A friend was returning some books she’d borrowed; she handed them to me saying, “I found this in the book.” She held out a yellow post-it note with a few words hastily written on it. I glanced, and then looked closely.
It was a note from Kalkidan, complete with a little heart with the words, “I love you.”
I was looking through our new family calendar, the one my sisters and I create each year. The top page of each month has a picture of everyone who has a birthday; this month there is a special square for my mom, my brother in law, Isaiah, and one for me.
As I flipped the pages, I came to October, and it hit me that Kalkidan will never have a birthday again. Never again will I choose a new picture of her for her special page. I know I should be getting used to this, but I’m not.
For 2016 we chose a picture of me with the three youngest kids dressed in orange on Kalkidan’s birthday. We haven’t forgotten her, but it’s not the same.
It’s hard for me to acknowledge that one day, the pictures we have of her will appear dated and obviously old. Right now, her picture is on the wall with all the others, and, if I wanted to, I could pretend it was taken last month. If a stranger came to my home, they would not realize she was gone.
My hand was in his, on New Year’s Eve, as Russ prayed words of hope and encouragement before dinner. I was listening and praying with him, when I realized that the words of my heart were also spilling out. My heart was praying, “Lord, please have mercy on us. Lord, please be gentle with us.”
As I wrote on my Instagram post New Year’s morning, “It’s a brand new year, friends; I’m hopeful and just a little afraid. What will this year bring? Whatever it is, I’m confident that Jesus will be with me in every breath and ever moment. I’m asking the Lord to please be gentle with us.”
This new year comes with apprehension. The worst has happened, and we have lived through it, and maybe we’re even a little stronger than we were before. But I don’t want suffering to come upon us again, at least not suffering like this.
I can say with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him,” I do trust Him. He is a good father and I know he loves us, but frankly, I don’t want to be slain. I don’t want to suffer, grieve, or have my life stripped away in a moment.
It’s 5:00 on Monday and I’m finally sitting down to write. We’re almost back to a normal routine, but not quite; I’m beginning to crave it. We’ve had a wonderful holiday, now it’s dwindling away and I’d rather wrap it up neatly than let it slowly fall apart. Does that make sense?
Time with our family was truly wonderful. It was bittersweet, of course, because Kalkidan’s absence was very notable. She brought energy to every moment, loved to cook and eat, and was always excited to play games.
Each year we give our kids a Christmas ornament to add to their collections. This year I found perfect red chili pepper ornaments in honor of Kalkidan. When the box arrived and I saw them for the first time, I nearly cried.
Today is World AIDS Day. The internet is full of smart, informative posts about HIV and AIDS and I encourage you to read them, be educated, fight stigma, and support organizations working toward those goals.
Today my heart is missing Kalkidan, and this is what I want you to know about HIV.
In 2006, when we began the process of adopting Kalkidan, we knew very little about HIV. We worried about the safety of our other children – could they get it by living with her? Would she be sick all the time? Could she ever marry and have children? Would she die?
One of Russ’ students gave him an orange bracelet for Kalkidan’s birthday that says, “FIGHT like a GIRL.”
Kalkidan was a fighter. First she fought out of fear. Later she fought for healing.
One of my few memories from the accident is Russ’ voice as he, and a nurse who stopped to help, did CPR on Kalkidan. Their voices, counting compressions, came to me in a moment of foggy consciousness. I heard Russ calling out to God, and then I heard him say, “Come on, Kalkidan, you’re a fighter. I need you to fight harder than you’ve ever fought before. I love you.”