When people find out J and I are foster parents, one of the first things we hear is, “Isn’t it hard when they leave?”
The short answer: yes.
We’re not without feelings, and in saying farewell to another tiny recently we’ve shed boatloads of tears. But, still being a part of that little person’s story — worth it. We’d do it again. No regrets.
Love is never wasted, even if it is more like a hedgehog than a cozy teddy bear. Sometimes love is snuggles and warmth, and sometimes it’s like holding a pincushion that pricks you till you bleed. But still, it’s worth it.
The reality is all relationships come to an end. People leave us, or we leave them — either by choice, circumstance or death. We never know how long we have with anyone.
Fostering makes us aware how precarious (and precious) life is. And it teaches us to live in the moment instead of hedging our bets for the future. The story twists and turns and who knows where it will lead. So, it’s life taken one hour, one day at a time. Who knows what will happen today?
And that’s (usually) enough.
There is another trick I have: when a little comes to our home, I head to T J Maxx and buy a suitcase (near as I can tell — they have the best deals on suitcases anywhere). I place it somewhere I’ll see it regularly, but out of sight of the little.
It’s a reminder that this is temporary and to hold it all loosely. It grounds me in reality. Love hard, love well, but remember this little person is not yours.
We cannot control how long someone is with us, but we can choose how we will spend the time we do have. When we know goodbye is coming, instead of wasting precious time together by only sitting in dread of the coming farewell — we choose life. We go to the zoo or some other outing; we create a memory and take a photo — even if we’re the only ones who’ll remember.
And when we cannot keep them forever, we can send them off well. It’s the only thing we can control, and it’s our last remaining way to say, “you’re loved, and you are so, so precious to us.” It’s not so much for the people they’ll go to stay with us as it is for us. It’s all that we’re able to do.
I’m not an expert on farewell, but so far — the anticipation of farewell and that exact moment of hand-off are the very worst. The fear of the coming pain is so much worse than the reality we walk through after the fact.
There’s still sadness and grieving, but there’s also peace in the knowledge that we gave the best we could. And that’s enough. As long as it all meant something — it’s okay. No regrets.
And having done this before, here’s what I’ve learned. The heart always grows. It expands, and love sneaks in when we don’t expect. There’s no need to be stingy with love as though somehow we’ll run out or somehow there won’t be enough to go around next time.
The fear of pain isn’t a good enough reason to avoid love. How much joy and wonder would I miss if I said no to this journey for fear of goodbye? There’s some indescribable magic in quiet baby snuggles as they sleep on your chest full of trust or as their eyes light up with glee upon a glimpse of your face.
There’s pockets of awful too; the sleepless nights, the crying that seems endless in a particular moment, the blowout that happens right before that important appointment you’re already running late for, and that nagging sense that no matter how much of yourself you’ve given to this tiny person, that there’s still not enough of you to go around and meet their needs.
But still, the wonder-filled moments make it worth it. That and the reminders of where your story began together, and how well they’re doing at the moment of goodbye.
And really for me, it’s a gift when it hurts to say good-bye. It means that a miracle happened: my heart softened and opened up to this tiny stranger, and that’s a gift. Always. Even if the road ends in farewell.