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.
Are you weary and needing a little hope? I’ve been there too and I wrote this Free guide just for you, Hope for Your Parenting Journey: a guide for adoptive and foster moms.
With courage and hope, my friend,