Those who know me in the "real" world know the beginnings of this story from 13 years back when I was pregnant at 18 and due to deliver a baby boy in mid-December. CJ and I were not married, but had been dating since the beginning of our senior year of High School. Not the ideal situation for 2 graduating teens, but life is rarely ideal. I cannot even begin to tell you the chaos that engulfed my heart and head with the decisions we faced. Still I put on a brave front and though I wanted desperately to be a mother, we chose to allow a couple I had grown up with to adopt him. They named him Zach. It may have been the most selfless thing I've ever done, as I've been told by many people, but it was, by far the hardest as well. The turmoil of emotions has never gone away; it has merely faded a little over time.
I thought I had made some sense out of it all, until about a year ago when my mom called to tell me that Lisa (my mother's sister's sister-in-law and the mother of Z) had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Her time in this life was running out, and far quicker than anyone could imagine. I hadn't had much contact with her over the years despite my thinking at 18 that I would, but my heart broke and into so many tiny pieces. It broke for her, knowing she wouldn't see her children graduate, marry, or have children of their own- a thought that, as a mother, I could hardly imagine. It broke for the thousands of children who would never know her as their favorite teacher, as so many had in several elementary schools in the Houston area. But mostly it broke for the lives of her own babies, Zach and a daughter, Lydia they had also adopted not long after, now both 12 years old. To be 12 and losing your mother was a pain I could not fathom and it made me a little angry. My choosing her to be the mother of my son was nothing short of God's plan, but why now was she being taken away from him before her job was done? I struggled with this. I know God has great plans that we are not always privy to, but my human brain just couldn't (and still can't) comprehend the need for such sadness.
I would occasionally get reports as her illness progressed and her body grew weak. I prayed daily. I didn't believe it was unreasonable to expect a miracle, but mostly I asked for comfort and acceptance of God's will, whatever it may be, for the family she would leave behind. Consumed by thoughts of her struggle, old wounds were split wide open and, like a flood, I was engulfed again.
Last week, I got the call. In a few precious moments with her brother (my uncle) and her mother, Lisa had taken her final breath. Lisa was free from her pain and finally at peace. Now, in the wake of this loss, her family- her children, her mother, and her brothers and sisters could begin their grieving and subsequent healing.
With the family's approval, I attended the funeral services. I needed to pay my respects and I needed closure, same as anyone. It was just a bit more than awkward though. I had been told Zach knew he had been adopted, but he didn't know who I was. We had had one chance encounter at my cousin's graduation 2 or 3 years ago. Other than that, I had seen him only in a few precious pictures I had collected from random places over the years like Christmas cards sent to my grandmother or a Thank You note written to my mother. Meeting him, getting to know him was a day I had dreamed of since God created his tiny little life in my belly. I did not, however, want our introduction, as I was told would finally happen, to coincide with his loss or his grief. Though I had already waited what seemed like an eternity, it was inappropriate and it was not the time. Still, if I was honest with myself, seeing him would overwhelm me with joy, even if he didn't know me.
Flying is my very least favorite way of travel, but as I made my way to Houston, 8 month old Addie in tow, I let the waves of sorrow and joy, confusion and fear wash over me. Again, I prayed for God's will and for the strength to swallow that sometimes over-sized pill. It's strange how a plane full of people can still be a peaceful and quiet place to reflect and can make you feel ever so slightly closer to heaven.
Thursday was the visitation. My mother-in-law kept Addie and I was grateful. It gave me the opportunity to grieve without worrying about my little guy. Seeing Lisa was strange. She had been so sick and though I know they did their best to make her look like herself, it just wasn't the same woman I knew. My uncle had created a slide show depicting her life to display as people came and went. It was amazing and truly captured her spirit, lessening the blow of how her body had withered in the final days of life. It reminded us of what a happy and wonderful life she had lived though the consensus was that it had been too short. There was a bittersweet sting to the photos though. Many of them, of course included pics of Zach growing up. Seeing these and seeing him was almost more than I could bare, but I gained my composure by reminding myself I was there for Lisa.
The funeral was Friday morning, and though I would have chosen not to have Addie with me then, I had no choice but to take him. It was a nice service where Lisa was remembered and celebrated by friends and family. I'm convinced every student she had ever taught would've been there if they could've been. Following the service, while waiting for the pallbearers to walk the casket out, we congregated in the foyer where I introduced Addie to some of the family and I noticed Zach looking at me in a very different way from the night before. Seeing Addie was like looking at a baby Zach. There was no mistaking their resemblance. I leaned over to my friend. "Jackie, he knows!"
Suddenly, I got really nervous. How would all this play out? And why now? I did my best to continue conversations and to act normal, but inside I was breaking. I had just convinced myself (and accepted) it would be Christmas before anything more happened- just another "wait for the right time."
But just before lunch at my aunt and uncle's home, everything changed. Zach's dad, Al said he wanted to get a picture of Addie and me with Zach. I thought he was crazy! He's a smart kid, wouldn't he figure it all out if he hadn't already? He insisted it would all be fine. Imagine my surprise when I came out holding the baby and Zach introduced himself, "Hi, Addie! I'm your big brother!"
Is your jaw on the floor? Mine was.
The moment I had agonized over daily for years had just caught me by total surprise. There were no words. But there were plenty of cameras, and though I'm grateful for it now, it was a little awkward at the time. I don't know how many people were there, but it felt like we were surrounded. Incredible joy and relief swept over me, and I really struggled to contain this. I shared a few pictures of CJ, Coco, and Juju with him and told him how long we had waited for this. It was a lot to take in. I wanted to steal him away from everyone there and find a place where we could just figure it all out, but thought better of it. (First impressions are important; let him find out I'm crazy later, right?) It wasn't easy, but I thought it was best just to leave it with that little introduction and give him some space and time to absorb it all. I think time might've been what I needed, too. Too many highs and lows in one day just isn't good for the crazies, if you know what I mean.
I came down from my high pretty quick that night. Fear set in and by the next morning I was down in the dumps again. What if it had all been too quick for him? Would it be unreasonable for him to have been angry with me? What if he didn't even like me? What if his only interest was to meet his brothers?
Let me tell you, there were about a million other questions that overwhelmed me and not many of them, if any at all were good scenarios. Anxiety, panic, fear... how much more could I take? It was then I called Shell to meet for brunch. I had to get out of the house and shake this off. In the few minutes that I had before Shell was meeting me, I made a last minute decision to visit Lisa's grave and search for some sort of peace and understanding about it all. I'm not sure I found understanding, but within an hour after brunch, Al called asking if I was interested in meeting the kids for dinner Monday after school. Did he really have to ask? Maybe this was Lisa's blessing. I told myself it was; I felt it in my heart. I wasn't going to fight this anymore. "Just let it happen, Nik!"
My nerves were shot and I was a total wreck when Monday rolled around, but my mom (my rock) was by my side when we strolled in (late) to the restaurant. Immediately, my fears dissipated and my nerves were calmed. Seeing Zach and Lydia again was just what I needed. However this continued, it had to be a good thing. I was left that night with a great happiness words cannot describe. I won't say I haven't had moments of darkness and panic since then, but what I can tell you is, though we may be the blind leading the blind here, we are moving forward. This is just the beginning; just another chapter and, baby, this is gonna be a good book!