The heartache of losing a child in any circumstance holds complex feelings only others who have similar experiences understand. My birth children are here. But my foster children have gone. We loved four foster children during the four years that we fostered. But I feel the greatest loss with Sakura.
TWO YEARS OF HEALING
We cared for Sakura for two years and helped her heal from terrible neglect. She arrived at the age of 4 with her 5-year-old sister, both affected by neglect and suspected sexual abuse. Each girl, wide-eyed, wore diapers and came with a blanket and a small bag of donations from the agency. Sakura behaved like a 1.5-year-old in speech, body movements, and learning abilities. Her big sister holding Sakura’s hand, equaling showed developmental delays and emotional detachment.
Many things happened in those two years: endless doctors’ appointments, court appearances, counseling appointments, a new social worker every month it seemed, speech therapy appointments, parent visits for the first 6 months, and more. By the time two years passed, Sakura flourished and became a vibrant 6-year-old. She eventually attended a public school home-based program and developed healthy peer relationships, laughing and playing.
However, within the first six months, we realized how ill-prepared and untrained we were for her big sister’s behavioral outbursts. Sakura’s big sister entered an in-house intensive behavioral treatment facility and began receiving more specific emotional and developmental support than we could offer. As we approached the two-year mark, both girls became adoptable. Completing the adoption approval process appeared uneventful. With approval to adopt and an established and thriving Sakura, it appeared she soon would be a forever in our lives. We enjoyed visits with her sister who also showed signs of healing and progress.
THE DAY IT CHANGED
The flow of visiting foster care social workers stopped and our adoption social worker assigned to us began her process. With preapproval for adoption, we didn’t think much about it. Then one day, the director of the behavioral facility that Sakura’s big sister attended arrived at my door. She reminded me of Cruella de Vil. I explained about the approval of our adoption paperwork. I explained how we wanted more training and support from the county to learn about behavioral challenges to support Sakura’s big sister. We wanted to adopt both girls.
AND THEN IT WAS DECIDED
The final decision arrived “matter-of-fact” with no room for discussion: NOT A GOOD MATCH for adoption for the older sister. To “work the system,” the older sister needed to be adopted with the younger sister in a home without siblings due to the older sisters’ behavioral challenges. Alone in her challenging condition, big sister labeled as un-adoptable. With Sakura’s beautiful, happy, angel face accompanying her big sister, big sister can now become adoptable. No discussion.
I will never forget the day, the parking lot, the weather, and where the children were sitting in the minivan. Within a weeks time, I dropped her off like a baby in a basket at a police station. But there was no basket. She was not a baby found on the street. She was our daughter, the one we were adopting. She was our Kua.
And then we never saw her again.
THE SECRET PHONE CALL
One day about a week later, I received a secret phone call from her temporary foster mom giving in to Sakura after she had begged to talk to me, her Momma Jeni. Confused, upset, and crying, she didn’t understand. I could only muster, “I love you, Kua. Everything will be okay.” I trusted in my faith. I trusted in the system. I had to believe that everything will be okay. Shocked, fearful, heartbroken, guilt. How do you help your family and yourself move through the unexpected?
A year later, we received a letter updating us about their adoption that miraculously occurred within 6 weeks after we “dropped her off” by a family in a nearby town who did not have children of their own. They explained that to help the new family bond, previous relationships had to be cut off. A photo and handwritten notes from both girls expressed happiness and love. Smiling and together. A good ending.
THE TENDER PLACE IN MY HEART
But my heart aches so much. I find comfort mourning with you in this grief group that I found accidentally. I hope you don’t mind. I am not angry or bitter.
I just wish. I wish so many things: wanting more parent training beforehand, ending family violence and abuse, hoping their mother advocated for them, reversing anything and everything to make something less hard.
I wonder too about birthday parties, pictures drawn at school, sporting events, camping trips, and holidays. Do the girls feel loved?
Today, for the first time I feel I can acknowledge the pain so openly. Certainly, I felt super heavy-hearted at the beginning, as did all my children, especially Max, a 6-year-old at the time. Max and Kua always played together, like twins, forever best friends. And then, just like that, gone. Just gone. Empty car seat. Empty bed. The toys starred at me.
Alligator tears slide off my cheeks. It’s been 9 years. It feels good to cry.
TO LOVE WILL NEVER BE A REGRET OF MINE
And then 2 days ago, I mentioned to someone about this place in my heart that is still tender. His response was bewildered and a bit crass, “Well, you signed up for this. What did you expect?” Stunned, I think. The statement was true and I knew it would be hard when we decided to foster. I wasn’t expecting the dismissiveness. To decide to open your chest and tell someone, “Look, see here, this is a part of me and I am tender here. And I want you to know. I loved this beautiful person who is no longer in my life,” and then receive nothing heartfelt or empathetic in return.
We sign up for life every day that we live. Do we blame the survivor of a car crash for driving? Can big tender feelings find empathy and compassion? Lost in the incomprehensible thought of such a tender connection that he most likely never experienced.
HERE I STAND
Here I still stand with the memory that I treasure hoping the short time together gave her and her sister what they needed to be strong and brave. Because that is what I set out to do, to love and treasure the people in my life for however long or short the season may be as best as I can.
“To love, to have the capability to love and to choose to love unabated; however raw, real, heartbreaking, and beautiful, will never be a regret of mine.”
How very fortunate that I can feel this deeply unable to know how long the connection will last.
Still standing on my mountain searching for others to love,
All rights reserved. May 5, 2019