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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Transplanted Kids and Death

With the death of my grandmother, it has come to the surface again the way foster/kinship/adopted kids can experience things, and I thought it would be good to share.

Obviously there is no hard and fast rule, but from our experience, transplanted kids experience things totally differently. What you would think of as every day becomes a big deal, and what seems like a big deal can be brushed off. In your own family, you have prescendence- you know the way you have trained your kids, the experiences they have had, and in general how you react, which is often what they follow. With kids who have been placed in your home, there is as lot of experience you have never known, even if it is solely in the womb.

I am sitting here remembering the first time I had to deal with foster kids and death. Oddly, it was when my other grandmother died and we had a different set of kids here. The range of emotion went from outright weeping and depression that had me a little scared, to "You mean we get to see a dead body? Cool!" The kids had been here a short time and had not really gotten to know my grandmother beyond acquaintance, but loss in general is usually a big event for kids who have experienced the loss of their family.

The loss does not even have to be anything substantial for it to be painful for the abandoned child. We had a 12 year old boy crying like it was the end of the world because his sister used the cereal bowl he wanted to use (this is when I learned the valuable lesson of assigning everything, so they felt they had something of their own that no one could take away). Death in general can also be touchy. Living on a farm, we generally understand the cycle of life and that some animals are to eat. As my dad always taught us, you don't name the ones that are for food. But even that rule can't protect you all the time. We had a dog dropped off (common occurrence on a farm, like everyone else hasn't thought of that and we don't already have 13 dogs and 47 cats here!). He seemed sick, and I tried medicine and high-protein food, but eventually my sister had him checked at work (vet tech) and found out he had liver disease. It was far too advanced to do anything about, so they put him down. My mom had taken my oldest son with her when they dropped the dog off, so they told him they found an identification chip in his shoulder and he went home to his owner. I do not ever lie to my kids, but I did not correct the mis-information because the kids were still heartbroken. It was similar to when some of our other foster children went home- why them and not me?

We recently had to make a decision about this kind of half-truthing. Last summer a neighbor called us with two orphaned lambs (I have a reputation as an unofficial animal shelter) and we took them in, fed them and cared for them. When they got here I said to Gary that we needed to establish right away whether they were for food or pets, and he thought the kids could use them for 4-H. Well, the group that does sheep meets too far away, and we have since found out that certain areas are prone to sheep pests (like soil organisms, blowflies, and other really dreadful things) and that the work to protect those two lambs was a lot. It is easier in large numbers where the input costs get spread around. Anyway, we determined that in order to get our feed money out of them, we should put them in the freezer. I still won't lie to the kids, but we just said we were getting rid of the lambs since we are going to go ahead and get our milk goat and she will need the food. Even that was traumatic, because the lambs are ours and we are giving them away (regardless of whether we get money or not). Maybe they see the lambs as themselves, and they wonder if we will give them away one day, too.

It can be really tough for kids who have perhaps witnessed death (one father killed a cat in the living room to teach the kids a lesson) to ever accept it as merciful, natural, or necessary. My little girl said the other day she does not want to eat any of the chickens we are raising. She only wants to eat the ones from the store. Even though I have tried to explain that it is all the same, she has not allowed that truth to go beyond the front register in her brain.

One tool we have, and I don't know how foster parents who are not believers cope, is the promise that those who put their trust in Yeshua will be in heaven. I had the kids get paper out and write what they think grandma is doing in heaven right now. Some of them were funny- things only a kid would think of, like maybe grandma has to babysit everyone else's kids while they go out to dinner. And some of them were very personal, like grandma is making donuts for everyone or sewing dresses for the girls. And then you get one or two ah-ha moments, like when a child wonders out loud if she has a golden crutch to get around, and then all on their own they work through that, no, we will be made new and perfect in heaven, so she doesn't need a crutch, and then the sudden joyous announcement,

"She's not walking, she's RUNNING!"

I want my kids to have hope in knowing that one day there will be no more parting, no more death or loss. And just as the Bible promises us, no more tears!

2 comments:

Bren said...

Very inspiring post. You have great wisdom in this area. Thanks for sharing it!

Buffy said...

I am in awe of all the good you are doing for these children....and the animals! It is horrifying how damaged some children can be by their experiences but you are helping renew their faith in people and family life.