Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Complicated Loss

My foster father died this week.

This is complicated for me.

I cried when I heard.  I cried when I talked about it.  I cried when I asked my boss for time off to attend the funeral.

This man cared for me for a brief period of time 21 years ago.  My contact with him has been sporadic in the intervening years.

When I would run into this man, however, he always treated me kindly.  He always seemed delighted to see me, was more than willing to go out of his way to greet me, was always good for a hug.

This is complicated for me.

Foster care was hard for me.  I didn't really belong there.  The circumstances that led to my placement changed immediately after I was placed.  There was no reason for me to not return to my mother's care.

But during my time in this man's house, I felt safe with, and welcomed and accepted by him.  I felt that I was cared for as a unique person, rather than resented as a problem to be dealt with the way I did with my first foster family.

I wanted to return home, and cried for my mother often.  I felt safe and comfortable and happy in this man's presence.

This is complicated for me.

"The world isn't split into good people and Death Eaters."

In many ways I feel as though I have a better understanding of what this means since his death than I ever had before.

There are things that happened in that house that I cannot speak of, cannot even bear to write about.  Only a select few know the shame I carry.  Believe me, I know that the shame is not mine.  But I cannot let it go.  Perhaps the most ridiculous thing about this is that if I were to share this with people, no one would think it was that big a deal.  No one would be stopped in their tracks.  No one would be horrified by the tale.  I think there may be only one other person who might understand the gravitas of the story.

For 21 years I have split my foster family into "good people" (my foster father) and "Death Eaters" (my foster mother and foster brother).

I know that my foster father was a very good man.  He died in an effort to save another man's life.  He was always giving of himself for others.  It's just who he was.  But I also know that he was not perfect.

I know that my foster mother was not a Death Eater.  In reality, she probably isn't even a bad person.  I have no interest in canonizing him while demonizing her.  (But if the horns and forked tail fit....)  But I do know that as a 10 year old child, I felt utterly destroyed by what she did.

This is complicated for me.

I knew my foster father to be a kind, gracious, generous, ebullient man.  He was firm, certainly.  As a child this mystified me.  But, he was a very, very good man.  In my own way, I loved my foster father.  I am extraordinarily grateful for the role he played in my life.

My own father shares few, if any, characteristics with my foster father.  He is a good man, to be sure.  He tries very hard at times.  I love him, certainly.  I love my father.

But he is the reason I ended up in foster care.

Today, 21 years later, the choices he made during my childhood and adolescence seem to haunt him.  At times, the comments he makes and the questions he asks leave me believing he carries significant insecurities about his abilities as a father.

This is complicated for me.

I feel as though I cannot grieve openly because I fear that my father will interpret it as a snub.  I am afraid that my sorrow at the loss of man who cared so well for me for such a short period of time will deeply hurt my father.

This is complicated for me.

By rights, I should not mourn this man's passing so deeply.  There is no rationale for it.  It was a brief time 21 years ago!  I cannot even explain to myself why it is so sad.  I'm not even sure I could adequately explain to myself why I feel as though I lost something more than a connection to a relationship I had so long ago.  Except that, when good men have historically been hard to come by and safe spaces even harder, what he gave me 21 years ago was so much more profound and important than a roof over my head, a bed to sleep in, family meals at the dinner table....  Because if time really is a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey...stuff...then the 10 year old me then has also lost him now.

This is complicated for me.

As a child I would never have thought to have thanked this man for his care.  As an adult, I never took the time, and I never had the courage to revisit that time in his home with him.  I never told him how much I appreciated it, how much I appreciated him.

Still, I have hope that there is a God, one who loves us, calls us, cares for us, holds us dear.

Still, I have hope that this same God enacts a resurrection, somewhere, somehow, somewhen.

 I have hope that a future me will meet up with the now him and the then child I was, and we'll be able to say, "Thank you.  It made a difference.  You made a difference in our life, and we are forever grateful."

Oh, that gratitude would mean more to me than my desire to avoid awkwardness and my fear of appearing foolish.


  1. *hug hug* i don't know what to say. i'm so sorry for your loss... but i'm so thankful that there are kind people in this world like your foster father

    1. You are very sweet, PSS, and I appreciate you.