Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Forgive me, but....

I am going to talk about forgiveness once again. The week that my niece came to town and unceremoniously reclaimed her son, who had lived with us (along with his grandmother, my twin sister) for almost a year, just happened to be the week of Rosh Hashanah~Yom Kippur. A good thing, for there was much forgiving to be done. We'd spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours trying to rescue my sister (a sometimes recovering addict/alcoholic) and the boy, who was then 3 years old, from what we were led to believe was his mother's neglect and addiction and abuse. We created a room for them, fed and clothed them, got her medical services, and kept him safe and warm and happy.

When he came to us, Seth could barely talk, did not make eye contact, and ran around like a banshee as soon as he got out of the house. He wrote on walls, broke things, and didn't answer when addressed. He was neither potty-trained nor could he sleep alone at night. My sister still let him drink from a bottle and his teeth were ruined. Despite all that, Seth was the light of our lives! He was full of love, smiles, hugs, and energy. He was as curious as a puppy, and as cuddly as an old cat. We all adored him. Of course we wanted to "save" him and make of his life a thing of hope and promise. Knowing only that his mother was unlikely to be able to care for him, and that my sister's health was compromised from decades of substance abuse, my husband, daughter, and I took seriously the idea that we might adopt Seth and raise him.

This was no small decision! I will be 55 years old, and was facing double knee replacements. Our daughter will graduate high school next year, and we have bought a 25 acre farm an hour out of Lexington, for which we have plans that don't include parenting a small child! You can imagine our surprise when we took Seth to church one Sunday in July, and returned to find a police officer at our door, explaining that my sister had totalled our car and was completely out of it on drugs and alcohol. I called her daughter, Seth's mom. We hadn't talked very much theretofore. I believed my sister when she described her daughter's antics and didn't want to deal with her. But, in that conversation, I learned that my sister's story of having been sober for nine years was far from true. Suddenly, things began to come together in our minds. No wonder Seth had gotten to three years old with such impaired skills and so little appropriate training. If his mother was working/partying/out, and his grandmother was impaired by alcohol and/or drugs, it all made sense.

We asked my sister to leave as per our house rules .. no drugs or alcohol. She went straight from spending 48 hours sleeping in the Emergency Room to the Salvation Army, where she has been since. She blamed us and manipulated everyone she could to get back at us. Finally, she somehow convinced Seth's mother to come here from PA, and with the help of Salvation Army and their free social and legal services, to demand
Seth from us. People were alarmed, and maybe some people thought we were "terrible," but she seems to have thrived there; at any rate, I am sure it is far cleaner than the room she had destroyed in our house!(He had been able to visit with his grandmother each week.)

By September, Seth was in school (Early Start), and was completely adjusted to life with us. He slept through the night in his own room, had excellent manners, and was thriving. We had once again begun to think about adopting him when he was taken from us with one day's notice. That was three weeks ago, and I haven't seen him since. I have cried many tears, and will likely do so for years to come. We cry not just for us, but for Seth and all that he will miss in life, all that he deserves to have and will never have. We struggled to get closer to forgiveness for our own peace of mind. I found myself furious not only at my sister, who has caused me heartache and pain through her addictions for most of my life, less so at her daughter, who has really never known anything other than chaos and deception, but also at the "system" that encourages some of these behaviors by making sure adults with kids can get benefits, legal aid, shelter and all sorts of perks.. heck, within a few weeks of living in Kentucky, my niece is getting free dental care! Most days, I feel like I am almost there.  I know forgiveness will come. I can feel it. For that, I am grateful.

I am at peace with what we did because, even though we got duped, we tried our best to help and we did so with open hearts and minds. I also know pretty well the story of my sister's life and the life of my niece. My nephew, her son and Jessi's half-brother, died of a drug overdose at age 30 four years ago. I just don't feel now that either one is capable of the kind of honesty and discipline required to make the changes that would be required for a life of integrity. Guess that sounds very unhopeful, but my experience suggests that it is sadly true. We can forgive when we understand. The key is to endeavor to understand but to stop short of analyzing and judging. My anger is giving way to sadness and grief for my darling Seth. I now understand many things about myself, not the least of which is that I can love a child not my own as passionately and deeply as my biological offspring. He will be in my heart until the day I die. If you pray, will you whisper a prayer for a boy named Seth?