By Kerri Hanlon

Adaptability has been on my mind. I was leading an Adaptive Yoga Training at my studio, Yoga Home. We had spent the day looking at the practice of yoga and how we can adapt the yoga poses and breathing techniques for individuals of all abilities. It all stems from the belief that in respecting each individuals’ unique bodies, we help them access the energetic benefits of the posture by using blankets, blocks, bolsters, straps, the wall, and sometimes our own bodies to help our students find their version of the posture.

One of my students commented on the vast adaptability of the practice. Our conversation grew to our innate desire to control things and the fear involved in letting go. To which I said, “It’s not just adaptive yoga. It’s adaptive life.”

This concept of adaptability is something I grew to know, and work to appreciate, during the 19 years I had the privilege of being Sean’s Mom. Sean’s significant medical and developmental challenges made adaptability a necessity.

Sean taking time to enjoy a snack while enjoying the scenery at Otter Cliffs in Maine.

Trust me when I tell you this was not an easy learning process, and one that did not come naturally to me.

I’m not a fan of labeling, but safe to say my inherent nature is far more “Type A” than “Type B’. I crave order, consistency, a plan. Controlling? Maybe. Ok, make that a yes. Before Sean, I spent an inordinate amount of time searching for coordinating holiday outfits for my oldest two children. Christmas season was planned and scheduled so we could be sure we fit in everything we “needed” to do. I was working, often way too hard, to create an experience of what I thought something was supposed to be.

And then we were gifted with Sean. This wonderfully delightful, complex little being whose needs demanded I shift my thinking and actions.

Yes, there may still have been coordinating holiday outfits (they are really cute after all), but most days it was enough to just get everyone out of the house clothed. Forget matching outfits; matching socks was a miracle.

It was holidays that struck me most, as I was raised steeped in traditions and my heart craves the familiar. But adaptability showed up in ways large and small every day.

It meant saying goodbye to the image of Sean walking to the bus stop on his first day of Kindergarten with his siblings. Instead, my husband I would help Sean in his wheelchair out to the small bus with the wheelchair lift. Instead of being greeted by his neighbors and peers, he was greeted by his nurse.

Recovering from surgery didn’t stop Sean from enjoying a beach vacation.

It meant saying goodbye to walking side by side on the beach. Instead, I would push Sean in a super-sized jogging stroller. We were still together, soaking in the sun and

hearing the waves crash, just not side by side and maybe holding hands. And because Sean was non-verbal, I didn’t get to hear him give voice to what was on his mind.

Sometimes it meant saying goodbye to the family driving together to get to the beach. One year, Sean was hospitalized for the start of vacation week. So our older two children would drive with dear friends, I would fly to meet them, and my husband and Sean would drive to meet us after being discharged.

It meant that in addition to the sweet picnic basket to dine al fresco, we would hang feeding bags from trees.

It meant moving the tailgate from our home to bedside at CHOP.

It meant we no longer traveled as a “carry on only” family, but with lots of luggage filled with medicines, respiratory equipment and always knowing where the closest hospital was.

“Adaptability – the quality of being able to adjust to new conditions”

Yes, adaptability meant adjusting to our new way of living.

I could say all of this was a blessing, as it gave me opportunity to let go of my need to control my environment and allow myself to live in the moment. After all, it’s through this releasing of expectations of what we think things are supposed to be that we allow ourselves to simply be present to our experience. It was a blessing. And still, it was hard.

My heart hurt when I could envision Sean running through Valley Green and knew this wasn’t his reality. I yearned to hear him use words to express himself, knowing this wasn’t in his capacity.

All of these experiences may have contributed to the biggest ask I’ve encountered in letting go of control. When we learned it was time to let Sean go. Not a single second of this was easy. And yet, somehow, I was able to be present for myself, my family and Sean in his final hours. This letting go, this adapting to what was my reality in that moment in time; this was a gift I can only describe as grace.

Now my adapting takes on new meaning. It’s adapting to being a family of four rather than a family of five. It’s adapting to being unexpectedly empty nesters. It’s adapting to life without Sean.

Good thing he came into my life to give me the strength and wisdom to know I can.