Answering the unanswerable question

My older D-free son Nathaniel was home "sick" yesterday. "Sick" in quotes, because though he'd puked prodigiously the night before, I pegged that as being a predictable outcome of his having eaten, (against my caring-parental advice) 12 chicken nuggets, two donuts, a 12-ounce glass of milk, and if my reading of the output was accurate, at least three chocolate chip cookies, the latter explicitly forbidden. One can only say so often, "Don't eat so much or you'll get a tummyache" before one must allow the child to learn by doing. If only he hadn't learned all over the sofa cushion.

I let him stay home because I wanted to be sure it wasn't some GI bug that just happened to make an appearance that night, but by noon, it was pretty clear the kid wasn't really sick. So he got to come with me as I ran errands. Grocery store, gas station, bank. As we were returning home post-bank, he piped up with one of those riding-in-the-car-existentialist questions:

"Mom, why did Eric get diabetes?"

The multibillion-dollar question, that. If I knew the answer, and could find a way to turn that knowledge into a screening test and/or pharmacologic intervention, I would not now be worrying about how to pay for Eric's higher education. I thought about the possible answers: a genetic propensity for autoimmunity; possible exposure to toxins in the air and/or drinking water, pre or post birth; a complex collection of in utero factors, not least of which was my own autoimmune disease developing while I was carrying him; random chance; all of the above. I settled for, "I don't know, honey. He just did."

Not good enough for Nathaniel. "I mean, why did GOD give Eric diabetes?" he persisted.

Not quite the same question. I have told Nate that all things happen for a reason, but that we are often not given to know what that reason is, and we must just trust that the reason is a good one. Which is a hard concept to swallow, when it comes to diabetes developing in a child.

There is a theory out there that God does not give us more than we can handle. People quoting that theory often also quote Mother Teresa's witty comeback to that notion: "I know God doesn't give me more than I can handle. I just wish He didn't trust me so much." I have found out over the years that diabetes is, all in all, not such a big deal. It is certainly not more than I can handle. But I would give a lot to not have to handle it. Heck, the only thing I would NOT give is Eric's life: I would rather handle it and have him, than not have him and be free of diabetes. A no-brainer, for sure.

I told Nate that I didn't know what God's purpose was in giving Eric diabetes. Maybe God wanted me to respond as I did, by writing a book to help others... self-centered notion that may be, but it was satisfactory to Nate. Not to me, though. God didn't give Eric diabetes just to test my writing capabilities or my mettle. That is quite clear to me, because it's not me who is impacted most by this mixed blessing we live with: it's Eric. He is the one who has to carry a machine around in a pocket on his shirts wherever he goes. He's the one who puts up with the pokes, the prods, the doctors' visits, the well-meaning questions, the highs, the lows, the fussing, the no-you-can't-eat-that-until-I-give-you-insulins. I try sometimes to imagine Eric, age 5, without diabetes, and I fail. He's been so shaped and formed by diabetes that I'm not sure who my son would be without it. For better or worse, he's become who he is in part because of diabetes. Without it, would he be as patient and as cheerful and as personable as he is? He was always pretty chipper before his diagnosis, but... I think not.

Which may actually be my answer.

all i can say is goosebumps! you are such a great mom, being presented with these big questions gets you thinking, i know what you mean in that you can not imagine them with out their D and would they be same person. i mentioned some past hardship to new friend the other day ( not jacob's diabetes) and she said i knew it people with easy lives are never as kind and compassionate as you! i guess it's true if we allow it the struggles enable us to open our hearts. blessing to you elizabeth! you are a great writer, mom and person! amy

Thanks Amy :)

In Eric's case, he was so little when he developed D that I really can't imagine him without it. He was just this cute little elf, not even talking yet... the only thing was, he just had a sunny personality, and the D made it go away. It came back once we got it under control, but his crankiness was the first clue I had something was wrong. I sort of feel like if he hadn't developed the D, life would've been way too easy for him ... and I probably would've spoiled him rotten, letting him do whatever he pleased, just because he's so darn cute. As it is, the D keeps me from doing that. So... it has its uses.

i am typically a pretty optomistic person but your ability to find the good where most just stay angry and ask god why me you find the blessing behind the surface, jacob was diag at 10 my husband and I still look at pics without jacob being present and are like awwww that was before diabetes! aside from his self conciousness he has handled it with grace and certainly his personality is a better match for diabetes than most there are still days where i would give anything to take it away, as i am sure you would to. but being the realist that we both are i think we realize it is better to be fully present in the life we were given than to always be blaming or saying what if. we both have two wonderfully spirited boys. jacob even at 14 was worried about having gym today and someone seeing his pod, sometimes i'm at a loss for what to say to make things better. i think i said have a good day and he said probably not because of diabetes or something, i said have a good day despite diabetes jacob. i know he will find his place he is responsible and resilient now he just needs to get the this is who i am, have problem with that attitude! no one will have a problem with is that is the problem his pain is self induced. oh dear this was your great post, didnt mean to go off about our issues! i guess if i have advise for other parents it would be to get the word out, esp at a new school this year it is all on him to bring it out or not his choice! hang in! amy

