Friends, today I want to introduce you to a special friend with an incredible mission to write books that show kids with disabilities are still just KIDS. I’m honored to have her here to share her story about her beautiful boy, Ben, and how she has turned such a profound loss into something purposeful. I am so deeply moved by her strength, her faith, and her ability to transform her grief into a calling to create the Ben Smiles Memorial Foundation and Ben’s Adventures Book Series.
Please read below to learn more about them both and how this amazing mama was inspired to honor Ben by making a difference in the lives of children with disabilities…
Hi. I’m Elizabeth Gerlach. When trying to describe me, I automatically think ‘triplet mom’ or ‘special needs mom’. But honestly, I don’t comfortably fall into either of those categories any more. You see, one of my triplet sons died in 2016 after a long bout of respiratory illnesses. He was almost 4.
His death automatically had me shattered and lost in a crisis. When it was apparent he would be dependent for life, I had accepted I was going to be that caregiver and his mommy forever. But now that he’s gone, what is my purpose NOW? Why did he die? Why did God give him to me only to take him away?
The truth is I have chosen to believe this was meant to be his purpose and our path. He was mine for a reason. And out of his death, I need to honor him in the best way I know how. He was a joyful beautiful boy with the biggest smile. Daily life was difficult but he laughed and smiled through it all. I hope to be able to share that piece of him with others. I want to show that out of struggle comes hope. Out of struggle, comes love. Out of struggle comes joy and purpose.
I’m not the only mother to ever lose a child, and like most grieving moms, I have become used to the ‘new normal’. There is a new baseline. A new starting point. And I have found a way to take steps forward in this new life.
A year after my son’s death, my husband and I established the Ben Smiles Foundation.
At a young age, kids start to learn through play and their interaction with the environment. Now, imagine if you can’t easily move your arms or make your hands work. It is much more difficult to access the world around you. Even if kids have motor challenges, they still need to play to learn. Adapted toys that are manipulated with the touch of a switch are available, but they are expensive and many times not covered by insurance. This is where Ben Smiles comes in – we gift switch-adapted toys and other devices to kids through the Ben’s Toy Closet program. You can learn all about this program HERE.
I also felt there was a need in current children’s books to represent kids with a visible disability. Ben’s Adventures Book series was born one day as I was driving – where most ideas come to me. Ben’s Adventures children’s book series is about a young triplet brother who uses a wheelchair. He loves life and his family. He has dreams and loves to play, and finds the fun, positivity, and light in his everyday situations. It’s a sweet story of hope and inclusion, friendship and diversity. And it represents my son Benjamin and spreads his joy.
It is my mission to write books that show kids with disabilities are still JUST KIDS.
It is my hope that these books will begin to break the stigma of disability, making it less scary. Maybe even possibly offering a starting point for questions and discussions in typical families.
Pulling from our own personal family experiences, the first book in Ben’s Adventure Book series is Day at the Beach, released in May 2018. In the second book which is available for pre-order, Ben takes us on an adventure from his classroom to the circus. It’s a tribute to Early Childhood teachers, who devote their years to developing our children of ALL needs, providing them the best possible start in education.
My Benjamin had a wonderful and devoted team in his one year of preschool, who loved him and were invested in him from the very first day. This book is dedicated to them.
My beautiful boy is no longer on this earth, but I remember him and smile when I think of him. I want others to know him and to see him. And I thank him for enabling us to impact others’ lives. Every time I see a child smile from one of our gifts, I think … ‘This is why my Ben died.’ It doesn’t replace him or take away the heartbreak but it reassures me that he is still here.
If you’re interested in learning more about the new Ben’s Adventures book, it is available for pre-order HERE.
You can find more information about my work and my mission by clicking on the following websites, facebook pages, and Instagram accounts:
Friends, if you feel moved to contribute to Elizabeth’s incredible book series, please go to her Kickstarter campaign page HERE to support this incredible mission. And please spread the word to teachers and parents everywhere about the need for Ben’s Adventure Series books that show kids with disabilities are still just KIDS.