Joy AND Grief

Today is the first day of summer. My favorite season!! I feel renewed and strengthened by the sun, and so look forward to the lengthening of daylight as we march toward this summer solstice. I anticipate it. I get excited about it. And then it comes.

Once this day is here, I feel a tinge of sadness knowing the days will grow shorter in sunlight as we march toward winter, the darkest season. I feel the delight of this longest day with the sun, AND a sad realization it means we will move closer with each day to the darkness of winter. I feel BOTH.

There it is, that duality of joy and grief. It dances through life, and feels capitalized by this foster care life we are committed to. We are getting ready to say goodbye to a little one in our care (More on that later). It’s not tomorrow, or next week, or even a specific date. But we know it’s coming.

We knew our family would be temporary in her life, but we weren’t prepared for how much our 4-year old would adore her or slide into the “big brother” role so naturally and beautifully. We didn’t expect to love her so hugely within 100-something days. It feels good to celebrate the reunification plan and the parents of our baby girl. And we do that with BOTH joy and ache in our hearts. BOTH are okay.

The heartache will not keep us from saying “yes” again. A wise woman (our oldest son’s first foster momma) told us with tears as she placed him in my arms, “if you do this right, it is going to hurt.” Hurt it does. We can almost feel the stretch marks forming as our hearts tear and grow.

Our chapters in her life are marked with NICU visits, long nights, and a hard start for her. AND they are also marked by resiliency, overcoming, advocating, new milestones, and sharing with her parents as many captured moments as we can through photos. We have made new connections. The joy we feel knowing we can help and support her and them in this way, the admiration we have as we watch our girl with her mom and dad at visits sustains us while we begin to grieve.

Anticipatory grief. We are in it.

My grief has layers, wrapped in hope, and is different than our 4-year old’s grief, which is different than my husband’s grief, which is different than…you get the idea. It took us years (like…until yesterday) to figure this out. AND we don’t all go through grief at the same pace or cycle. And yet we work hard to recognize what is happening, and be sure that grief does not invalidate the joy and healing that is happening.

We won’t let it keep us from celebrating them reunifying as a family. If you don’t know how you grieve when you step into foster care, you will learn. You will watch children, parents, extended family members, social workers, and eventually yourself and your family grieve. The whole process, the whole system, the lives of all involved are touched by grief, marked and forged in loss.

A decade ago, I may have said our chapters in her life were meant to be. But I know better now. There is nothing “meant to be” about the loss, suffering, and disruption that brought her to our hearts. Her presence in our home signifies loss and a brokenness that feels too big at times. The heaviness of that chokes me. Freezes me. And then she giggles. Or smiles and coos at her mother. Or her mother hugs me with such force and presence, and thanks me through tears for loving her baby in the now, for these moments of her life. Her eyes thank me for accepting her, for encouraging her.

The sun rises. Warmth and strength spread through me, guide me. Days go by before the sadness catches me, discourages me. I won’t push either away. This has not come easily to me, this dance. Maybe it will or it does for others of you.

Hopefully we can work together to normalize the BOTHNESS, to encourage that. It starts by connecting. Connecting with others who understand. In our seasons of strength, I hope we can connect with others who need us to see them.

We are getting ready to say goodbye to my dad too (More on that later). It’s not tomorrow, or next month, or even a specific date. But we know it’s coming.

We won’t let it keep us from celebrating his life lived and the life he has ahead. We won’t stop laughing about the stories we are sharing with him. We won’t let it keep us from loving him so damn fiercely in the now.

When that season comes, it will be long, and dark, and cold for us. AND we feel grateful for the time we have to prepare, even though you can only prepare so much.

As we look to the future knowing these separate waves of grief will crash into us, we look to the new life that comes and stretches our hearts as well. This baby, the next one, the next one after that. We look for our tribe of people who will hold this space with us, climb in the dark hole with us, just be present with us. And when our days grow lighter, we will work to share that light with those who need it.

If you know someone who is in any form of grief, check on them. If memories and small victories can be celebrated alongside that grief, maybe they need that reminder. If you are IN IT, and need to connect, please reach out to us.

Joy and grief. BOTH are okay. (Amanda)

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