It's not a funeral, but it just might feel like one
November 17, 2017 12:12 PM   Subscribe

We've had a newborn living with us for the last 6 months or so (previously), and the time is quickly approaching for him to transition to living with his birth family. This is all being handled by an Organization who does These Things and we're working with a team there that has been really great throughout this process. The transition should go smoothly, but we're at a bit of a loss of what to do when we come home that first time without the boy who has been (and will always be considered) our son.

One positive thing is that we have a uncommonly good relationship with his birth family, and they've expressed a lot of interested in us staying involved in his/their lives. Our hope is that we can stay close with them, but who knows, I guess.

Regardless, while we're excited and happy for our son's family to be back together, my wife and I are not terribly excited about our side of things in all this. It's hard to talk about, and I've kind of been avoiding the whole thing so I can just put off any processing until it happens.

What can we do once this all shakes out to take care of ourselves? I don't know that a "memorial service" really makes sense, but I think some way of processing our emotions and marking the close of this part of lives would be good.

We expect to go through this again with more children in the future, so I think it could be nice to create a tradition of sorts here, too.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
(And now I'm tearing up after typing all this out. Newborns are stressful and so much work, but I'm going to miss him.)
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 12:13 PM on November 17, 2017 [15 favorites]

I don't quite know what to say other than that I think you and your wife are amazing people, and reading your story across these two posts has teared me up too.

The one thing I would like to offer, which came to me straight away as striking a chord when I read this, is a chapter from one of my most loved pieces of writing about life's crooked journey: Kahlil Gibran - On Children

Congratulations on successfully raising your first child. The very best for the future to him, you, yours and your yours to come :)
posted by protorp at 12:22 PM on November 17, 2017 [11 favorites]

Nothing useful to suggest here, really, but I have to say I admire you greatly for doing this.

Maybe you should do something that you weren't able to do easily while he was with you. A nice dinner out or a weekend in nature somewhere.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 12:23 PM on November 17, 2017 [5 favorites]

Oh, that's hard. This'll totally depend on your personalities, but what if you have a celebration when you come home? Either by yourselves, sort of a gratitude ritual, or bring some friends around for food and fellowship, maybe for a game night or marshmallows around a fire pit or something? Order some baked good to pick up on the way home or have delivered that morning.

Also, if you know you'll be doing this again, you might go out and choose a little piece of art or sculpture or garden statuary or something to represent your gratitude and fond memories and hope for this child, and do that every time as a means of honoring that experience of bringing them home and making them a small part of your lives.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:26 PM on November 17, 2017 [15 favorites]

I was adopted. I lived with my birth mother for a time and then was given up for adoption. I was with a foster family for some amount of time and then was adopted around 6 months old. My adoptive mother, as part of birth story, would talk about how loving the foster family was. How the family had children of their own and they doted on me and loved me and were so happy for me but also sad to see me go. I loved that part of my adoption story. I also loved the part where my birth mother tried to keep me but just couldn't. That was love, too.

I think you should create a memory book and write a letter about how much you love this little boy. A little keepsake box for when he is older with a personal object or lovey would be a nice thing to send with him and would be a part of this child's journey. You might also make a keepsake box yourself to keep over the years. When the child is 18, you might send it to him. Think about something like that. You've touched this family and this child for life. Mark him with your love.
posted by amanda at 12:27 PM on November 17, 2017 [74 favorites]

Do you have a handprint of his in plaster or salt dough or something? I think you'll want to have one.

When my now grown son was in daycare, the caregivers did something like the one produced by this kit, which I still treasure.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 12:31 PM on November 17, 2017 [8 favorites]

I know a couple that has fostered around 10 children over the years and has always had a professional photographer come and take a family picture. All 10 of the pictures are sort of similar (all taken in the same room, sort of similar poses) and are displayed together in a long line on a wall. I've always thought it seemed like a cool tradition.
posted by mjcon at 12:50 PM on November 17, 2017 [30 favorites]

This is a graduation? Maybe get one of those clay handprint kits?

Plan something to look forward to. A weekend at a B n B next month or something. Just enough to get you looking ahead to a next thing, without that thing being too overwhelming.

I like the photobook idea mentioned above.
posted by thenormshow at 1:13 PM on November 17, 2017

How about planting a tree for each child? Might have to be somewhere other than your property, or not. I was thinking then you could watch each tree grow over the years.

