It Is Well With My Soul…All The Time

Several days after I checked Layla into the hospital and admitted her into the psychiatric unit of our local hospital (see Then Sings My Soul (No Matter What), the music that is usually rolling around in my head every day suddenly stopped for a moment. You know how in the movies when someone is being told really bad news, he or she is watching as the bearer-of-bad-news lips are moving but they can’t hear a word being said? All is silent, even to the person watching the movie. That’s a real thing.

I think I was getting ready to go see Layla in the hospital. As I got dressed I noticed a suspicious lump. I put the weirdness of it aside and went about my day. I checked again that night and at the insistence of my husband, I decided to make an appointment to see my doctor. Upon my visit with her, she checked, she prayed with me and we set up an appointment for a mammogram and ultrasound at a local breast cancer diagnostic center.

I found myself in the lobby of what felt like a luxurious spa and I went upstairs. Everyone spoke so softly and gently, like all the ladies in there might break. I dressed in a white bathrobe with my rain boots and jeans still on. As I sat trying to distract myself with cooking magazines or repeating phrases from a song at church in my head like a mantra “Jesus, Jesus…You make the darkness tremble…” just trying to keep the darkness from closing into my mind as I waited my turn, I couldn’t help but notice that I was by far the youngest woman in there. I almost felt silly, like I don’t belong here…maybe I should come back in 10 or 20 years.

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Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on Pexels.com

I had my first mammogram and then an ultrasound. After I had finished both, I just waited on the bed in the ultrasound room. Again, I felt so silly “Why are you here?… this is so dumb…” and then “it is well with my soul…” But then a man in a white lab coat walked in with my ultrasound technician. He shook my hand and introduced himself and began talking. He lost me at the words “solid mass….” and I had to work so hard to keep my face composed, I couldn’t hear a word he said after that. I had trained myself to nod my head with my best active listening postures after raising so many children and I used that well-honed skill with all my heart, as if it were the last thing I would ever do. That was when the music stopped and was bursting in silence.  Somehow, I got all my clothes on and then another overly kind person came to make a biopsy appointment for the following week.

I went out to my car and I sat down but I couldn’t drive yet, I felt paralyzed in the parking lot. So I called my mom and then my best friend with all my ugly cry voice and face in full swing. Funny how those two gave the exact response to my news: “Oh shit.” It just signifies why they are who they are to me. I pulled myself together and drove to pick up my kids. Everything is going to be FINE.

And then began a harrowing week. And songs from church echoed in my mind as I went through my days. Sometimes the fragments and phrases buoyed me and at other times the tears would just leak from my eyes as I carried my foster son to his new home on Monday…checked Layla out of the local psychiatric unit and took her straight to the airport to visit my parents a few days on Tuesday….as I took a day on Wednesday for myself with coffee and a manicure….as my husband and I went to my biopsy appointment on Thursday and I had to hear the words….”Oooohhh, such a YOUNG girl…” as the doctor walked in. She scrunched up her face when she told me they will have to use double the numbing medication they usually do because there are so many nerve endings in the location of the tumor…and Lord Jesus, she was NOT kidding…and then Friday morning, I caught an early flight to Reno to check my daughter into a long term residential treatment center where she will remain for the next few months….and then I caught a flight home Saturday morning. I came home and I slept and cried and I cried and slept all day long.

And all week long, I kept everything about these tests and appointments close, only telling a few people because I didn’t want to freak anyone out unless I had to. So while people are giving me the biggest, warmest, and most painful hugs of my life for Layla, my biopsy incision and bruises are screaming inside my head “Ow, ow, ow!!!! Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so…ow ow ow!!!!” I do yoga, so I know how to look like I am at peace on the outside.

And then the morning of my results appointment arrives. My husband and I grab some coffee, I throw on my brightest shade of red lipstick and all the while that old hymn, just a snippet of it on repeat in my head. I sang it in the bathroom as I brushed little Sue’s hair before sending her off to preschool:

…Whatever my lot Thou has taught me to say “It is well, it is well with my soul….”

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When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll. Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say “It is well, it is well with my soul” It Is Well With My Soul (Horatio Spafford, 1876)

 

It circles as we wait in that luxurious lobby, as I partially disrobe so another stranger can see all my bits and bruises to make sure I am healing ok. And I am. And then as I am putting myself back together she says, “Unfortunately, I have to share some news you don’t want to hear…” and just like that, I have breast cancer. Three weeks ago, I thought I was at the pinnacle of excellent health. Just three months ago, I had an exam and nothing was found. But since I am so young, I don’t think anyone was really looking.

