One of my earliest memories of our child is of her striding purposefully down a hallway, Sherod in tow, and a small handbag firmly in place under her arm. It was Sherod’s first time meeting her in the hospice in México where Light of our Life had been left to die after her biological mother and the woman who bought her abandonded her at birth. Perhaps I was projecting on her but I think not. That morning what struck me was this child’s determination to find her way to life. Though her capacity to love deeply and form strong bonds was crippled by so many years making it on her own, she was an absolutely delightful, beguiling little girl with a well developed sense of mischief and humor.
Yesterday Sherod and I sat across the table from two remarkable women who have been a constant source of hope for our child. One is her behavior therapist, the other a person who has dedicated her whole adult life to creating safe spaces for people with very special needs. She is zealous in protecting the dignity and the quality of life for people who are so fragile cognitively and emotionally that it is easy to pass them over. These two guardian angels of our girl laid out a path into the future for Light of our Life that we knew was coming but not this fast.
Earlier this week, a place opened at the intermediate care facility that our behavior therapist helped start in the 80’s. A 10 or 15 minute drive from our house, it is a group of three homes on a large fenced property that shelters 36 people with significant special needs. This is a place where our daughter could live out the rest of her life safely, with people committed to treating her and others like her with respect and gentleness, where she would have a level of care that we simply can no longer provide. She would not be drugged and warehoused. In a rich, nurturing environment, she would be encouraged to continue developing her full potential for the rest of her life. “Placement” is just a nicer word for institutionalizing someone and at this stage in her life, it is the most responsible way we can show our girl that we love her. The ball is rolling now and it is likely that Light of our Life will move to this facility in early June.
Once again, I am offered harsh and lovely grace. Those early days of June, when I lost my mom and one year later will be surrendering my daughter, are the cruelest days now. How terribly strange to have to discover who I am to be, not by addition but by subtraction. As we talked over breakfast, one of the women used a phrase that tumbles and rolls in my mind over and over again: she said that our girl will be considered “a family of one” as other receive her into their care and we relinquish our claim to her. We accept that in many respects, she has always been a family of one. Even as an itty bitty girl, she was so incredibly self-contained. The only way I got her to allow me to hold her close was by getting into our pool with her for hours on end in the weeks after we brought her home from Mexico. I’d stand where she could not touch bottom, and in the middle so she couldn’t grab on to the sides. She had never had a tub bath, let alone gotten in a pool, so she was forced to hold on to me and let me hold her close. Getting in the pool with her was like trying to take a cat swimming; I still laugh at how hard she fought me and how she yelled bloody murder.
As much as I love her, our woman-child moves through life as if she was nobody’s daughter and everyone’s child. I have always known with a mixture of sorrow and amusement that she constantly works the crowd, looking for something newer and shinier in the parent department —you never know, there might be someone out there with an even better deal than ours, and besides, the ones she has might disappear. A once-abandoned child can never have too many folks on retainer just in case she needs plan B.
Sherod and our two friends talked over breakfast about these next steps, it was clear that this facility, with all kinds of staff and safeguards provides the structure Light of our Life needs. She will be coming into a facility staffed by people who already know and love her because she has participated in several of this agency’s programs. If there was ever a person who needed the whole village to have a decent chance at life, it is this young woman. She has to be everyone’s child even though in my heart, she will always be my daughter.
Sherod and I were blessed beyond reason, when she found us and we found her. I know all these things and I can enumerate them endlessly. That said, I tiptoe to the edge of real acceptance of the steps ahead but have to pull myself back quickly. I can’t linger there long yet because I rage, I rage with white-hot, all consuming fury. I will have to manage myself as we make and put the transition plan in place. Our daughter has to have the certainty of our quiet confidence and trust in what lies ahead. Staying true feels overwhelming. I am aware that it’s going to take the village to get her dad and her mom through the days and weeks that lie ahead. Please pray for us.
Rosa and Sherod: That moved fast but well, it seems. We were blessed to be able to spend time with all three of you in your home and trust that this will open new paths for each of you. Know that you have been doing a remarkable thing with and for a remarkable person for these past 10 years.
Peter and Martha
Peter–we could not have asked for a better set of circumstances yet the Mallowman and I wept and sobbed through most of yesterday. I guess there was never going to be an easy way to take the next step.
It was lovely seeing you and Martha and I look forward to some time with you all up in North Carolina. My love to you both
My dearest Rosa and Sherod: I think that
Maria’s path was determined long before she became the Light of your Life. She was lucky enough to have the two of you come along and drive the bus to her destination. She will always have a piece of the hearts of those of us who know her. Please know that the three of you are much loved and you too will have a village to help make this transition.
Again, so beautifully written. What speaks to me is your statement ” How terribly strange to have to discover who I am to be, not by addition but by subtraction.” Yes, I know that feeling, but you have a double dose.
Rosa and Sherod
Let the tears pool and gather and finally flow to wash away the deep weariness, the anger, the fear, the losses — let them become springs which will bubble up with relief, new joy and love for Maria and each other. You have done a remarkable thing. You have given life to the Light of Your Life — and now you are choosing to continue giving to her by enabling a way of life for her that promises a secure and safe place for her to grow and thrive.
Hold onto your memories of how she screamed in the pool, as you found a way to give her that first experience of being safely held. She will likely scream again as she has this new experience of being held, but it is your wisdom and love which put her in this new “pool” — you will still be holding her, but in a different way now.
We hope you can come to us soon to rest and renew —
We love you all and are praying for you.
Beth, Roger, and Luke
Rosa, keep writing. I can see how it is helping you to process all that is happening in the lives that you, Sherod and Maria share together. I don’t believe that I have read more poignant words. Your writing reminds me of the way I felt when I read a book by Kay Redfield Jamison, “Nothing was the Same.” God bless and keep you all in this time of transition and transformation. Peace
Rosa, my heart goes out to you.
Oh Rosa! I’m crying too…