We’ve had a lot of loss in the last year. Here’s one with an anniversary coming up in a few weeks: The sad tale of our (human) fostering experience.
We tried with all our might to parent a young man, and between the three of us — the kid, my spouse, and me — we simply didn’t have what it takes to undo a lifetime of hurt and broken promises on the part of those who were supposed to be looking out for the kid before he entered our lives… and the overstuffed emotional baggage in ours.
God knows we tried. Amazingly, after an argument so loud between the kid and me that my spouse could hear it half a block away, the kid admitted that he loved us. I told him the same every day he was with us, whether he willingly got up for school and made it for the morning bell with minutes to spare, or if I had to pull the modem from the wall and threaten to take it with me to work to get a response out of the young scholar, who at 14, going on 41 truly did have more life experiences than some of his teachers.
And I meant it. I did (and I do) love him. And I miss him terribly. And he can never return to our home, no matter what.
God knows how much it hurts to have failed. I still cry at least once a week about this kid, and the two of us have both owned up to slowing up as we drive near his school in hopes we can see him and know he’s okay. Neither of us have ever seen him, but our belief and hope until told otherwise has to be that he’s okay, or we’d never sleep again.
So, no. The kid wasn’t our “real child,” and we didn’t even have him in our home for very long, just a few months, really. But we still had dreams for him and saw a future that now is lost.
Ours is a disenfranchised grief, not unlike the parents who suffer miscarriage or stillbirth and forego the funeral. One moment they were together as a hopeful but not fully formed family unit, and a few painful, laboring hours later, they were not. Their lives were unceremoniously altered, and the world kept moving while their emotional watches are frozen at the last known heartbeat, the last fleeting vision, no matter how unpleasant it might have been.
I may never have been a parent, but as a chaplain I can use this experience to have a better understanding for what parents who suffer a miscarriage or stillbirth endure. So many hopes and dreams cast aside, quickly glossed over by people who don’t know what to say, so instead of saying nothing and just sitting with the bereaved in their grief, they say the things they themselves need to hear to ease their own discomfort.
I had a friend who tried to find a bright side when she couldn’t bear my grief, who looked for the glass half full, and commented the removal of the kid, his friends, and his stuff meant that the two of us could spend more time together, now that I didn’t have this high-needs kid to pay attention to. I understand this instinct to take the shortcut to happiness. I’ve done it myself, but from that point on, every moment I spent with her only served to amplify my own feelings of loss, failure, and abandonment, eventually becoming a contributing factor in the spiraling estrangement of that relationship.
They say the loss of a child, even a miscarriage, can lead to the dissolving of a marriage, so it makes sense that other relationships have also become collateral damage in the last year. My spouse and I are still picking up the pieces, but to mangle a Hemingway quote that’s often taken out of context, what doesn’t kill us might make us stronger in the broken parts… or at least more aware of the brokenness in others. Happy anniversary to us.