll rock our own kickin’ prom.

Give us your blessing and wish us well.  Won’t you?


With fond farewell,

Jeremy’s Mother


  1. Do you have an Idealized Something (perhaps not a Child) that died, that still haunts you?
  2. Why is it so hard to surrender things that hurt us?  
  3. What new dreams, pictures and memories have you been creating?  In what new ways are you being recreated?

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17 Responses to Eulogy For My Idealized Child

  1. cat April 11, 2013 at 8:55 am #

    beautiful post

    • Diane April 17, 2013 at 10:42 am #

      Thank you Cat!

  2. Kimberly Quinn April 11, 2013 at 10:08 am #

    I’m wiping tears as I type. I have to put that idealized child away so often. You see my idealized child is really sneaky, she shows up when the twins look and act “normal” . She shows up when they participate in typical activities. But I know she isn’t really there. The twins will probably not go to prom, they don’t get invited to birthday parties, college not happening. Sure people are friendly, but my girls don’t have real friends. It’s hard to make friends when you don’t talk. But little miss ideal shows just enough to tempt me, to give me some hope that she is there, but it’s an illusion. So we will continue as “team Quinn” enjoying those who welcome our adventures in “normal”, and wait for that day when we all are at our ideal.

    • Diane April 11, 2013 at 6:35 pm #

      Oh, Kim…. Amen and I SO hear you. Exactly, that terrible Little Miss Ideal! She’s meaner than real schoolyard bullies because she’s harder to avoid or shoo away. We just have to keep on keeping her down, lest she rob us of the joy that comes from truly embracing and enjoying our children. God bless you as you love and celebrate your daughters. God delights and celebrates YOU as you do. ~ Diane

  3. Angela April 13, 2013 at 11:19 pm #

    Hi Diane,
    A wrenching heartache I have felt in your emotive words and in my own experience. My sister Winnie sent me a link to your post and I feel an instant bond with you. We met briefly several summers ago looking at minature trains in Los Altos. The only fallback I have and the thing that puts “everything into perspective” (really, only 87%) is that, as far as my husband and I know, my extremely premature son almost died on 3 separate occasions. So, when Timothy was diagnosed with ASD, we felt the sinking pit, but emotionally dissociated and used logic to convince ourselves, “Hey, we’ve been through life and death, this is nothing.” That was mental, but the practical was hard to deny especially when you see your child in a room with other children and and you are forced to accept that he is “different”. Sigh….

    I so agree with you in the grieving aspect and many times I feel God handed us a “double whammy”. I am so sick of people telling me 1Cor 10:13. But God has spoken to me as His child, a gentle reminder that He, too, had an idealized world for His children, all of humanity in fact. Yes, “surrender” is what helps me in the road to “acceptance”. I cannot bang my head any more because it causes more pain. I pray for you tonight that His grace is indeed sufficient for you. You are loved beyond measure, beyond what you need to say or do. May you embrace Jeremy as our Father in Heaven embraces you. (This is not a guilt trip.)


    One thing – Timothy is truly a contented child and has an essence of purity and joy that I’ve noticed in the world of “special needs”. This is a blessing for him and for us.

    • Diane April 17, 2013 at 10:46 am #

      Angela, I’m so happy to be connected with you. I remember you well. Winnie often speaks of you and Timothy with much love. Thank you so much for sharing your journey. Although our details may be different, I SO resonate with you over our shared “world” 🙂 I’m grateful for YOUR faith, and blessed by your fierce love for your son. God bless you and your family!!

  4. Anonymous April 15, 2013 at 5:20 pm #

    Happy Birthday To Jeremy!!!!His mother and friends are there for him. Hope all have a good time. Diane thank-you for your insights.

    • Diane April 17, 2013 at 10:47 am #

      Thank you! It was truly a happy birthday, with many friends who love and rejoice over him 🙂

  5. stockspyder April 17, 2013 at 10:26 am #

    Diane, thank you for this post and sharing about your wonderful son. I pray that the Lord will guide you and speak through you in the toughest of times, in the darkest of hours and the thinnest points of your patience.

    God Bless you and your son.

    • Diane April 17, 2013 at 10:49 am #

      Thank you so much! We are truly blessed — although it took me a while (a process) to realize it. It’s my earnest prayer that other SN families will realize the blessings, too. God bless you and yours as well!


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