She asks me if I have a good support system. Based on the past 2 weeks, I told her in full confidence “I have an AMAZING support system.” She asks me if I work. To which I quip “I can’t work, I have three kids with special needs.” And then she tells me, “So, you WORK – You are going to have to call in all your troops for this.”

Thankfully, moderate to aggressive invasive ductal carcinoma can be treated, although this will not be an easy road. I have no doubt that with all the prayers and love and support available to me, I can fight like a beast and heal completely. But I falter a little when, as I told my loving uncle I think, “How the hell am I going to do chemo AND keep Sue from eating all her brother’s deodorant??” I realized I was asking him: How do I take care of myself and take care of three kids with medical issues of their own? This is all new territory. I am too young for this. But here I am. And so with my songs and the prayers and all the love pushing me forward, we begin the fight for MY healing.

What choice do I have?

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Then Sings My Soul (No Matter What)

Then Sings My Soul…

It’s a refrain I cling to so fiercely that I have it tattooed on my back. It comes from my favorite hymn “How Great Thou Art,” penned after Carl Boberg (1859-1940) witnessed the tranquility of the blue skies mirrored on a glassy sea in the wake of an intense thunderstorm. So the story goes. I grew up singing this classic from my church pew quite regularly, I can still hear the echo of the congregation enveloping me, losing myself to the sound of hundreds as one voice. It sits inside my chest, rolling around my head through the hard days. There was a day when I was brooding in my sorrow over one of Layla’s “storms,” that it came to me: even if my world is falling apart, I can still sing. God gave me this one thing that can keep me from drowning in the thick of heartache. The words are inked upon my shoulder over a purple calla lily. It is my commitment to sing no matter what. Yep, I got all that out of 4 words.

Last night, I found myself sitting in the ER, readying myself to admit my daughter to an adolescent psychiatric unit for the 3rd time in a year. Fluorescent lights glared at me, piercing the migraine that beat in my temple and I closed my eyes to block them out. And the camera dangling in its ominous half sphere from the ceiling as it watched us from above. As if that weren’t enough surveillance, the technicians sat in the hall watching us or repeatedly checking their cell phones in their boredom.

I cracked an eye to peek at the child I can hardly recognize any longer. This past week she had inexplicably fallen so far so fast. One day she came home from school, happy to see us. Later that night she stepped into the shower, and came out completely cracked open. Something shifted in that steamy bathroom and she hasn’t been the same since. Her grasp on reality has nearly been severed, even when her mood is stable. Our world has turned upside down and there is a finality about it this time.

So, then sings my soul.

I needed to shut it all out: the cameras, the technicians, the fluorescent lights, the screaming toddler in Room 7. Everything that feels so ugly.  Under the circumstances of the last 4 years, I have not been able to sing publicly or lead worship as I once did at church. But, I remembered my commitment to sing written on my shoulder. I tucked us inside a cocoon of songs I have always sung to her, since rocking her in my arms as a young mother full of hope and wonder. Each of my children have a song that I sing only for them. So I sang hers. “I just want to snuggle you, Mama. That’s my song, you are going to make me cry…” Then, I played all the songs on my cell phone that she loved so much as a little tiny brown eyed girl. And before I knew it, she was singing along with me. We sang quietly snuggling in the hospital bed for two hours as we waited to move her into the psych unit. Nobody stopped us or bothered us and in those precious moments, I had my little girl back. To find her, she had to be shut tight away from the world, sitting in a cold hospital room, enfolded in the music that took her back to a time when the world felt safer for her. I am so afraid I will never share a moment like this with her again.

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It felt like springtime on this February morning, in the courtyard birds were singing your praise…” lyrics from my song for Layla, As I Lay Me Down by Sophie B. Hawkins. Layla was born on a sunny morning in February 

They came for us, we walked through the hospital’s labyrinth for the 3rd time. We passed the unit she was born in. We passed the gift shop where my mother bought her a purple preemie outfit that was too big for her. I remember that first night she and I napped together as she snored on my chest in a hospital bed after 36 hours of labor. And then we arrived at the unit that no parent ever wants to visit their child in. And yet, here I am again. I was frisked, metal detected and allowed through 2 separately locked doors. We checked her in but will she ever leave for good? She hugged me hard when it was time for me to go. “I’ll see you in a few days. I love you,” I whispered.

