5 Tools to Overcome Special Needs Grief

Special needs grief will be part of the holiday season for many parents. Laurie Wallin offers 5 tools to help families cope with their grief.

Laurie Wallin is at today. She’s sharing from her heart about the special needs grief she’s experiencing this holiday season. She also shares five strategies to help her (and you)  ride the waves of grief that accompany this season of joy.

5 Tools to Overcome Special Needs Grief

Holidays have a different feel for us as special needs parents. There’s always a hint of grief, whether simply in the fact that our child can’t stand unassisted to place that ornament on the tree, or their mood disorder prevents participation in the school holiday show.

Or, sometimes, it’s acute. Something that’s dug a hole through our sense of joy and wonder this season. Those can sneak up on us when we least expect it.

Do You Have Any Pictures of Your Kids?

This happened to me the other day, suddenly. In the middle of a meeting where we discussed things that seemed safe – topics seemingly unrelated to the tender place in my heart. A friend asks an innocent question: “Do you have any pictures of your kids?”

“Of course I do!” I reply, pulling my phone out and scrolling through snapshots filled with grins and antics that animate life in a family of six.

Except in the photos it’s only… five.

Screen after screen I scroll through faces. Dozens of images… and she’s not there. Has it really been that long?

And the tears ambush me. Hot and bitter. I curl over, laboring to breathe through grief that blurs images in my hand. Where is she?

Where is my little redhead?

She’s in a center for children who hurt deeper than their families, doctors and specialists can manage to heal. She’s in a place that’s not home. As we unpack decorations and bake pies this holiday season, she will miss more photos. She’s already missed so many. She’s missing our life… and we’re missing hers.

Your Grief May Surprise You, Too

As holidays unfold this year, your grief may surprise you like that, too. In the middle of a mall. In a meeting at work. Driving down the street past a favorite place. A reminder that the pain isn’t really gone. It’s just waiting for a little air to breathe. One small crack of a window and it floods in again. In those ambushed moments, we can still see good this holiday. We can fight the despair with powerful tools that strengthen grieving hearts.

5 Tools to Overcome Special Needs Grief

  1. Get a grief buddy. Take a friend to coffee and ask if they’d be your “I feel like crap today” friend. Someone you can email or text or just call and know they’ll listen and won’t need you to smile and have it all together. And someone who loves you enough to tell you it’s time to get up, give the kleenex a break and let the good in too.
  2. Find a comforting book, CD or Scripture passage for this season. Read it every morning as you awake, allowing yourself permission to cry, question and sometimes just feel numb. Choose to trust that resource to inspire and strengthen you… to fill in the gaps the tears leave behind.
  3. Go for a walk. Plan some time each day to get your heart pumping, whether it’s a walk around the block, vigorous house cleaning, or popping in that exercise video for 20 minutes. Endorphines released in your body will lift your mood and allow you a healthy way to expend the grief energy that sometimes feels overwhelming.
  4. Invest in others who are struggling. Give an evening to a battered women’s shelter, collect shoe boxes filled with personal care items for poor kids abroad, write letters to service men and women deployed across the world. Others are grieving this holiday, too. As we reach out, we remember we’re not alone
  5. Plan quiet moments in your holiday busyness. The grief will surge, so give yourself space to let it. Make a 6 week calendar and plan events through the end of the year with your family, making sure there are days – even stretches of days – that are unplanned. Just allowing space in your schedule keeps away the stress that exacerbates a broken heart.


This season may feel different for me, my little girl, our family. It may be different than normal for your family too. But the joy that marks it can still be ours – real, deep joy and peace – when we let ourselves do what we need to care for our hearts.

In comfort,

How Do You Ride the Waves of Special Needs Grief?

Is grief part of your holiday season this year? What tools help you cope? This is a safe place to share your grief and the strategies that give you strength to go on. Laurie and I would love to hear from you. You can also visit Laurie at her blog,

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3 Responses to “5 Tools to Overcome Special Needs Grief”

  1. Sarah says:

    I have a son with autism, and felt tears threatening as I can relate that I don’t have pictures of my son either. The pics I do have are of faces that try to smile because I said “Smile!” and not because he’s really smiling.

    My husband is my best friend, and I can always go to him to cry and just be held. When I grieve, I usually find a place to be alone and let out the hard tears. Sometimes if it’s during the school day, I’ll curl up in my son’s bed and hold his blanket and pillow pet and just cling to them. I like to go back in my memories and remember what he was like when he was a baby, when autism wasn’t part of our lives – at least, not officially. I recall the really hard therapy sessions we’ve been through. But I have to keep remembering past that. Remembering the first time when he was 5 that he was able to tell me he loved me. Remembering how far he’s come and the incredible progress he’s made.

    I also pray. I thank God for my precious son, and confess that I don’t understand it all. I don’t know why this is in our lives. All I know is that somehow, God is glorified in this. Through His sovereign grace, He is allowing this trial in the life of my son and our family, and He is the One who can turn my tears to joyful song. I don’t always like what role autism plays in our lives, but without it, my son wouldn’t be the same. The way he views the world, the different ways he’s able to show affection in a way that simply melts my heart – those are the blessings of autism.

    I actually like to spend time with Samuel when I’m grieving. I don’t usually cry during that time because it scares him. But if it’s a time that he lets me, I snuggle with him, and we’re just quiet together staring at the ceiling in silence. This is usually at night when he’s in bed, but not yet asleep. If he lets me, I run my fingers through his fine hair and study every part of his face. I contemplate just how much I love him, regardless of the emotion I may be feeling at that time. In my grief, I choose to love my son no matter what, for as long as God gives me breath.

    I don’t know how practical these things are for someone else, but this is how I deal with things. I hope it is helpful to someone else in the trenches of grief! Feel free to follow my blog about our journey through autism at

  2. Thanks for posting this, Jolene. We just visited Angel tonight and it was indeed a rolling wave of emotion. It’s going to be a very different kind of holiday. Glad God’s into “new every morning” because we’re gonna need it!

  3. Jolene says:

    Dear Sarah,

    Thank you so much for describing how you deal with your grief. What a help for other parents and an opportunity for them to identify with your emotions. I visited your website and really enjoyed your blog. Sounds like you scored big with the tablet for Samuel!

    Best wishes,


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