I’m home from beautiful Whitefish, Montana where I spoke at the Deeply Loved retreat for foster and adoptive moms. I loved being with the amazing women who inspired me as much as I hope I inspired them. God is writing beautiful stories in their lives and families.
Today is Kalkidan’s birthday. I can’t even imagine her as a 17-year-old. She was still so young, barely 13, when we lost her.
Russ left for work wearing an orange sweater and I have an orange scarf around my neck. Early this morning, I lit my deep orange Glassbaby candle and it’s burning next to me now.
I can talk about her birthday (10/29) and her heaven day (12/27) before and after, but on the very days, I find it hard to express anything.
I spoke about her quite a bit last weekend, and truthfully, I was a little weepy. Thankfully, there couldn’t have been a more gracious and understanding audience.
I owe so much of what I know about trauma, attachment, connected parenting, and everything else, to Kalkidan. She started us on this long journey 12 years ago.
The book I wrote with Dr. Karyn Purvis would never have been written if Kalkidan had not joined our family. She came into our lives like a meteor, changing us is so many ways.
[side note: a draft of the manuscript is nearly done!]
We’re catapulting toward the holidays – can you believe it? We’ll talk about it soon.
I didn’t plan to write about loss today because I’m trying not to feel – pushing away the emotions threatening to bubble up and overtake me.
I think, “I don’t have time for this. I can’t spend a day crying, and if I start, I’m not sure I’ll be able to stop.”
What does loss feel like to you? Do you try to hold it off, or press it down?
Zoe came in the door after school with an unexpected Amazon box from the front porch. I sifted through my mind, but couldn’t think of anything I’d ordered.
It was addressed to me and the word “gift” in the corner of the shipping label caught my eye.
My birthday isn’t for three months, there are no holidays…oh, wait.
Kalkidan’s birthday is October 29th, maybe someone remembered her.
I opened the Amazon box to find a smaller box with the word “heaven” on the label. Inside was a candle with a quote curving around the ceramic holder. She wasn’t forgotten; she was loved and we were loved.
Her birthday is coming, whether I’m ready or not.
I remember the first birthday she was gone. I would love to say I was so fully at peace with God, I was just fine. In fact, I was an anxious mess; I couldn’t bear it as the day approached.
Then the 29th came and our family wore her favorite color (orange), as did friends, family, and many of you (thank you). Together we posted pictures on Facebook and Instagram, and you know what? We weren’t alone.
One of the worst things about losing a child is the fear she’ll be forgotten.
Other kids are growing older, year by year, but Kalkidan will never be older than 13. Just typing that creates a weight in my chest. I want to walk away from this computer and not come back for days.
How could this have happened?
If we hadn’t stopped to put overdue Christmas cards in the mailbox, if I hadn’t let Kalkidan sit behind me, if we had left just a few minutes earlier, everything would have been different. I didn’t keep her safe.
I can’t seem to escape the way grief and the feeling of not being a good enough mom are entwined. Do you ever feel that way?
I should write something like, “I know these are lies from the enemy of my soul, the one who accuses me at every turn,” but I can’t quite say it today.
Losing a child changed me.
Parenting children living with the effects of early trauma brought me to my knees. Everything I believed about myself seemed to fall away in the face of constant failure. Judgment from people, especially people who also love Jesus, broke me.
And then, we lost her.
I’ll probably edit this tomorrow, removing the soul-baring questions. I’ll feel stronger; maybe I’ll have pushed the emotions down a little bit better. Or maybe not.
One thing I know, I’ll be wearing orange and have Kalkidan’s Ethiopian cross around my neck on October 29th. I’ll reach up to touch it many times during the day, just as I do every time I wear this treasure.
This morning Wogayu asked for a chain to wear with a small silver “K.” The charm was originally tied to a stuffed animal, a gift from his aunt when Kalkidan died. Today he left for school with it around his neck.
We wear our love for her close to our hearts.
On her birthday, I’ll do my best to honor her life and all she taught me.
Friend, if you’ve lost someone you love, I’m with you. If you have hopes that will never be realized, I understand. If you have prayers that seem to be unheard, know that you are not alone.
I don’t understand many things, but I know we’re loved by a good Father and we’re still in the middle of God’s story for our lives.
Last weekend I posted this on my OTM Instagram and Facebook page:
This is the full text:
Once upon a time, I was an extrovert, but that feels like a distant memory. The change may have begun as a slow draining away as we dove into parenting kids with lots of trauma, but our accident was the final blow. I’m not the person I was before. • Maybe it’s grief, fear, sadness – I’m not sure. I’m so bad at small talk now. I could have died, and my daughter did – I have little use for shallow chatter. • But I love people. I pray more, think more, write more. I fight my enemies of worry and anxiety. I think this may be the new me – no longer an extrovert but still a lover of meaningful relationships. • I’ve been changed by trauma and grief – I think about it every day. I know God has me in the palm of His hand. Nothing in my life, my mind, or my heart surprises Him. My world feels smaller and quieter right now and that’s okay.
So many women reached out on my OTM FB page and Instagram to say they feel the same. As messages poured in, I was comforted to know I’m not alone – not by a long shot.