I walked 6 blocks in the dark as I have so many times before on a night just as horrible as this one. I was cloaked in the midnight strolling the streets and somehow it soothed me a little. I felt my smallness, my futility in the face of my child’s broken mind. But I did not feel alone. I got in my car and before I could drive home, I cried forever. I thought all my tears had been cried out by now. But this time feels like a strange “good bye.” I don’t understand this feeling but there is this sense that the girl I poured my whole heart into raising, the little girl I once knew is gone for good.

Maybe it is just simple grief. When you break it down, I think grief is just a thousand unknowable, unforeseen, and unnamed goodbyes that hit you in a tidal wave all at once. Everything you have lost before, all that you lose today, and all that will never be. Yet, I always find Him there in the tidal wave. And I find I can accept whatever comes, at least I think I do. Today anyway.

What other choice do I have?

 

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…then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee…How Great Thou Art!                                                    Photo by Emiliano Arano on Pexels.com

 

 

A Steady Kind of Hope

They say if you are sea sick, to look out toward the horizon. Or perhaps, focus your gaze out at one stationary spot as your boat bobs atop the waves. That is great advice for someone who only suffers a little upset stomach. But if you are truly SICK from the motion of the ocean, you are in the fetal position in the bottom of the boat, eyes glued shut in misery, just surviving from moment to moment. I know the difference only because while whale watching a few years back, I was the person who still had the wherewithal to look out at that horizon while my son, Eddie, was rendered immobile in the bottom of the boat when epilepsy still racked his brain and vestibular system.

 

They say to “trust the Lord” and to put your “hope in the Lord” when life tosses you around in a similar way. But what is usually meant when kind people say these things is “Trust in miracles, pray for healing, believe that God will make it better.” Some of us know all too well that when you are in the bottom of the boat, these are false hopes.

Over the last 10 years, my view has changed about the idea of HOPE. Because children have epilepsy and are never cured. People get cancer, receive excellent medical treatment, they are prayed over diligently and still, they die. Families are torn apart by mental illness despite their best efforts and most heartfelt pleas to God. Does this make God cruel and heartless when it seems like he doesn’t hear or answer our prayers? I don’t believe so. I believe that He is good, even if life’s circumstances aren’t. He never changes. There are so many things I don’t understand about the mess of chronic illness in the lives of people.

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But one thing I do know: God is more concerned about healing our hearts than he is about healing our bodies. Too often, well meaning people want to hope and pray away sickness and never understand that there is something to be gained in  knowing God and his heart for us both in sickness and in health. Since we have grown accustomed to engineering our prayers around avoiding suffering or struggle, there are things about him and there are things about ourselves that we never learn.

I let myself stay stuck in the bottom of the boat for a long time. There have been wonderful times when the waves died down a bit, and my husband and I could breathe and look out again at a clear horizon. But inevitably, storms churn up and we find ourselves holding onto each other for dear life. I know that numb feeling of hopelessness, dead ends. A parent who watches their children suffer over the course of years with little reprieve, is clinging to primal prayers. At times, that was all I had. That andfistfuls of anger when I was constantly let down. But while parents do everything in their power to help their child from a medical standpoint, there are no guarantees and most often the miracle prayed for never come. When you are in the thick of it, you just have to keep your head down and get through the day, get to the next appointment, soothe the child, make dinner, etc.

 

When you live with chronic illness in your family, you can’t afford to hang your hope on getting better. Most often, very little in your circumstances will change. Sometimes they do and bless that wonderful day, but you can’t live inside that hope, or what I now consider hope as “Wishful Thinking.” No, that will not do at all. You have to live and cope within your current reality. I made the mistake of hanging my hopes on every new doctor, therapy, medication only to be grossly disappointed – a feeling akin to being kicked in the stomach. You become a yoyo with your hopes set so low and set upon transient things. You are the person stuck in the fetal position in the bottom of the boat, faith and emotions tossed around on careless waves. Would I change what I did to help my children? Absolutely not – But I would have done it with a major paradigm shift.

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We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure (Hebrews 6:19)….

