Loss is a common part of the human experience. Some days it is closer to us than others, and this week it has been uncomfortably close. Two friends grieving – one over a life fully lived and another barely begun – both abruptly lost. In the quiet darkness of the early morning, as I think about my friends, my mind drifts where it often does – to foster kids. Physical death in children is thankfully rare, even among such a high risk group, but I have come to realize that there is more than one way to die.
She was 15, the eldest of four siblings. Life had not been kind – her parents had died unexpectedly when she was 12, and after living with a couple of different relatives, her aunt had reluctantly taken them in. The basics were provided – food, shelter, education – but there wasn’t much emotional connection, so at such a young age she took on the responsibility of “mothering” her younger siblings.
I remember the first day I met her – she had just arrived at the shelter and was very upbeat and smiling. Seemed strange. When I inquired why she was there, her eyes got more serious. Her aunt had gone on a trip and left them alone. She had tried very hard to get her brothers and sister up in the morning, fed, dressed and off to school, then had met them in the afternoon, prepared supper, helped with homework and tucked them in bed. But they were beginning to run out of food in the house. She was worried, and asked their neighbor for help – the neighbor provided them some food, but also contacted the authorities and the kids were picked up.
She was OK with being at the shelter – OK with not having to stress about providing for her siblings. She was hopeful about the future – she wanted to be a pediatrician and hammered me with lots of questions about college, med school, and what it was like to work with sick children. It was impossible not to fall in love with her spunk and her hopefulness.
She came frequently to the clinic while I was there – at first just to hang out and talk, which we both seemed to enjoy. Then with some minor complaints – an occasional headache or stomachache. Then more serious ones. Weight loss. Sleeplessness. Depression. Her siblings left the shelter, one by one, each to a relative.
But no one wanted her. And her soul died. Her hope died. Right in front of me.
We cry when the body dies. But who cries when the soul dies? Who cries for foster kids? Who cries for her?