Monday, June 15, 2015

Death and Discovery

My grandfather died suddenly last week. It was a shock and rocked my world in way I could never have expected. Part of how I process is writing so I start this post with a disclaimer that it may be sad as I write through my pain in order to begin the healing process.

I received the initial phone call right around midnight. My mom calling to let me know that Grandpa was taken to the hospital because of an intense headache. He fell unconscious as soon as he arrived at the anuerysm....he never re-gained consciousness. He passed away peacefully after a day enjoying his favorite hobby: trap shooting with his buddies. He won all his rounds that day. The day after was a blur. I don't remember much except trying to figure out how to get out to Idaho to be with the family to mourn together and to celebrate the best grandfather anyone could ever ask for.

Friday morning, we hopped in the car to drive the nearly 3000 miles out West. We left without a plan, with five kids, and a car stocked full of "car" food. Including peanut butter and Fluff (something my children never get to eat), conventional crackers full of chemicals, candy, gum, an anything else my husband found at the grocery store the night before (I was not capable of shopping). We decided we would drive the whole way without stopping to sleep. We drove through two days and two nights and arrived just a few hours before the funeral services. The first stop: my parents' hotel room. To see my mom and dad and realize the grief they were experiencing brought a whole new sweep of emotions. How can we get through this?

Then on to my grandmother's house.....we pulled in, and I realized that Grandpa wasn't going to meet me at the door with his giant bear hug and a "hiya Sweetie" then a kiss on the cheek. We enter and line up to give Grandma her hugs (7 is a lot to get through). She takes me back into Grandpa's room to show us his belt buckles that he won from various shoots. We cry together.

The funeral is emotional, full of good memories which makes it harder. The memories that we will all hold dear but ache for more of.

We all cry but afterward try to pull ourselves together for the luncheon (put on by a family friend who is dear to all of us). We try to re-gain composure and celebrate Grandpa, but underneath is a mood of sadness. One that tugs at my heart and screams, "Let's just all cry together!" Let's talk and process this out loud. No one really knows what to say so we joke a lot. We laugh together and create new memories. We play with the kids because that helps us cope. We eat a lot. We stand next to each other; we hold hands; we listen and we love. We sit next to each other and look at pictures, remember the funny stories.

Then it is time to go. The time is too short. We take our time driving home. I call my mom, my dad, my sister, and my brother. We all talk again. We remind each other that we are here for one another. We are quiet on the phone together or we just talk and talk. We share our love for one another. We express our fondness for one another.

We give ourselves the freedom to take it slow on the way home. What a blessing to experience so much beauty. The terrain in Utah, Fossil Butte in Wyoming, Scott's Bluff and Chimney Rock in Nebraska (the kids were super excited about these because we studied the Oregon Trail in school this year), and Niagra Falls in New York. We cannot escape the mourning, though. It seems that everything reminds us of Grandpa: a postcard in Nebraska, buying batteries in Iowa (because of the distinct way Grandpa used to say "Batt-Ries"). Memories that put a small smile on my face. Memories that keep Grandpa close to my heart. We walk through his death and discover that his jolly face, tight embrace, goofiness, and tenderness will forever remain close. We remind each other and discover more than we ever thought possible. There is comfort in grieving together. There is comfort in remembering together. There is comfort in sharing the small things with one another. We walk towards healing one day at a time.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Fostering Love

October 2013, I posted this about the beginning of our fostering journey. As life has happened, I have struggled with how much I should share with all of you and how much to keep close to home. In a culture full of people who long to share every detail of our lives....right down to what we ate for breakfast, what time we woke up, and how many toe nails we clip per day; I feel almost a rebellion to over-privatize our lives. To make a bold statement that says, "I do not want the whole world to know every detail of my life." To keep treasured moments sacred and to protect the privacy and the rights of my children.

Yet, there is something stirring in me that longs to be heard. Something bigger than my need to stay quiet on the subject of our hopefully "soon to be adopted" son. Something that wants to be heard over Superbowls, Deflate Gate, and hundreds of facebook posts about vaccinations. Something that needs to be heard above the cultural judgments, above the disapproving looks and comments we make when passing on our opinions. Yet, in order for something to be heard, it first needs to be spoken.