….this God who is an anchor for the soul, He is that stationary object on the horizon…He alone is hope. It took years to fully realize that when I used to say my “hope is in the Lord,” I really had a bunch of wishful and hoped-for contingencies attached to that phrase. My focus became healing my kids instead of knowing God. But here, in this place, I can peek out of the boat (while I white-knuckle it’s splintery side). I can’t be a good parent, nurturing brain-sick children while hanging my hopes and prayers on nothing more that wishful thinking. I don’t have a choice if I want to be strong and resolute for their sake. I can stand firm even as the world around me crumbles. Maybe when my faith is perfected, I will stand up in the boat, get out and walk on the water toward that setting sun. For now, to be a solid parental force, loving my children through extreme circumstances, my focus has to be that Unwavering Presence on my Great Horizon, simply remembering daily:

“He will go before you and will level the mountains; He will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. He will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that He is the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.” (Isaiah 45:2-3)

 

 

 

I Can’t “DO” Foster Care Without Getting Attached

I could never do foster care because I would get too attached and I couldn’t give them back…” I hear this statement all the time. And guess what? I feel the same way – I can’t take children into my home, pour my heart and soul into their care and not get attached, either. My heart is torn up every. single. time.

After we adopted our foster daughter Sue to be ours forever, we decided to try a different kind of foster care called Receiving Care. This means we get a call any time of the day or night to take children who need immediate safety from an unsafe situation. We took our first sibling set as a Receiving Care Home on Cinco de Mayo. I was sitting in a PTA meeting when my phone rang and our case manager said, “Hey, I know this is totally a long shot, but could you take 2 little Guatemalan girls? They don’t speak English but…” I interrupted her and immediately said yes. Of course I can take 2 little girls who don’t speak English….when we adopted our son, Eddie from West Africa, he didn’t speak English either. Plus, I knew I could communicate with them using rudimentary Spanish.

At 10:30 that night, I opened my front door to two scared, exhausted little girls. I spoke softly in my rusty Spanish and urged each girl into the pajamas I had just picked up at Fred Meyer, guessing at their sizes just an hour or so before. I determined I would not put the oldest girl to bed until I could get her to relax and crack a smile. So, I let her pick a Disney Princess Movie. She chose Frozen and we watched Olaf in Spanish. Within a half hour, I was tickling her and commenting on silly Olaf and she visibly relaxed and started giggling. We gathered up the girls and put them to bed in the room they share right next to mine.

Every night since that first one, as I tuck Big Girl into bed (or when she is upset because she is going to time out) she recites the same mantra in grammatically incorrect Spanish (since Mam is her first language, a Mayan dialect) – “You go to sleep with your mom. You go to sleep with your dad. They are going to sleep. You sleep with your sister. She is going to sleep too.” Over and over and over.

Now and then I hear her thrashing in the night, crying out in a nightmare. Her nightmare is real. For now, she is safe but she is far from all that is familiar to her. She kicks, she cries half awake, half asleep and screams “No! No! No! Stop it!!!!” Or she cries out for my husband to help her. And I cry a little too. She has discovered that he is safe. He takes care of her and shows her fun things like Mariner’s Baseball games, or they kick around the soccer ball. But most importantly, he lets her climb all over him with her sister and smother him with their intense need to be loved.

The girls fall in line with my children, and call us “Mama” and “Daddy.” They learned that despite what their parents believe, water in the United States will not make you sick or run a fever. Baths and spray parks are loads of fun. When they first took a bath, you would have thought I was pouring fire all over their bodies. But now, the Big Girl has learned to wash herself while I wash her loooong beautiful black hair, and she inhales deep from her belly, taking in the aroma of the delicious soaps. Her favorite is the blackberry vanilla. We have watched a million Disney movies in Spanish. We have taken walks to the market for treats, yellow or green Petit Fours are Big Girl’s favorite. She wore tennis shoes and rode an escalator for the first time with us. Big Girl loves the PB& J sandwiches I put in her lunch every day. Only my home-made raspberry jam will do. Little Girl pats my back as I burp her after each bottle. She squats like a sumo wrestler when she wants to run to me and gives me a goofy grunt, “oo” and when I catch her, she sniffs me like a little puppy to be silly and then sticks out her lips, awaiting a little kiss. And when I drop Big Girl off at school she reaches up to peck my cheek, giggles and hops off for the day.

So much GOOD and so much HARD has happened in just over 30 days.

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Their time to leave is upon us this very week, I am feeling the sadness start to creep into the corners of my heart. I don’t know what the courts will decide on Thursday – to send them home or to keep them in the foster care system and I will send them off to another family? Either way, I have no idea what life has in store for these precious girls. They have come a long way in such a short time. And I can’t tell Big Girl that she is leaving yet, because there is nothing to tell her. If I don’t know where she will go, I can’t say, “You are leaving but I don’t know what happens next” to a 7 year old who has the emotional capacity of a preschooler. So, I have to let her live in a fractured bliss until I do know.

