I was nesting in reverse, preparing for her departure rather than her arrival. I packed everything I knew she would want. The things she loves, the things I knew she would ask for. I packed up every piece of clothing we bought her that she still fit in. Every toy that she loved. Her bike and her PlasmaCar. All the headbands and bows in the house. I wrote out a detailed schedule hoping that they might follow it so if nothing else, that would be consistent. We sent a photo book with her so that she wouldn’t forget our faces too soon. I hope they didn’t throw it out – those pictures are all she has left for almost a year of her life. No one around her holds any memories of her during that time, just us. It took days of packing to get it all done, to pack up the belongings that made up her life. I didn’t even keep any of it. I knew I wouldn’t be able to stand to look at it.
There are rolls of pictures I can’t scroll through, videos I can’t bring myself to watch. I wish time would stop because every day I feel farther from her, and at the same time I wish it was already years from now so the ache for her would be dulled by time. I miss her with a distant ache because I don’t allow myself to think of her very often. When I let my feelings out, I end up having to shove them back in, like you’d shoving a sleeping bag back into the little carrying bag it comes in. My grief over her loss is a steady stream that flows beneath all that I do. Some days it demands my full attention, and I give myself over to it. On those days I tread water until the storm has passed.
Our world is so much dimmer without her. Everything is diminished by her absence. We crammed a lifetime of love into nine short months, even more in those last few precious days. We dwelled minute by minute through all the minutes we had left together. I implored myself to remember her. To memorize the details of her face – her round cheeks, her lips, the curl of her eyelashes. To record the way she walked and danced and talked. To soak up every little bit of her. I needed these memories to last, to get me through the lifetime I knew I would be spending without her.
It didn’t take much for us to pack up the boys. They’re babies so they weren’t really attached to anything. We basically sent them with formula and clothing. It was just one bin packed with the essentials. What took me awhile was writing down their schedule. We lived by this schedule, but it had become so second nature to me that it took me days to get it all down on paper without forgetting any details. The schedule included exactly how I fed them – how many ounces of formula at each feeding, the medicine I would give them, the way I would feed both of them at the same time using boppies, how I burped them after they finished their bottles. It included how I put them down for naps and bedtime. It included every single move I would make for them from the moment they got up until the moment I laid them in their beds at night.
I’m having a little easier time grieving the loss of the boys. I can look at pictures and watch videos of them, and it usually brings me comfort instead of launching me into a depression. Their situation is a more typical foster care situation in that they went to live with an aunt who loves them and wants to care for them. It’s still heartbreaking to lose kids that you love like you’re own – and oh, how we loved them – but it brings me endless comfort to know they’re being cared for by a family member that loves them too. And we’re able to keep in touch with them because their aunt allows us to! What a gift she’s given us in that, she has no idea. But still, the missing them remains.
A sadness has settled deep within my bones, and I can’t shake it. Yet sometimes it still takes me by surprise, what has happened to us. It’s a strange thing to spend every minute of every day caring for a child, loving her with everything in you, and then all of the sudden, one day, you wake up without her. I still forget she’s gone, feel like I’ve forgotten her somewhere, reach for things to buy her at the store. Sometimes during the day when I’m at home by myself, I’ll think I hear a baby cry or smell baby barf before remembering that the boys are gone. It’s like phantom limb pain. I think I hear them or see them or smell them, but it’s not real. It’s just a memory casting a shadow.
We’re focusing on finding our new normal. We are doing life day by day and finding joy where we can. We have good days, some days we have great days. Sadness hovers nearby all the time, sometimes it is a dark cloud right over our heads. But we find ourselves laughing often, although it is not unbridled like it used to be. We are down a couple team members and find ourselves wishing they were here to share in the joy every time we manage to find it.
But the same God who led us in will lead us out, I’m confident of that. There is great purpose in this season of suffering, even though we may never discover what it is exactly. His ways are higher, His plans are better, and His love for us and for them is bigger than I could ever comprehend. Each time a child leaves our home, our hearts shatter, but they are, thankfully, ultimately anchored in the truth that Christ is our inheritance and our treasure, and that even in their leaving we have reason to rejoice because the Gospel is being made known. In our weakness, the Gospel thrives and Jesus shines and grace abounds.
These days we can do little more than cling to the hem of His garment, and we’re finding it to be enough. And on the days that we can remember to just look up, to turn our faces upward, we realize that the foot of the throne is the most beautiful place to be.