Love You to Pieces: Creative Writers on Raising a Child with Special Needs, edited by Suzanne Kamata

I'd like to say first that this collection of short stories, novel excerpts, poetry, and memoirs, stands on its own as good to great literature based solely on the writing: it's quality writing worth reading regardless of one's experience or education in the unique worlds of special needs. Having said that, if you do happen to live somewhere in these unique worlds, what a blessing to see your own struggles, isolation, fears, frustrations, dark thoughts of despair, anger & grief (and hopes and triumphs too!), bluntly and beautifully spelled out on the page as if you're reading a chapter out of your own life!

My 11 year old daughter has the dual-diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism; and it's been hard! This compilation resonates with me -- I don't feel quite so alone after reading each piece. For instance, when I read the following passage from "Without Strings" by Hannah Holborn:

" neighbors slept with confidence inside their heavily mortgaged homes knowing that their children would be icons of socially conscious fashion, win athletic awards, read before kindergarten, earn honors, be beautiful....They would make their parents proud.  They would avoid my daughter like the plague."

I know I'm not the only parent who's felt the deep pain & ongoing disappointment, ongoing grief of watching my child oftentimes be misunderstood and avoided by her "normal" peers. That one line, "They would avoid my child like the plague," packs such an enormous emotional punch I can't help but pause, feel the truth of the artistry in that one line, and think, "Wow, this writer, Hannah Holborn, really gets it!"

Each writer, of course, "gets it" in their own way. Carol Schmidt, in her poem, "A Question of Leaves," gets that moment of epiphany, when a special needs parent of a mentally challenged child reaches that point of understanding that her child will always be a child:

It might have been a sudden blast of wind
that made me catch my breath before
explaining to you carefully
that leaves in the spring are new, 
not the old ones that fell off the trees in the fall.

In "Victoria's Wedding," by Margaret Mantle, another parent dreams of her daughter's wedding, but the grief that never really goes away in the knowledge that her daughter never will have a wedding, is such a loss and sadness to this mother, that she must, while still dreaming mind you, make the dream "go away before I will be allowed to wake up".

Yes, there's much shared sadness in these pieces, but it's not necessarily a sad or depressing read. When we share our sadness over our loss with a good friend, somehow the sharing of the loss eases the pain of loss and enables healing. I want to thank these writers for being so brave as to let us share in their sadness, in their stories; because I know I'm less sad and less isolated after reading them.  Suzanne Kaymata is to be heartily commended for compiling this important anthology that gives a voice to those without one.