Last April I began a trek around the state visiting children and their caretakers in their homes. I started on Good Friday, which coincided with the middle of Passover, and I visited the closest people to angels I have met.
My first visit I can only describe as a shrine of love. A foster home, set in the middle of nowhere, no other homes in sight, just farm fields and barns. As I am greeted, I am admonished for knocking, as the foster dad says we have too many helpers to bother with such formalities, just come in. In this home, everyone has a purpose: occupational therapists, physical therapists, visiting nurses, etc., all to assist this family with care for a child with profound medical needs: a boy without vision or hearing, fed through a tube.
These parents have raised their two biological children simultaneously with the most medically challenged children in the state. I wonder how their lives have been impacted by their foster brothers and sisters. Certainly there must have been negatives (No, we can’t go to the park today, we have to take care of ….), but what about the positives? How much of who they are as adolescents has been shaped by their foster siblings? Who among us has lived day to day seeing their parents choose to care for a child who lives on a ventilator and perhaps always will? I, for one, envision that their biological children know and understand the word compassion more than most of us.
As I am led to the bedroom/living room, I see a small, 10-year-old child asleep in a hospital bed, his breathing and heart monitored 24 hours a day. Like the firemen listening for the alarm indicating a fire, this family hears the child’s every breath, and every change of breath. I see a cat in the room and am told that when the child’s heart rate goes up, simply putting the cat next to the child can slow both the child’s heart rate and breath count. I think of all I know about brain development and regulation, and here I see it at its simplest form.
The child is a victim of an adult causing traumatic brain injury to him. The doctors never expected him to live this long. Foster dad says the child will be with them until the child decides to leave this world.
In the meantime, he has lived his life with a family willing to sleep in his room, spelling one another for these many years.
The dad speaks of other foster children, certainly with more hopeful lives, but not less loved. He uses the word miracles to describe them, and after listening, I understand why. He describes a 2-year-old girl, toddling through their kitchen banging pots and pans, with a tracheotomy tube in place. When her medical condition stabilized, they found a church friend who adopted her. Another child whom doctors said would never live without a ventilator is off it now, attending school, adopted by two special needs teachers from his school. They remain in contact.
I don’t know what drives these foster parents, or the source of the children’s will to live, to strive, to fight through such trauma. I do know that they inspire me, and they remind me why I have spent 40+ years working with these children. For the religious among us, that Good Friday trip brings to mind the role of suffering and the promise of resurrection that Easter brings. For the secular ones among us, these children, these caretakers, highlight the depth of humanity’s care for one another.
I wonder how many times this family has made the 225-mile round trip from their home to Children’s Hospital. I smile as I hear how these children and foster parents have stumped and trumped the doctor’s predictions of death should they take the child out of the hospital. With no anger or bitterness, these foster parents told the doctor that he will die if he stays in the hospital. Which “placement” would you prefer? I doubt anyone would choose the hospital over this home.
I am proud of my years in the field, but I went home every night, while countless foster families live 24/7 with children others might call unlovable. These foster parents are the crusaders; they remind us of the magnificence of humanity and of grace as a gift to children in need.
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