So no, I can’t do foster care and without getting attached. I don’t like “giving them back.” I am already beginning to grieve their departure, even though in some ways, since I am tired from lots of sleepless nights, I will be a little relieved. But, why should I protect my feelings when these little ones need someone to care for them, keep them safe, and speak on their behalf? Foster care isn’t for everyone, that is sure. And that is perfectly ok.

But if I said “no” to these sweet little girls, they may have found themselves sleeping in a DSHS office, a hotel room, or in a social worker’s car while driving the night away on I-5 tonight. Foster care is difficult but it isn’t nearly as difficult for me as life is for a child who has no one to care for them.

So, why not say “yes?”

 

My Hope – Above the Clouds

I have said before that I write to process my life – circumstances, my family’s needs, our heartbreaks, our victories, our joys, everything that swirls in my blender of a mind. I often don’t really know what I think or believe until I write it down.

So, today I share 2 poems, written almost exactly one year apart and over the same life circumstances. Namely, the health of my son who has epilepsy and Intellectual Disability diagnoses. Traversing the terrain of his world, armed with an extremely vulnerable brain leaves a parent lost and powerless. We spent 7 long years begging and pleading school districts to help us accommodate him and we whittled away thousands and thousands of dollars searching for diagnoses. I spent days and nights on my knees (sometimes literally and other times figuratively) humbly presenting my requests to God. The first diagnosis that came was “epilepsy” and trying to control the seizures was a long, arduous process that was difficult to walk through. Here was my response to years of heartache with no reprieve in August of 2014:

Storms & Silence

Anger beats red and
A Bitter taste chokes my roots
Clawing for some help
My hands are dirty and I am raw
Grime clings beneath nail-beds
And soot stains the heart-lines
Hope has fled with my youth,
Sorrowed and soiled.
I can’t help him.
From where will help come?
I have lost my breath.
From where will his help come?
The fight’s gone from my bones
Worn, with an ache in my knees
From begging far too long.
Worry lurks behind me and a fear that is real
Steals my sleep and chases away peace.

Arms wide open with white knuckled fists
I lean into backbreaking winds.
once they slowed, I fell face down with nothing to resist.
I am hoarse from calling out to You.
I need water, my well is dry.
I watch. Wait.
Prayers carried by the wind
And dashed against rocks I can’t see.

I watch.
Arms wide open with white knuckled fists
I clench my eyes shut and bite down hard.
Straining to hear.
But the silence ensues, piercing me
And Ravaging him
No shelter from storms that seek to destroy
This small life, significant to ME
my prayers, love and patience poured out on its behalf…
is crumbling to ruins before my eyes.
Too many can’ts, numberless don’ts.
Isolating us each morning.
Where are Your promises? Where are your new mercies?
Why.

The second poem I wrote a few months after receiving the second diagnosis of Intellectual Disability (formerly known as mental retardation). While the people in our lives grieved, I found solace in having everything I already knew – validated. Finally. And with that validation came the help of school districts and more specialists. The best part? I could give myself a break, and lower my expectations of him and require the world around him to do the same. It gave us all more room to breathe. It saved our family and here was my response to the help after long years of searching and waiting in desperation for a breakthrough (August 2015):

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In all this, I found that God is still the same. Even when it seems as though He does not hear and we are alone, we are not. And if I am angry, He can handle it if I pour it out to him. I cannot strive in Hope for a better future or relief or changed circumstances. Those kinds of hopeful prayers will be dashed. Instead, I must make God Himself my hope. He is with me, He is with my son. He is for me, He is for my son. God is enough and He does sustain, if I keep my head up and looking above the clouds…even while they block the sun.

Finding Solace in Grape Fanta

Every single spring, he grieves. For eight years running, Eddie feels the depths of his many losses that inevitably come when a life is disrupted by death, loss, and adoption.  Loss of family, loss of normality, loss of identity, loss of the familiar – smells, flavors, touches, the ocean, loss of a mother who carried him tied to her back, loss of extended family who share his nose, his eyes, his square chin. Loss.

The first spring he was with us, he would just cry and cry – his behavior constantly and uncharacteristically naughty or angry. Then I remembered reading in my adoption training literature on the cycles of grief. The body remembers even if the brain cannot. I got to thinking and dug up the tiny packet of information I had on his birth family. Mother’s Day was coming and my little boy was a mess. As I perused the little bit of information I had… I saw it: his birthmother had died the first week of May, just before Mother’s Day.  This was quite literally, nearly to the day, the anniversary of her sudden death. So the first few years in the United States, when he would start to behave like this, I would give him the words that only his body could remember: “Your body is sad because your birthmother died during this time a few years ago.”