I also realize this is a significant issue for so many of us.
As many women said, they haven’t lost a child, but there is grief nonetheless as they’ve gone through seasons of suffering.
In our circles this suffering may have come as the family you once were disappeared in the wake of parenting children with early trauma.
Suffering requires us to reach deep into our souls, and for many of us, to fall desperately at the feet of Jesus. Pain and fear drive us to seek strength and comfort.
This costs us everything, leaving everyday life seeming trivial. Who can think about anything extra when it takes everything you’ve got to get out of bed and muster the courage to be the mom you want to be?
So many things fall away as your life is pared down to the essentials.
Which leaves me with the question of how this seems to have changed my personality. I used to love being with people and would choose going out for coffee with a friend before staying home alone any day.
Now I crave time alone. In part, it’s the nature of my work. I can’t write when lots of people are around, and when I can’t write, I don’t get my work done. But it’s more than that.
I would never have dreamed I would need (and want) so much time alone. I find it disconcerting sometimes – who am I?
Things I used to love like book group, supper club, and Bible study seem too hard now. I avoid going to the grocery store as long as possible and find it hard to answer phone calls. Thank the Lord for texting!
I still love having a friend or two over sometimes; I want deep conversations. I just don’t have energy for much else.
An added factor is that I now have quite a few adult kids and communicating with them is high on my priority list. When energy for people is limited, they need a lot of what I have.
A doctor told me that the average 45 year-old man has zero friends.
I wonder how many real, authentic friends most mid-life women have? Or how many moms of kids from “hard places” have?
This post is more questions than answers. Do you wonder about this too?
Have you been changed by suffering? If you were an extrovert, do you wonder if you’re an introvert now?
Know that you are not alone, my friend. Fellow sufferers hold a special place in my heart.
I would love to hear from you. Will you leave a comment?
Have you downloaded Hope for Your Parenting Journey? I created this free guide to help you identify ways to regain hope and remember you’re a good mom, doing good work.
The farm mower was loaded in the bed of the old Dodge truck and he wore his dad’s old Carhart jacket.
It was Father’s Day and he was ready to work.
We stood on the front porch, holding each other close for a moment, my head resting near his heart. He loved being Kalkidan’s dad.
In 2007 he flew to Ethiopia to pick her up. Having been there two months earlier, I remained in Idaho with our newly-home baby and toddler. On the flights to the U.S., she wailed for hours at the injustice of the seat belt while flight attendants and sympathetic Ethiopian travelers tried to help.
In her hypervigilant state, Kalkidan could not be calmed and could not sleep. Passengers around them became irritated as her behavior challenged their patience. In a moment of clarity, he remembered the Uno cards tucked in his bag and taught her to play. Her love of competition soon outweighed her displeasure and anxiety; she calmed.
But she did not sleep – for many hours.
Walking through the Atlanta airport sometime the next day, both in a state of exhaustion, he put her on his back. She rested her head against him and finally fell asleep.
That night, still thousands of miles from home, he recounted this to me, whispering so he wouldn’t wake her. I said, “Are you okay? How can you bear it?” His voice broke as he choked out the words, “I already love her.”
And he did.
Now, eleven years later, he drove to the cruel curve that had claimed her life. Once there, he parked the old truck and unloaded the mower. In the afternoon light, he mowed and cut weeds, clearing shoulder-high grass, finally revealing the cross bearing her name.
She should have been at the dinner table earlier that day, perhaps giving him a little gift, like the Mounds bar she carefully wrapped for him our last Christmas together. Instead, she has been gone over three years.
How does a father love his daughter when she is no longer alive?
My husband shows love to us in many ways. He can often be found repairing a fence or working on the patio he is building. Likewise, he takes care of the curve on the road where he last saw Kalkidan alive, where he blew his breath into her lungs, praying she would come back.
While this is the place of our greatest loss and trauma, it is also the place where our girl’s vibrant spirit slipped from her body. No longer contained, she was set free from her history of abuse, neglect, HIV, and sorrow.
Kalkidan was encompassed by the most beautiful love of all, the love of a perfect father.
That Father’s Day, the hours passed and it grew dark. I put the boys to bed, glancing out the window one more time. As I crawled into bed, I saw headlights coming up the driveway and the breath I didn’t know I was holding slowly released.
He’s finding his way through this unexpected grief journey, one more birthday, one more Christmas, one more Father’s Day. He asks God questions and still tries to wrap his mind around that winter day.
He won’t see her graduate from high school or walk her down the aisle at her wedding, but he can make that place just a little more beautiful.
Friends, I know it’s not easy to read about grief; thank you for reading our truth.
“Go to the wedding, go to the funeral, stop at the lemonade stand.”
For many years life was crazy busy. I homeschooled, parented seven children, adopted four more children, wrote a blog, spoke at conferences, and learned all about parenting kids with trauma.
Living in the trenches of parenting children from “hard places” was a marathon. I was running with all I had every day and there was little time to give to others.
I once skipped a family wedding because I was too emotionally and physically exhausted. It was a necessary absence, nevertheless, I missed one of the biggest moments in my niece’s life.
