If you could write a letter to yourself at age 10 or 18 or 27, what would you say?
I was recently asked that question by Ellyn Spragins, the author of “If I’d Known Then” and other books that use that idea to share valuable information and advice. Ellyn came to Charlotte to speak at at the Jewish Federation of Charlotte and they asked me to sit on a panel of local women. All of us would write a letter to our younger selves.
No too surprisingly, we decided to write about diabetes. Ellyn thought the day of Benny’s diagnosis was a time when knowing what would come next, a glimpse into the future, would have been welcome. She’s right. There’s not much I could have changed, but this letter (below) would’ve given me comfort and confidence.
You are so indescribably upset. What the hell is wrong with Benny? In a moment the nurse is finally going to tell you: He has Type 1 diabetes.
As much as you’ve been desperate to hear an answer, knowing it will not bring you much comfort. In fact, it will do the opposite. You will have to learn how to push a needle into Benny’s pristine baby skin and watch his face crumple in pain and confusion about why his Mommy is hurting him. And Stacey, you’re going to have to do it five times a day.
The first month at home will be brutal. You’ll weep and sweat while trying to hold your crying child down in order to stick him. Every time he eats. Occasionally you’re going to have to do this in the middle of the night, when he’s sleeping peacefully, and follow up with an insulin shot.
There’s nothing I can say to take this heartbreak away from you and Benny. But I can tell you a couple of things that are essential you understand sooner rather than later. First, Benny’s diabetes isn’t going to get better and it isn’t going to go away. You take care of this—or it’s going to take care of you in a bad way. Which means, hard as it is to believe, it’s correct and essential that you “hurt” your child with this poking and these injections. In two weeks, neither of you will be the least bit bothered. I know—it doesn’t seem possible.
And second, in time it will be critical to understand that this isn’t your diabetes. It belongs to Benny. You have to give your children the tools to take care of themselves so that they can leave you. All parents should learn this, but you and Slade will do well by Benny if you learn it early.
Finally, take heart Stacey. This will not hold him back. He will do everything you hope for him. Imagine: when he is eight he will go to a sleep away camp—not a diabetes camp—for two weeks. Know that you will be so proud of him and of your family.