As most everyone knows by now, we had a local family who was struck by tragedy recently. Many of you know the Whitten family. Their story has been all over the news in recent weeks. Austin, the 15-year-old son of Brian and Angie Whitten, was having fun with friends enjoying an afternoon of swimming when he jumped into the pool and broke his neck. Such an innocent thing quickly turned to horror. Most of us cannot even imagine how his family must have felt when they got the news. Think about rushing your child into the emergency room not being able to move their legs. Fear as you have never known takes over. Then the guilt, “if only I hadn’t let him go that day.” No one knows how scary this is until it happens to you.
I read a post on one of the Whitten family Facebook updates about how difficult it was to see your child in a wheelchair for the first time. Memories of our own son began to flood my brain. I began to think about the countless times I had prayed for God to let me change places with him. My son was only two years old when he got his first wheelchair. It brought tears to my eyes. It may sound strange to a lot of people but some of the tears were tears of joy. The reason was because by that time we had been in so many hospitals and had seen children with no legs, no arms and children who could not communicate at all. Here was my son, able to push himself, laughing, talking, and developing his own personality. I was so grateful. God had a plan for his life. I recently read a something that said, “God doesn’t give us what we can handle but instead helps us handle what we have been given.” I can’t think of any better way to say it than that. Most kids handle life’s hardships better than adults.
I’m writing this to let you know this is not the end but the beginning. Having a handicap doesn’t mean you’re disabled. You are differently abled. Just ask my own son who has been in a wheelchair since the age of two. You adapt. You cope. You learn to ask for and accept help. You put your trust in God. What you don’t do is let it hold you back. You find new ways to do old things. You’ll see my son at the high school football games in the fall….not in the stands but on the field playing in the band. Look up some Saturday and you may see him flying overhead (and I do mean flying…piloting the plane).
Independence is the key to any physically challenged child feeling good about themselves; however, they also need to know that it’s ok to ask for help. Let them spread their wings a bit even though you are scared to death. You’ll be glad you did someday. Cherish each and every moment you have with your children. You never know what tomorrow may bring. May God’s blessings be on the Whitten family.
Pam Rasmussen is a resident of LaFayette. She is a mother of a child with Spina Bifida and an advocate of special needs children and adults. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.