Two Mama Bears and a Scholarship: Transforming Loss into Hope and Healing

When your child has special needs, especially when they look “normal” on the outside, life is different. There are fun times, happy times, but sooner or later the realities of your child’s struggles come bubbling to the surface. There is often silence when others speak about their children’s accomplishments. Not because you are jealous. Because you know your child’s accomplishments are different. Less socially accepted. Less understood. It can be lonely.

Yet there we were, sitting in the dark auditorium for Senior Night, as my son’s name was called to accept his award: the David A. Conrad scholarship for $500. As he walked back to his seat, the auditorium filled with applause. The look on his face…

<insert Mama Bear heart clench here>

I had a chance to sit down recently with Karen Conrad, who created this scholarship in her son David’s memory. I wanted to know about the young man whose legacy had given my son a such a boost of optimism and confidence. We were just two Mama Bears, fierce advocates for our boys all their lives, having breakfast and bonding over eggs, coffee, and shared stories. It’s important to share David’s story today, as it’s the anniversary of his passing, and his scholarship fund opens for donations.

David Conrad: Quintessential White Sox Fan for Mayor

David Alan Conrad loved the White Sox, politics, and history. In fact, his favorite colors were black and white for his beloved White Sox — when he was in eighth grade, he was lucky enough to see the Sox win the World Series. He loved politics so much that he used to ask his mom’s friends – “If I run for mayor of Downers Grove someday, would you vote for me?” Of course they all said yes. 😊

David was on the high school swim team and once swam so hard, for so long, he had an asthma attack. He gave it his all, in the pool and in life. He always saw the best in everyone. And even with the challenges he faced, he always said, “I’m fine.” He never wanted to worry anyone, let anyone down.

This is one of my favorite photos of David and his mom, dancing at a family wedding.

Like my son, David attended Downers Grove South (DGS) High School and was fortunate enough to be in the special education program with an Individual Education Plan (IEP). The program made a huge difference in both our sons’ lives. Both our boys went on to College of DuPage with their “blue cards,” a continuation of their IEP from high school. But sometimes, all the love, support, and blue cards in the world are not enough. David passed away at the tender age of 21 in 2013.  

About the David A. Conrad Scholarship

Karen and her family started the scholarship to honor David’s memory in 2014 with their own money, after she read that starting a scholarship fund can be healing.

“David once wrote a letter to the Women’s Club, on his own initiative, for a scholarship, and he won. He was so proud! The look on his face when he won…” Karen trailed off, pressing the locket around her neck to her heart. Inside is her favorite photo of her son. She wears it always, keeping David close to her heart.

The David A. Conrad scholarship is awarded to student(s) at DGS in the special education department. Someday, Karen would like to extend it to Downers Grove North High School if she can raise enough money this year. While Karen leaves it with the faculty to determine the criteria and winners, she has said that it is typically awarded to someone like David: hard working, kind-hearted, and open to people from every walk of life.

I recognize that times are hard, and I don’t typically promote fundraisers. But this cause is near and dear to my heart, as are Karen and David. If you would like to donate to this special cause, here is the link to the scholarship Go Fund Me page.  

David in Three Words: Sweet. Innocent. Loveable.

Karen says if he were alive today, David would tell students who receive this scholarship: “Believe in yourself! Do your best! Be optimistic. Move through your challenges! Even if no one else believes you can do it, know that you can. Don’t worry if you make mistakes. You got this!”

I know David is an angel now, watching over his mother and his family. I imagine his spirit is with my son, invisible wings now on his journey as he transfers to University of Iowa this year to study writing. Karen said she thinks David brought her and I together. I know he did.

Thank you, David. 😊

Resources:

Why Teaching Our Kids to Be Inclusive is Not the Answer

Group of playful children in studioI just read this post on Scary Mommy, “Why I No Longer Tell My Child to be Inclusive and Kind” by Julee Morrison and I am pissed off enough to write about it. First, let me say that, as a marketer and a writer, I know that these headlines (accompanied by the sad child stock photos) are designed to incite emotion, clicks and comments. (That said, please forgive my stock photo, I don’t have a real one that truly fits this post and this one hit the mark for me.) On Facebook alone, there were thousands of comments on this article.

But this is not a post about marketing.

This is a post about taking back control as parents.

Look, I’m a parent of two teens, one of whom is special needs. I don’t write about that last part on my blog because it is not my story to tell and I respect my child’s privacy. I say this to clearly establish the fact that I understand to a heartfelt degree that there are people in the world who have huge struggles and deserve extra kindness. I’ve got 18 years under my belt on that personally, but that is a topic best kept for another post.

Both of my kids have been bullied, especially my special needs child, so I understand how the dark side of being “non-inclusive” hurts in a profound way. My kids have not always been perfect either, none are, and have probably hurt others along their journey to becoming adults. We are all guilty of this at some point or another. Including me. I will forever be haunted by the time a girl was taunted on the playground right in front of me and I did…nothing.

But it’s more complicated today than it has ever been. 

Gun violence, domestic violence, child abuse, sexual predators, school shootings, bullying, mental health, gender, race, politics and religion are driving forces in our awareness and conversations today more than ever before. Our kids are growing up and dying in the crossfire of it all, trying to make sense of the insensible. As an adult, I am still trying to make sense of it all and I am struggling. Our kids struggling, too. Mightily.


According to suicide.orgteen and adolescent suicides have continued to rise dramatically in recent years. Consider these alarming figures:

  • Every 100 minutes a teen takes their own life.
  • Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24.
  • About 20 percent of all teens experience depression before they reach adulthood.
  • Between 10 to 15 percent suffer from symptoms at any one time.
  • Only 30 percent of depressed teens are being treated for it.

Source: Why Today’s Teens Are More Depressed Than Ever


If our only message to our children today is: be inclusive and kind…than we are failing them miserably.

Hear me out.

Continue reading “Why Teaching Our Kids to Be Inclusive is Not the Answer”

Keep Dancing: Bouncing Back from Life’s Curveballs

danceAs kids, we think about becoming something. A fireman. An artist. A parent. A better version of our parents. Lots of things. But life throws us curve balls and where we actually end up tends to deviate from what we once imagined. What is that phrase – life is what happens while we are busy making other plans?

In the last three years, I’ve experienced tremendous change. Divorce. A special needs child finally properly diagnosed after 15 years of struggle. I lost my home. Money. A few friends. My job. At one point, I felt like I lost me. Other times, I lost hope that things could ever be right again. I made mistakes. I tried to make amends. There are still days where I feel like Charlie Brown when the football gets taken away at the last minute and I fall flat on my face.

Some days I still think the universe is punking me. 🙂

But amidst the change and loss, I found so much more. Continue reading “Keep Dancing: Bouncing Back from Life’s Curveballs”