Silent Aspirations: A Nonverbal Son, His Art, His Mother’s Faith and Family’s Bond
Westbow Press, 2018
In Silent Aspirations, Shar Boerema reflects on the life of her family with son and brother Ben, who can be funny, joyful, amiable, scary, and violent. Though not the sole focus of the book, Boerema invites readers into the heart-rending challenges of living with Ben. “[Ben’s sister] Aubrey once said she didn’t have any happy memories of Ben when he lived at home. We began the process of looking for alternative housing for Ben when we found our children—including Aubrey—were locking themselves in their bedrooms or in the bathroom when left with Ben.” (p. 126)
Living with a disability, or with a loved one who has a disability, isolates and separates that person and family from others. Parents and siblings can feel so different from friends and other family members that they feel as if no one else can relate to them. “The things our older children had suffered and longed for with Ben were now added to the heap of pain we could barely endure. Everything about his adulthood was strange. And yes, in many ways, that made us—our family—strange. Odd. Different. . . . The unbearable had become standard.” (p. 83)
Despite painfully candid revelations such as these, Silent Aspirations never feels like rant nor a descent into self-pity. From the title to the final, frightening story with which the book concludes, Boerema clings to hope in God and God’s faithful plan for the lives of everyone she loves.
The title, Silent Aspirations, refers both to Ben’s medical condition in which he sometimes aspirates food or drink and to the author’s guesses as to Ben’s aspirations expressed in his artwork which illustrates the book. Through the interpretations of a mother who understands her son well, these 35 illustrations tell stories of Ben’s moods, relationships, and insights into the events of his life. For this nonverbal man living with developmental disability and bi-polar disorder, his artwork helps others better understand his priorities and feelings.
In the final story, the author describes an incident when Ben returned to his group home and began lashing out at staff and fellow residents. Ed, Ben’s father, intervened physically to prevent Ben from injuring anyone, and a staff member exhibited patient gentleness in helping Ben calm down and take a sedative. As usual, once Ben was settled, he showed deep remorse for his rageful behavior.
Boerema confesses that she had the book nearly finished eight years ago, but she was waiting for inspiration for the right ending, wanting to tell a story full of joy. Instead, she chose to end with this difficult story because she believed it best illustrated the core message of the book. “At that moment I knew I had found the . . . conclusion for which I’d been waiting. This truth is what Ben’s life has taught me so often: God is faithful. All around and through Ben’s life, there is love—big, protective, and complete. God’s love will always find me, and it will always find Ben!” (p. 140)
Many families feel strange, odd, and different living with the unbearable as standard. Whether the specifics of their journeys are like the Boeremas or sharply different, reading Silent Aspirations can give hope and perspective. Not content just to give her own perspective, besides Ben’s artwork Boerema includes pieces written by several of Ben’s siblings.
She concludes, “This path of suffering with Ben has truly been a winding, difficult path. It has made Ed and I (and probably Ben’s siblings too) hesitate and question everything we know about God. All of us have paths that lead to questions and make us wonder. . . This book is a story of God’s love around Ben and around all of us. We don’t always see it. God’s love is not always sought or even wanted. But love is still on the move, and that is why I know that hope wins!” (p. 140)