I learned long ago that staying angry at the had fate deals is pointless. Doesn’t change anything, and you wind up having to deal with the same load of crap anyway, but you enjoy it even less if you choose to have a bad attitude. You don’t have to like it, but it becomes less of a burden if you try to be positive. And over time, you find that what used to be this huge nightmare is not so bad. I mean, if Eric hadn’t developed diabetes, I would not know all the terrific folks I have met thru TuDiabetes. My life is enriched because of them, so in a weird way, I owe that to diabetes. Ironic, right? All the sleepless nights and the worry and the fretting and the fear, seems like having a kid with diabetes is a downer and a drag… But there are up sides to it, even so. I try to focus on those, and not on the drawbacks. The real trick, though, is to teach our kids to feel the same way. Eric is still a little guy, and the challenges of adolescence are still a ways off… So we shall see what tune I’m singing in ten years, LOL.

I agree, Elizabeth you have a wonderful way of telling your stories and experiences. I respect those who believe in the 'God chose ...', but as a T1 diagnosed at age 5, I had a hard time with the explanation that 'God made me that way'.

I found the book 'When Bad things happens to Good people' very helpful, along with other sources, to come to acceptance of my diabetes as just something that happened, somewhat randomly.

When kids have asked me how I got T1D, I explain it in the same way as what causes siblings to have different color eyes or hair, different body type or skin features like moles and freckles. We all turn out with these different physical characteristics, and maybe the susceptibility for getting T1D is as simple as that. Then later there may or may not be the trigger that results in actually developing T1D.

Hmm, wonder if anyone with red hair has ever said, "Wow, God must have thought I could handle that !"

nice words ladies.. nice to be the company of humor ( red hair, my boys call those blessed with red hair gingers! lol) and grace. honestly elizabeth, having always know diabetes and you leading the way i suspect eric will handle everything in stride and be a great example for others some day.. thanks for making my day brighter, jacob stayed after school to work out with his buds and just said thanks for picking me up at school mom, i had a great day! happy day all around!

My boys are a little young for me to explain about genetic susceptibilities, but the fact is, I have Hashimoto's, my mom and her father both had rheumatoid arthritis, so autoimmunity runs in my family. We've never had a diabetic before, but variety is the spice of life, right? :/ Not to mention the fact that the entire time I was pregnant with Eric, I was working in an area in Massachusetts that has become a hotspot for T1D in children—it was the same area featured in the book Diabetes Rising. Whatever is in the air/groundwater in the Wayland-Marlborough-Sudbury vicinity, Eric and I were both exposed to it. So I am pretty solid as to why Eric has diabetes; it's just that I can't put it into terms the boys are able to understand just yet. And I rarely bring God into the explanation; it was Nate who wanted to know what God was thinking at the time. I probably oughta mention somewhere in all of this that I'm a preacher's kid, although I do not attend church and consider myself a Taoist-Episcopalian hybrid. When Grandma is an Episcopal priest, God tends to be brought into the mix via osmosis, but I've allowed them to do their own explorations in that regard. Nate seems rather attracted to formal religion as presented by the Episcopalians. Eric is a walking, talking manifestation of the Tao of Pooh.

Eric, by the way, has a significant dose of auburn in among the brown. His maternal grandfather started life as a redhead, and his paternal grandmother did too.

Sounds like you and Eric certainly have the cards stacked against you !. As for the red hair humor - I must admit my Mom had bright red hair when she was young, and told me how hard it was when other kids teased her. We had joked one time, saying at least I didn't have BOTH T1D and red hair !

My thoughts regarding 'what was God thinking' is that God doesn't cause it, but does provide many ways ('angels', spiritual guidance, intuition? ) to help us deal with whatever struggles we have, if we are open to 'seeing' the subtle ways help is offered ! Some might say finding TuD was a 'godsend' .

no offense on the red hair! i always liked it, my kids are just silly, megaminxX nice thoughts on the spiritual guidance, intuition... i agree. oh i just read the part about eric and the tao of pooh! love it, i read tons of books about budhism, budhist tales, judeasm, there are soooo many out there, i have a box saved for my grandchildren, mason also loves his "baby bible" but we never formally went to church (they didnt care for it and honestly i prefer a good hike with them on sunday to connect to spirituality) my favorite memories of them as little ones was reading all those great books and seeing them do their yoga moves. sadly those days are over but hopefully the seeds were planted. best wishes with your precious boys. amy

I would definitely say TuD was a Godsend!!! I say it a lot, actually. To everyone I meet who tells me they know someone whose child was just Dx'd, or that they were just... etc. It has been a Godsend to me in a thousand ways.