The thing about weddings is they are about more than the bride and groom. Our presence tells them, and their families, we value them and their very special day took precedence over all the other opportunities and responsibilities pressing around us.
But what about funerals? I was one to avoid funerals at all cost. Death has always been very hard for me and unless I absolutely had to attend, there was no way I was going.
Then my daughter, Kalkidan, died.
This is isn’t the time to tell that story, but I want you to know that when we were in a terrible car accident and our 13-year-old daughter didn’t survive, I was terrified of her funeral. I was physically injured and emotionally in shock. I was completely sick and overwhelmed the day of her service, sure I wouldn’t make it through.
When they wheeled me down the aisle in my temporarily-needed wheelchair, I saw the crowded pews and my heart filled. When we sang, the voices surrounded us like the most comforting hug you can imagine.
The air was thick with love and I breathed in great gulps.
Mid-way through the service, our family stood on the altar as Russ spoke. I looked up and saw that not only were the lower pews packed, the pews climbing higher were also filled. I could not believe this display of love for our family.
Later, friends formed a long line and, as I sat on a stool bandaged and bruised, they came one-by-one to hug us, whispering comforting words in our ears, or simply taking our hands in theirs as tears flowed down their cheeks.
We remember the people who came.
And what about lemonade stands? I blame my friend, Ann, for this one because her words inspired this post. I’m not generally spontaneous. Besides, I live in a nearly cashless world and kids don’t take debit cards!
But what if I intentionally put money in my car for lemonade stands, fundraisers, and stopping for ice cream with my kids?
In my busy, check-it-off-my-list world, I tend to put my head down and plow through. How many times have I driven past children selling lemonade and thought, “I wish I had time to stop.”
What if I lightened up and paused to smile at children pouring sticky glasses of lemonade?
Weddings. Funerals. Lemonade Stands.
What do these have in common?
So many of us are isolated and lonely. These special moments require us to pause and remember what is truly important. At the end of the day, or the end of the week, will we treasure our checked-off lists of accomplished tasks or our family, friends, and neighbors?
We need one another for both the sorrow and the joy.
When we show up and love with open hearts, we demonstrate generosity of spirit. We are saying, “I see you. You are valued and loved. Your joy is my joy, your sorrow my sorrow.”
So go to that wedding, show up at that funeral, and stop at the next lemonade stand you see. It’s worth it.
I created a new FREE download, Hope for Your Parenting Journey: a guide for adoptive and foster moms. Grab your copy by clicking on the blue button in the upper right corner of One Thankful Mom !
How do I step back into writing when it feels like so much has happened?
My father passed away last Sunday.
It still feels hard to believe. He had a pacemaker put in March 13th and was fine until April 1st when he collapsed. I got in the car and headed to Seattle an hour after I got the call. The next day we learned he had contracted MRSA during the procedure and it was in his blood.
He was transferred to another hospital where we began the often confusing journey through medical testing, procedures, and conversations.
Russ joined me and we spent the night in my dad’s room. In the wee hours, I woke to see Russ sitting by my dad’s bed feeding him ice chips.
My dad was in pain and continued to decline, so a wise nurse offered to contact Palliative Care for us. It was a blessing to talk to a doctor who saw my father as a whole person. Our meeting with him brought relief to us and better pain management for my dad.
After ten days my dad seemed stable enough for me to make a quick trip home. I needed a little time to be with my family, get life in order, and prepare to head back.
I made the trip back over the mountains to the Seattle-area six days later. When I walked in my dad’s hospital room, he was worse; somehow, this caught me by surprise and I began to cry.
The next day we made the decision to move my dad to Hospice House. I’m telling you, this was a hard decision. At what point do you say, “We’re as sure as we can be that he won’t get better. This is not what he would want. He is dying and we want him to die with dignity in a calm environment.”
As soon as we arrived at Hospice House, we felt peace. We were comforted and supported. We saw my dad relax.
We thought we had many days to learn about Hospice and the dying process, but less than 24 hours after we arrived, my dad slipped from this life into the next – the better life, the much truer life in heaven.
My mom was with him as he took his last breath, and my sisters and I arrived minutes later. The nurse told us this is how he must have wanted it, with only my mom stroking his arm.
The family continued to gather and we spent several hours with him. We had an honor ceremony complete with stories, toasts, laughter, and singing. When it was time for the funeral home to collect his body, we walked together through the hall and out the door to the waiting van.
This was a huge stretch in being comfortable with the completely uncomfortable. I’m truly not good with death. We couldn’t have done it without the guidance and support of the Hospice House staff and we’re deeply thankful for them.
There is so much more I could say, but you can imagine the work that has piled up with me being gone more than two weeks in the last three. Not to mention, I had traveled for two speaking engagements and an attachment and trauma training in the previous weeks.
I am hunkered down at home until we travel as a family for my dad’s funeral May 21st. We’ll gather over the weekend with as many grandchildren as possible traveling to join us.
Thank you to each one of you who prayed for us and walked alongside me through this hard time with your loving comments on FB, Instagram, and in texts. I ask for your continued prayers for my mom. Thank you for being a wonderful community of friends.