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Glenda Prins wrote her memoir, Lessons from Katherine, to describe her journey from grief to acceptance of daughter Katherine. When Glenda and her husband Tom adopted Katherine, they did not know that she had disabilities. In time, they learned that she had cerebral palsy and probably also intellectual disability. Their grief arose not only from the challenges of caring for a child who was much different from the baby of their dreams, but also from dealing with hurtful comments made by other people. Her analysis of these common, hurtful comments is so keen that an extended quote is appropriate:

Nobody wants children to be born with profound disabilities. Nobody wants to see pain or sorrow. We attempt to fix the situation, deny its seriousness, and barring that, we turn away. Tom and I had already come through infertility. Adoption didn't cure our intertility; it simply allowed two disappointed partners an alternative way to create a family. But to the surrounding community, the 'problem' has been solved. Now we had a new tragedy to face, but this time there were no clear solutions.

So we heard things like 'It's good Katherine went to Tom and Glenda. They'll be able to handle this.' Translation: Thank God it wasn't me! Alternative translation: Don't look to me for help! I'm wiping my hands here. Or, from a family member who is also a pastor: 'I didn't walk until I was three and I'm fine now.' Translation: It's nothing; quit your bellyaching. In some encounters we were placed on pedestals and deified above ordinary mortals. In other scenarios, we were complainers, worrying about nothing. To others, we were simply losers. (pp. 28-29)

My wife and I have heard our share of platitudes through the years as well. Here's one we heard about our oldest daughter who has severe, multiple disabilities, "God allowed her to have disabilities, because he knew that having her would make you a better pastor.' Translation: Your daughter has challenges so that you can take better care of me.

Do you have a disability, or do you have a family member with disabilities? What platitudes have you heard? How would you translate them?


One of the most baffling comments to me is: "You are such a strong person, the LORD knew who to give this child to".

Not all handicapped children are well taken care off - such as the father who sold his mentally handicapped daughter as a prostitute for extra money.

I think some platitudes are dished out because we try to live in a perfect world and create the perfect family. The imperfect are shied away from. For some families it is more than planning to go to Italy and ending up in Holland instead. You get on the plane, all appropriate preparations made and suitcases packed. Somewhere during the flight parachutes are shoved at you and you get thrown out - despite a deathly fear of heights. You land in a blizzard, somewhere .... struggling for breath, checking - no broken bones! And you ask why? You always look for the black box with answers - but the plane is long gone, and the only answer you end up with is "I don't know". And you struggle and learn to survive in this unknown landscape.

Am I a noticeably stronger person than the average? I don't think so. I am a mother and wife, part of a family with a father, mother and two daughters - one of whom is exceptionally bright and one whom I could only look after for a short while before she went Home again. This does not make me any more or any less conspicuous than any one else.

And on this journey I have marveled at new-found beauty, I have wept in secret places and I have remained silent in the presence of the Almighty.

God bless, Anje



Mark Stephenson on July 13, 2013

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Anje, thanks for your insightful comments. In case a reader doesn't understand your reference to Holland and Italy, it comes from a story by Emily Perl Kingsley called Welcome to Holland. It's a wonderful story, but I can't agree with you more, Anje, that the story describes only the experiences of some people affected by disabilities, but surely not all.

Jonathan Wilson on July 15, 2013

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Anje and Mark,  

Thanks for referencing and sharing to the "Welcome to Holland" story. I feel I have gained some insight.

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