When I spoke at a retreat recently, I shared my story of being a first/birth mother and later being so thankful to be found by my son. Each time I speak of him, a few people will come up afterward and ask, “How is your son, Nick, now?”
How can I tell them that six months after we lost Kalkidan in a tragic accident, Nick also very suddenly died?
If I can walk away without sharing that news, I won’t add to the weight of my story, which is already weighty enough.
It’s more remarkable than you can imagine.
Nick found me when none of us expected it.
He was a very smart, tech-savvy teen doing a little searching when he stumbled into me online. It was 1995 – long before online registries and forums or Facebook. His parents were opposed and it was very complicated.
My son struggled in life. Three days after his birth, he suffered the severe tearing of being separated from me and the devastation of being placed in foster care.
This was not a choice I freely made – it was crushing and I fought as hard as I could to keep him, but with no voice and no one to help me, I had no other option.
I learned of the foster care placement years later when he told me himself. Catholic Charities lied to me – promising me he would be placed directly with his parents. They knew I would never have agreed. They also knew, given the opportunity to see him, and the knowledge he was not with his parents, I would have fought even harder to keep him.
Finally, a third (or possibly fourth) move happened in his short life and he was placed with his parents. That’s a lot of trauma for a very young baby.
Nick suffered from severe anxiety. In attempts to self-medicate, he became addicted to alcohol and drugs. When I finally met him in person, years after our first phone call, he was high.
And I loved him.
He was my child, my son.
Sixteen years of complete separation, not knowing if I would ever see him again, did not change my love for him. It took us years to navigate our relationship – I was not his parent, but I was one of his mothers.
When he was young, he didn’t know what to call me, so he called me nothing at all. Many years later, he chose to call me Mom. As an adult, he was comfortable having more than one mom.
We lived across the country from each other which made our relationship challenging. More complicating still was the effect of his mental health and addictions. If you’ve ever loved an addict, you know what I mean.
He came and went from my life in ways that were agonizing to me. I couldn’t understand because for many years I didn’t grasp the depth of his mental anguish, nor did I understand addiction.
When he came to live with us, twice in the early 2000’s, the challenges became much clearer. In many ways, the truth set me free. With him squarely in front of me, the things I couldn’t understand from thousands of miles away became apparent.
The paralysis of anxiety, the grip of drugs, his uncanny ability to find a side of my town I didn’t know existed – all of this helped me understand our relationship better.
Years later, when he was clean and sober, our relationship as two adults became very sweet.
His relationship with his parents was also close. They had lived a hard journey with him. He once asked me if my struggles with Kalkidan made me more compassionate toward his parents and the decisions they made for him. It was easy for me to judge when I was a young mom not yet exposed to parenting children from “hard places,” but that changed. I thought of them often as we struggled to find help and so often failed in our efforts.
How we are humbled when we walk in another woman’s shoes. Lesson learned – don’t judge – we’re all doing the best we can.
He gave me advice about Kalkidan, ideas of how to help her, types of treatment, and more. He was very concerned when she was admitted to residential treatment because of his terrible experiences in abusive programs.
When we had our accident and lost Kalkidan, he began calling often. The realization of life’s fragility was clarified and he wanted to be closer. He wanted to see me.
He had a number of health challenges including problems with his heart; he told me he needed to see me in the next six months. We were making plans for me to visit him in the fall.
In June he died of a heart attack.
I was shocked. Devastated. On the floor in shock – tears. There really aren’t words.
Six short months after Kalkidan died, my son was gone too. To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve fully processed it yet. I don’t know how.
I wrote this three weeks ago and then let it sit, not sure I was ready to publish something so raw, so honest, but this is my story, my truth.
I’ve met many first mothers over the years, and sadly, I’m one of the lucky ones from my era. I was blessed to know my son and have a relationship with him.
Our journey was sweet and painful and I’m deeply, profoundly thankful for the gift of my son. I learned from him. He changed my life for the better in so many ways. How I wish we had been given more years together and I could hug my son again.
For now, I think of him, I hold his parents and sister in prayer. I long to honor his life with my words.
I know I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. Love your people. Make those phone calls. Forgive. Cherish the days you have because we don’t know how many there will be.
I’ve written more of my story of being a first mom in my series, Tell it Well,. It’s also the story of my faith journey. Nick and I were working on the next posts and then put it on hold for a time. I plan to finish it one day.