Terrible, Tragic, Grief-Laden Loss To Living Life More Deliberately

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As far back as I can remember, I had a recurring dream of a shy, blue-eyed little girl. The dreams were always the same, I would see her, and yet I was still looking for her. I would be in a grocery store, see her, and then she would disappear down an aisle. When I went to look down the aisle, she wouldn’t be there. I would feel disappointed but then look up and see her peeking out of a completely different aisle. I would wake up from dreaming about this sweet, shy, blue-eyed little girl feeling two things. First, she was one of my children and I would find her. Second, I would know her when we met.

16 years ago, I was working as a teacher’s assistant in the Kindergarten class at the school most of my kids were attending. One day, I saw her. The blue-eyed, shy little girl from my dreams. Even though I’d had over 9 years of foster parenting, I thought I was going crazy to believe someone else’s little girl was my little girl, that little girl from my dreams that I felt I would know when I met her. I pulled her chart and realized she was being raised by a single dad. This particular single dad had been a hot topic of conversations with my coworkers and the single school moms. He was the cute single dad.

This blue-eyed, shy little girl and I had a special connection right from the moment we first met. At first, too shy to get off the outside step to play, over time we were passing the ball, and then with even more time she was off playing with other kids and laughing. Other kids at school noticed she was my “special girl”, and although I would never want other kids to feel slighted, she has been that ever since.

Her Dad and I eventually became friends and had playdates. My kids loved her and she always felt like part of our family. Months went by and eventually, he and I started dating and, in the end, had a 7-year relationship. At the beginning of our relationship, I learned that my special girl’s Mom wasn’t very present, and she had an older brother with a different dad. Her brother began coming over to my house so they could spend time together, and he became part of the family. Over time, my special girl’s Mom had another little girl, and by then we were so involved in her older brother’s life, the baby would also come over.

Shortly after the baby was born, CPS became involved with the Mom and both of the kids. As I was still involved in foster care, I got the call to take my special girl’s siblings. Saying yes was an easy choice as they were already part of my family, and they were her family, which meant even more.

My special girl’s older brother Christopher was 10 when we met and 12 when he moved in permanently. At some point during his time with us, he was given the option to move back to his biological Mom’s house, which he declined. He aged out of the system and was always part of our family — no different in my eyes than any other biological, adopted, or foster child that called me Mom. I loved him completely. Christopher had an outstanding sense of humor, he was always childlike in how he expressed himself, was open and honest with his feelings and everyone who spent time with him felt better for having known him. Even after everything he had experienced, he radiated happiness.

He went from being a chubby kid to an incredible athlete. From following me begrudgingly on runs, to passing me practically running backward. He was always up for an adventure, even if that meant hanging his head out the car window while I was driving. He didn’t fit in at the traditional high school, and since I wasn’t particularly fond of his “new plan” to drop out of high school to be a professional gamer during his sophomore year, he and I researched, interviewed, and found a school that fit him better.

Christopher, like most of the kids in a large family, didn’t like his turn on the chore wheel when he landed on “kitchen”, however, after a couple of months at the dorm-style school he attended down the street from us for his final time in high school, he came home on the weekends and apologized profusely. Apparently, life in a dorm of 600 kids and “pulling KP duty” was far worse than any chore I ever threw at him. He also thanked me for teaching him how to do the chores in the house, because at least he knew how. Christopher was sweet with his feelings and tender in how he expressed them, and always, always hilarious in his presentation. He was bright, happy, could make anyone laugh, he was reliable — you could always count on him to be there and help, and he had a pure heart.

He became an adult, was in a relationship, and had a son. Some of my favorite memories are of his lighthearted personality shining through as a Dad. He always remained connected to my other kids — who were all truly his siblings in how they felt and acted — and to me, although his relationship with my special girl was the strongest connection. Feeling how much they loved each other was a beautiful thing to witness. I was a better human being for having the privilege of calling him my son, and I cherished that he decided early on to call me Mom.

On August 6, 2016, at 23 years old, Christopher was reported missing. At that point, he was living 7-hours away in Las Vegas and we all felt completely unprepared for what to do. Nothing about the situation seemed to add up, and we were all left acutely feeling a loss without closure. His biological Mom went on a rampage to get information out, to raise awareness, to do anything possible to figure out a way to find him. From being on podcasts to launching a Facebook account where information was posted — her efforts to find any information about the situation were valiant. I voraciously followed everything I could, wanting to be involved, however, I remained silent.

I knew if I came forward to help, to be interviewed, to post, to make phone calls, or to be involved in any way directly, it would become clear who I was, what my role had been, and his biological Mom would lose credibility. It would be apparent once people realized the situation, how he had been bounced around the first 12-years of his life, and that he had lived with me more years than with his mother — and that perhaps they didn’t have a great relationship. Regardless of the situation, I would never want to intentionally hurt her and I most certainly didn’t want to hurt the investigation into his missing person case.

My silence has seemed necessary, and not being part of the process to do as much as possible only increased my feelings of being isolated and grieving. My special girl and I talked often, and she would share any information she had that wasn’t posted online. I am grateful for our conversations. It was important for me to allow her to express the pain of the situation with her brother, to support her, and through those conversations, I could process some of the abyss of pain that occasionally threatens to swallow me.

On August 3, 2020, almost exactly 4-years after the horrifying call that Christopher was missing, the call came that his remains had been found and matched DNA. Although an expected relief, it was also devastating. You truly don’t realize how much you’re holding out hope until you no longer have that option. To say losing my son is devastating would be a gross understatement. Unless you’ve been through the loss of a child, you can only empathize and for those of you that have also experienced it, I’m deeply sorry that you understand that type and level of pain. Not only do I not have a way to adequately express the love I have for my children, but I also fall exceptionally short in explaining the trauma and tragedy of losing a child.

In my younger years, I speculated that if I lost a child the only thing keeping me grounded would be knowing the other kids needed me, and I love being their Mom. I have found that to be true, although my faith in Jesus, and knowing Christopher would want us to live our lives fully and with some of his innocent wild abandon also pushes me to move forward. I’m not certain yet if it’s ever possible to heal from a loss like this. Even years in, the pain cuts as deeply, the loss feels as tragic, the emptiness can feel overwhelming, the tears flow just as freely, although over time — less frequently. I do know you live your life a bit more fully, you share your love to others a bit more deeply, you remember them a bit more deliberately, you cherish memories a bit more emphatically.

Years ago, I looked forward to my dreams of that shy, blue-eyed little girl and the potential future we held. I never would have guessed that through her, I would find so much more than the shy, blue-eyed little girl. Finding her gave me part of my family and she is a constant reminder that even through terrible, tragic, grief-laden loss, there is also an outstanding propensity for blissful joy.

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