When we first began this journey, we heard the same statement from many people, "Be careful; you will become attached, and then the state will just take the child away."  I could probably grow rich if I made money on how many times I have heard this statement. I may have, in fact, said the same thing to other foster parents before I became one myself (and to all of you, I am sorry). This statement is completely false. There is no truth to this whatsoever.  The reality is: it is not that EASY to become emotionally attached to another person's child. Especially when this child is seeing their birth parents three times a week. Especially when there are constant reminders from caseworkers, lawyers, and judges that this child is not yours, and you may not claim them as your own. Especially when you know that you did not give birth to this child that you have welcomed into your home.

We have all heard the age old mantra, "love is a verb." What does that really look like? I can honestly tell you I didn't know until I welcomed a stranger into my home. I had an instant emotional attachment to all of my birth children. There are no words that can describe the instant love and emotion a mom has for her newborn child. Foster parents do not have the privilege of this instant emotional attachment. Our little guy came into our home walking, talking, crying for his birth parents, eating so much that he would puke. He came into our home with screaming fits of rage, hitting me, running away from us, and more. I can tell you that there was not an instant emotional attachment. There was no time. It was an instant playing referee and trying to anticipate the next outburst so we could prevent it. Then our little guy got sick: high fever, lethargic....and we held him. He snuggled into me and fell asleep. This is when I first thought about love as a verb. As he slept, I kissed him and told him how much I loved him. I chose the action of love even without the emotion of love.

We were on vacation, and the little guy fell down. Daddy ran to him, picked him up, held him, kissed his boo-boo and snuggled until he felt better. We only had him a couple of months; he was still seeing his birth parents. We chose the action of love even without the emotion of love.

One year, almost exactly, after he came to live with us, I am tucking him into bed. I look at him and say, "Good-night, Mommy loves you." He says, "My love you too Mommy." I melt. I cry uncontrollably. My heart feels like it is going to rip out of my chest. Now, I love with action AND emotion. It took almost a full year for me to feel emotionally attached to this little child. Through that whole year, we chose to love him. We chose kisses, hugs, bedtimes stories, snuggles, "love yous." We chose patience, eagerness to listen. We chose to go to meeting after meeting, court, and phone calls all about the "case." We chose to love him even without an emotional attachment.

I say this to be heard. I say this because so many people are "set up" to be instantly attached; then feel guilty when they are not.  Foster mom and dad....adoptive mom and dad: it is okay if you are not instantly emotionally attached; it will come. It takes time, energy, and a complete sacrifice of self-will to love a child that you did not birth. A child that comes with a history that you may not know. A child that comes with behaviors that you do not expect. A child that comes in innocence and fear. A child that is so beautiful that you can hardly turn your head away. This child, the one that you have right now, will receive your love because you make a choice. In time, your heart will melt for his (and his for you), and you will be knit together in a way that you cannot completely understand. A way that doesn't make sense and will never make sense.

We have had this little guy for over a year. He calls us Mommy and Daddy. If either of us needs to leave the house he says, "Wait! My need to give you a kiss." He holds us tight, and we hold him tighter at night. We tuck him in and tell him how much we love him.While we wait for the final adoption to go through, we know without a doubt that he completes our family. We are blessed once again with a loving, full of energy and excitement little guy.

So, foster and adoptive parents. Let's be heard above the noise of life. Let us allow love to prevail. Let us love without inhibition. Let us make a choice to love even when emotionally we cannot feel it. Because, after all: Love is a verb.

Sunday, November 30, 2014


We traveled 13 hours - through 8 states - this year to give thanks with dear friends. I could write about the technical pieces of our trip: the fun the kids had, the sites that were seen, the food that was consumed (and how delicious it was). I am abundantly thankful for all of this, but there is something bigger; something greater than fun, food, and sites: friendship.

A friendship that has remained consistent in integrity, health and love through 20 years of moving, growing, and changing. A friendship that has intensified through disagreements, re-alignments, and family ideals. This friendship that started when we were a mere 12 years old.

A friendship that laughs through sleet, deep puddles, and crying babies.

A friendship that encourages through stressful, intense moments; the moments that often get covered up, except in the presence of those you most trust. Those that you know will love you regardless of your faults, anxieties, and insecurities. A friendship that celebrates differences and embraces similarities.

A frienship that hums love songs while playing Crazy 8's with the children. No holding back. A friendship that laughs hysterically even when it isn't that funny. A friendship that digs deep into the soul without condemnation. A friendship that includes the family; one where the dads embrace one another and spend a morning at the zoo with all the children while we talk and reminisce while preparing Thanksgiving dinner together.

A friendship that enjoys being together and remains strong while we are apart.

This kind of friendship is worth way more than a 13 hour drive.