One year, as I went through the same script during similar episodes, Eddie interrupted me, crying out in a strangled yell, “I just wish I could see Birthdad!! I miss him….” I was stunned, catching the knife piercing my chest. I forgot that he also might grieve for the living that he had left behind. And once I found my voice again, all I could say was that I wished he could see Birthdad, too. And together, we cried. After he had cried it out for a few minutes, he went on his way, tripping upstairs, excited and ready to play with his legos.

Then there was last year. Eddie came home one night and all I did was look at him and he burst into tears. Sobbing in a shout. So he raced downstairs to his room and I let him be for a few minutes. Layla chased after him. In a few minutes he came upstairs gasping for breath, and I told him we could go talk about it some more in a few minutes. He stood there quietly sniffling. But then raced downstairs again, and I am quite certain the whole neighborhood could hear his sorrow. Layla followed him. But before she turned to leave, she said, “Don’t worry, Mom, I will talk to him.”

After putting Baby Sue to bed, I quietly walked downstairs to see what was going on in his room. Eddie was still blubbering. That much I could hear all over the house. But as I rounded the corner, I saw the most beautiful thing I have seen in my oldest 2 children. Eddie was doubled over, hands on his knees, crying inconsolably as Layla, with her arms wrapped around his waist just held him with her cheek pressed into his back. It was like they were spooning while standing. She held him like that, patiently absorbing his pain. She looked up and mouthed “It’s ok, I’ve got this…” And I quietly let them be, tiptoeing back upstairs. In a while, I heard the two of them planning their next Lego fort together. As if nothing had happened.

But this year, he held onto his grief. For a month, he came home from school every day without saying much, keeping to himself. And whenever I asked what was bothering him, in a nasty attitude he would insist that NOTHING was wrong. But then tonight, his pain had built up to the point that as he stood in position on the soccer field at his training, it was as though he was paralyzed. He couldn’t move because the hurt was so intense. It almost seemed as though he was recovering from one of his seizures.

So, later at home, we pushed and pulled until he cried once again as we asked, “What is wrong? Why can’t you even move?” After crying uncontrollably for 15 minutes, he finally said it: “I miss my Birthdad!!! I miss all of them.” He claimed he was afraid we would be angry with him for missing his Birthdad. Never once have we ever been angry at him for missing his father. How could we? We have only ever grieved along side him. Every time. But as we talked through it, he remembered – we have always held his hand in the middle of it. Oh yeah.

But I had to remind him, he has to talk about it. The only way to move through grief and get on with his everyday life is to give the pain its proper voice. To get it out of his chest, he MUST speak it out of himself. Or it sits and festers and rots until he can hardly move. His birthfather would not want to see him standing around on a soccer field feeling sad. As a parent myself, I know his birthparents would want him to love them, miss them, but work through the pain and honor their memory with his incredible talents they gave him.

I tell him – his birthmother is always with him, watching him and he can do his best every day, making her proud and honoring her memory. Honoring the love I know she had for him. Because how else would his heart be so incredibly, over-flowingly enormous and loving unless the woman who held him close to her body each day in a sling as she sold her wares in the local market, who nursed him and taught him to walk, and sang to him in Kru during his most formative and vulnerable years, but was so incredibly poor that she could hardly feed him – loved him well. She clearly must have made up for the lack of solid food in intensive, loving, nurturing care for him. He may have been nearly starving, but he has never lacked love. Ever.

So Mother’s Day has become very bittersweet in our home. We grieve with Eddie over the terrific, life-altering loss of his birthmother in the weeks, even the whole month leading up to this National Holiday, and I do my best to honor her memory. I have an enormous responsibility to her, and we owe her so much for who she is to Eddie and how she loved him well. And Birthfather (also named Eddie) demonstrated a sacrificial love so deep, he gave Eddie a chance at having a family again. And once we talk it through, he holds his photograph of Birthdad tightly – the one of the two of them together for the last time, sharing a grape Fanta. Then Eddie carefully sets it back on our “birthparents shrine/table” filled with photos of our kiddos with the parents they had before we filled that role. And he looks at me smiling expectantly and asks, “After we get some grape Fanta tomorrow, can we put the empty bottle next to my picture with Birthdad?”

When you come over and see an empty grape Fanta bottle sitting on my living room table, you will know, I didn’t miss the glass recycle bin. This is how we grieve. This is how we honor people worth cherishing. This is how we restore happiness and health in the face of loss.