We are a family that is not unaccustomed to saying goodbye…we have done it many times. But this week our goodbye was not one that we had ever imagined we would be making.
I have come to discover that we like to live in a world of fairy tales and stories that have beautiful endings. In fact last night I watched a movie and felt empty at the end because there was no happy ending….it was sad and tragic, it wasn’t the ending I expected, it was in fact, reality. I think when it comes to fostering many like to believe that all one needs to do is open your door to these children, love them and everything will be ok. This is, after all, , what we see portrayed in movies like Matilda, Oliver, Annie and even Anne of Green Gables. Every one of these movies and many more follow the lives of children who have experienced early developmental trauma and yet every one of them in the course of around 90mins have their lives rescued by some wonderful adult and they go on to live happily ever after. If this really was reality I’m sure we would have a waiting list of people wanting to become foster carers.
Three and a half years ago we opened our doors to 2 precious little ones. We were not naïve, we had in fact experienced loss previously. This time though we believed we were saying yes to 2 who, although had suffered, had maybe not suffered so severely as some. Any of you who have followed my blogging and our story will know that this was so far from the truth…if you are a first time reader, welcome and maybe take the time to read some of my earlier writings to understand the journey we have been on.
When we said yes to these 2 it was our desire for that to be forever. We made that commitment and we were prepared for the job. We started to plan a future, we had dreams for these little ones and looked forward to watching them grow and slowly heal. We welcomed them in to our family and loved them. The last three and a half years have been some of the toughest of our lives, we have stared trauma in the face and will be forever changed. We have cried and despaired over the things that have been done to these children, we have fought and advocated for the needs of these 2, we have endured harsh judgement at the hands of others who have no idea what our daily lives are like, because to the outsider our little ones are a delight and ever so gorgeous and so so normal. Our lives have been completely changed, the lives of our birth children have been deeply impacted. We have teetered on the edge many times but something has always pulled us back, energised us and given us what we needed to continue.
This time has been very different. I want to share this part of our story because the last few weeks I have found myself in the positon of chatting with several other carers facing the same thing. I’ve become aware that this is an issue many carers face and it is one of the hardest to grapple with. So here goes.
As we have walked this three and a half years we have had ups and downs, steps forward and slides backwards. We have seen progress and regression. For one of our little ones we have seen steady progress and have been encouraged as we have watched her growth. For the other one the battle has been enormous, in the years since she moved in I can count on 1 hand the number of times I have seen her truly free and happy….unfortunately those times have been very short lived. At the beginning of this year I was feeling pretty distraught and struggling to see how we were ever going to breakthrough into the world of trauma that rules her life. I made a decision that we needed to put a time frame in place. In saying this, we were not looking for complete healing, we were not unrealistic, we were looking for some movement forward. With that in the back of our minds we set out to fight for the things she needed to give her any chance….we succeeded in having some assessments and some treatment began. Unfortunately nothing changed. During this last 6 months I have wrestled with so many emotions and thoughts. A lot of the time when I voiced my thoughts people would respond with ‘it’s tough but you will get through it, you can do this, etc’ all those encouraging words that people use when you are struggling. I eventually got to a place where I needed to shut those voices out….no one really understood what we lived with, no one fully comprehended the impact this was having on our family….well, actually apart from the members of our own family there were 2 people I respected who ‘got’ it, so their advice was helpful and they allowed me to process by listening ( I will be forever grateful for the support they have been).
Around 7 weeks ago we made the heart-breaking decision to ‘break placement’ as it is called. I will remember this moment forever, I had just put little ones to bed and was in the laundry when I said out loud ‘that’s it, we cannot do this any longer, we need to call it’. What followed, was the feeling that a huge weight had been lifted. Next thing my phone was ringing….it was the Drs surgery confirming our apt for next week saying that after the tests we’d had today the Dr needed to see us. I hung up and felt confused. No, my mind was saying, we have decided to call this, what if now these tests have revealed something that means she’s in for the fight of her life, we can’t let her go through that alone (I wasn’t exaggerating I know the tests she had and what they suspected) . The following days were filled with uncertainty and questioning, most of that taking place in my head as I dialogued with myself. The conclusion I came to before attending that Drs appointment was this….if this appointment meant that life was about to change dramatically for this little one we would most certainly walk through this with her. We would not let her do this alone. I truly believe this was one of those moments I had to work through. As carers there is a term ‘compassion fatigue’ which is used to describe that place that carers often get to where we find it hard to care because we are so worn out or we are carrying too much secondary trauma as we have helped our children process. For me, this was very real questioning and my responses showed me that indeed I loved this little one and was not suffering compassion fatigue. What I WAS suffering was the inability to meet the needs of this rather complex human. By the way, all results were clear.
So here we are, on Monday we said goodbye to our child, our precious darling child who came into our lives three and a half years ago. The grief for our family has been real. I have cried out to God and wondered why we didn’t have the strength or skills to carry her further. I have felt immense guilt as I have added another distrupted relationship to her history. I have felt weak as I have struggled with my own inability to give her what she needed to heal. But within all that is the absolute peace that to hold her close to us any longer was going to do damage to our family and our marriage. One of the hard things about fostering is this enormous burden we carry for these damaged children, we want to be the ones to help them, we want to show them how to love and laugh, we want to give them everything that has been stolen from them but I have come to realise that we are not necessarily going to be able to do everything. We have played a part in her journey, we had planned for a bigger part but God has chosen differently. Her time with us has not been in vain, we have taught her well, we have completed the part we needed to play, now we need to let her go and allow someone else to do the next part. In my previous post I wrote about my children being ‘mine’ on loan for a time…we have had the absolute privilege of this little one in our lives for three and a half years but she was never mine. Our joy will be watching her grow and develop and praying for her every single day.
I have been overwhelmed this week by the beautiful angels that God has sent our way to carry us. There will be people (and there have been some already) who do not understand our decision and question why we have done this but to them I need to say that at the end of the day until you have walked in our shoes you have no idea what our lives have been like and hopefully through this experience I will remember to be gentle with others. For me personally, this has been the hardest decision I have ever had to make, my decision does not just impact me it brings sadness and grief into the lives of those I love the most. No one can say anything that I have not already said to myself – I am my harshest critic.
Now as a family we will grieve, we will recover and we will move forward. Just today my 19 year old made comments about how the house feels so different, it is peaceful. He mentioned that when we would have a respite break (usually a weekend) it was like we were coming up for air to breath enough in and then going back underwater for 5 weeks until the next break….how right he is.
We are once again breathing.