I have a pretty regular Tuesday lunch date with a friend of mine. She brings along her almost 4 year old and her 8 month old niece. Occasionally another friend of ours joins us with her 1 year old. It’s one of the highlights of my week. The four year old runs and jumps into my arms when I see him and the baby always greets me with a huge smile. This week, I was marveling at how scrumptious the four year old is and wondered aloud, “Why do I not have a 4 year old daughter”, thinking I could arrange a marriage now.
And then it hit me. If things had worked out differently, I would have an almost four year old daughter.
Sometimes, the grief hits me out of the blue. On Mother’s Day, I attended a worship service that celebrated all mothers and the sacrifices they make daily for their children. Included in the list of mothers that they acknowledged were foster mothers. And, just like that, the pain was as fresh as it was the day we had to hand Madelyne back to her father after raising her as our own since she was 2 days old.
The other day, I was in a baby store buying a gift and my son said to me, “All of this stuff reminds me of Madelyne. It makes me sad”. It’s not just me — he feels it, too. I’ve said many times that the experience changed us — for the better. And it did. But, sometimes it just hurts. When we first brought Madelyne home, I was amazed that suddenly, I had a whole new place in my heart that was full of love for somebody that I didn’t even know existed just a few days before. And now that she’s gone, the love is still there, but there is an empty place in my heart that just remains empty. And, sometimes I wonder if she also feels a void in her life, even if she doesn’t understand it.
Moving was hard for a number of reasons. For starters, we knew we were leaving her behind. I felt a lot of guilt about that, but as it turns out, even if we still lived in Washington, it’s very likely that we wouldn’t have any contact with her now, which is another story all-together — although I will likely not write about it anytime soon because it violates my self-imposed rules in that it could violate relationships or confidence. The bottom line is that I have not seen or heard from anyone who has seen her in nearly a year. In one way, it’s kind of good. If I was still in Olympia, I would be consumed by the fact that I wasn’t seeing her regularly. It’s not a case of “out of sight, out of mind”, but being far away does make it a little easier to deal with, I suppose. But, it is also hard because our new friends here don’t know that part of our story. I remember somebody coming to our house one day and asking who that baby was in a picture. “That’s Madelyne”, I replied. “Our foster baby”. She had no idea, and I’d known her for several months at that point.
I like to think that I will perpetually be in the last stage of my grief, accepting the reality of our situation and hopeful for the future. But occasionally I find myself flung back into the chaotic places of pain and guilt and anger and loneliness. Sometimes, I think it can even make me physically ill. I suspect that will never change.
One of the things I know for certain is that the love we gave Madelyne in those first couple of years, and especially the first few months, will shape her whole life. That alone has given me whole new perspective on how much we can impact a child’s life, no matter what our ultimate role ends up being.
Anyway, I’m glad I have new little people in my life to love.
Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak whispers the o’erfraught heart and bids it break. – William Shakespeare, MacBeth