Welcome to Holland

grief, Welcome to Holland;

I was organizing my files on brain injury when I came across a poem I had clipped from the newspaper years ago. I share it at the risk of taking it out of context but Emily Perl Kingsley’s poem called Welcome to Holland resonated with me.

“I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared the unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this…When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. Michelangelo’s “David.” The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The flight attendant comes and says, “Welcome to Holland.” Holland?” you say. “What do you mean, Holland? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.” But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place. So you must go out and buy new guidebooks. You must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around, and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills, Holland has tulips, Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy, and they’re bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say, “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.” And the pain of that will never, ever, ever go away, because the loss of that dream is a very significant loss. But if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things about Holland.”

I know folks who’ve said, “I’m glad God allowed this brain injury to happen to me. I’m a much better person now.” I respectfully disagree. God doesn’t allow things to happen so we can learn something. It’s the other way around. God uses what happens so we may become closer to God and to the people around us. Besides, I wanted to go to Italy! I had studied and trained to go to Italy and the pain of being here in Holland is not ever going away.

But here I am in Holland. I’ve met some remarkable people that I would never have met in Italy. I’ve had experiences that could only happen here. Every now and then I meet someone who has been to Italy and I grieve again. But if I spend hours brooding and mulling over my losses, I’ll never get to enjoy the extraordinary things that are here in Holland. And Holland has some very extraordinary things.

How is your life different now after your brain injury? What do you miss? Is there anything extraordinary now that wasn’t part of your life before? As always, all comments are appreciated or contact me directly at tamara@indylink.org

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