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Their eyes have gone from shining and full of sparkles to flat, dull. Two giggling girls changed, aged over the course of one conversation. A social worker nervously toyed with her bracelet as she struggled to find the words needed to change their world.
Their mother, a woman who fought hard to find her footing, lost her battle. The warm smile they loved, the enveloping hugs she gave, the future they planned to go home to darkened in an instant. They sat in stunned silence, hearts trying to find a new way to beat, the rhythm of their mothers, steadying theirs from the womb onward, was no longer calibrating their own. The bubble of disbelief broke. Their grief is a wave that has continued to crest, break, ebb, and flow in the weeks since. Weeks that have been far too short, but felt far too long.
As I write this, I am struggling to find words. Losing a parent as an adult is hard enough, a pain I know too closely, a wound that is still too fresh two years later. To imagine that loss as an elementary school student is incomprehensible. To lose a parent who fought so hard against a substance, a disease that carries so much blame and shame, is unimaginable. To have missed the final moments, to not know if one’s presence could have made the difference, and to forever be left with that question…Mouths just can’t form adequate words.
In the hours, days, weeks that have passed since that day, we have seen ranges of emotions. There have been happy moments, where the girls forget what has happened and are just two little girls again. There have been angry moments where one or both lash out, seemingly unprovoked. There have been moments they’ve begged to undo it, to change it, have sworn that they made a mistake and their mom is just on vacation. One little lady is in overdrive, her mind unable to rest, her body unable to find stillness, thrashing in the current of her grief. Our other gal is defaulting to the polar opposite; eyes vacant, startled when someone speaks to her as if she’d forgotten they were there, staring off into the distance, just pushed along by the current. There is no way to move them through this, just keep them safe and give them respect and time. Their foster mom, who has only known them for a briefly, is providing comfort. Foods they like, quiet shows on TV, gentle reassurance.
Foster parenting is never certain. Foster parents root for children’s biological families. They encourage and cheer on the parents, hoping that reunification will happen and that families will be again whole. They embrace families as their own whenever possible, even when it seems impossible. But foster parents are also there for the cases when reunification doesn’t happen, when the plan changes, when the battle is lost. Foster Mom is experiencing her own sense of loss as she processes how a woman so determined and vibrant can disappear in the space of a breath. She is grieving the loss of the little girls who moved into her home who are forever changed by a pain she can’t take away.
In spite of the ferocity of this grief, we know that pain heals. The loss will never change, their mother will never be replaced. But we know our girls. They are strong. They are vibrant. They were loved dearly by their mother, who planted seeds of resilience and strength as she cared for them, before her illness took control of her life. We know that there will be very difficult days ahead, but we believe that these ladies will find their heartbeats again, will smile without feeling guilt, will laugh, and will continue to grow. We have faith in the love that will move them forward and the support that their foster parent will give them. Ladies, we will bear witness to your grief and will do our best to help you through it.
If you have the heart to help a child through life’s most difficult moments, please reach out to us.