Good luck, so glad you're able to help out these children.
posted by haunted by Leonard Cohen at 1:52 PM on November 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

I like the idea of getting a piece of art to commemorate the occasion. Double bonus if you can get two matching/companion pieces and gift one to him/his family, either now or in the future.

As soon as you get home, open a bottle of wine and do some kind of structured reminiscing activity with your wife. Maybe take turns saying "Dear Baby, _________" and filling in the blank with one sentence of something you want to tell him. Fill in the blank with memories from the past 6 months, good and bad, and hopes for the future. Maybe try to name a hope for each future year of his life. Maybe try to say something about him for each letter of the alphabet. Structure will make it feel more like a ceremony/ritual, a special occasion with special focus. But definitely plan to sit down and talk without distractions, honor and recognize all the rainbow of feelings you feel.

Once the little one is transferred to his next home, put a journal or a stack of stationary/notecards somewhere in the "baby area" of your home so that you can visit his spot and process thoughts about him. Maybe write notes to him/his family, maybe just write notes to yourself about how you're feeling, but prepare an activity for yourself to engage with when you're feeling the loss.

In the near future, set aside time for a debrief/planning session where you can talk about how you can keep in touch with this family and what to do differently next time you foster. Maybe have a special notebook to track your journey through this part of your lives where you can look back on your story and developments as foster parents.
posted by itesser at 2:10 PM on November 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

My daughter recently found a little diary I'd written while she was a baby. It's nothing special, just 20-something pages about our everyday life and how she was as a baby, but she really loved it. Maybe you could make a little album with pictures of your baby, but also of yourselves and your home and other things that have been important for the last six months. It may be a good proces for you, and then a great present for him, when he is 20 or something.
posted by mumimor at 2:23 PM on November 17, 2017

Probably the main reason I open Facebook most days is to see what Sharon Astyk has written about her decades of experience in foster care. She writes movingly and with great compassion on how to face this situation. I think her work appears also sporadically on some sort of science blogs site, but really facebook is the best place. Two years of following her posts were 100 times better than any training we ever received from the state on being foster parents. Highly recommended.
posted by seasparrow at 3:03 PM on November 17, 2017 [5 favorites]

I am so grateful that there are such kind people as you in the world. If you are working with an agency, do they have a support group for foster transitions? Processing these feelings with other families experiencing this can be helpful, in addition, it provides a place to share tips with each other about what works and what doesn't. If they don't have such a group, could you suggest that they start one? Otherwise, I will revert to the usual recommendation for individual therapy.

Finally, yes - do go out and do some fun relaxing activities that are impossible when there's a newborn in the home. Hang out in a hot bath, spontaneously go out for a movie, walk, meal, massage.....
posted by Gyre,Gimble,Wabe, Esq. at 5:44 PM on November 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Will you be transforming your home back or leaving it set up for another child? I think putting away all the bottles, diapers, sippy cups, tiny spoons, toys, the crib, etc., will be one hard facet of this. Maybe ask your friends or the Organization to help? I'd probably speed through it as quickly as possible unless you want the constant reminders for a few days to help you release your sadness. I'm sorry that he'll be leaving you. :( Huge respect and gratitude to you both.
posted by slidell at 10:03 PM on November 17, 2017

My husband and I have been foster parents and have been through a very similar thing multiple times.

Expect grief. In a way, the first few weeks, I felt a sort of madness. I had a much harder time dealing with the idea that these children are out there and lost to me than I do processing actual deaths. I would absolutely recommend putting away all the baby's things. I didn't want those little reminders (though you'll still find some) at first. We also went to therapy for a short time which was great. We too have a wall of photos of the kids. I would also come up with a plan for telling everyone in your network. I kept quiet the first time because I was sad and was constantly shocked into sadness anew whenever a friend would ask about the child who left a month ago. The next time we told people and asked for space and that went better.

Then: be empty nesters. We planned a short time somewhere babies aren't welcome. We went for late dinner and drinks and early morning movies. My husband and I made a concerted effort to remember that our lives were good Before Baby as well.

I still deeply miss all our children and I'm mostly okay with that. I loved them and gave them good things even if they can't remember me and I'm sure you did the same for your baby.

If you'd like to chat more please feel free to memail me.
posted by Saminal at 5:50 PM on November 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

I don't have anything more helpful to add than what's already been said, but you are such wonderful people and I have such admiration for you. All of you in this thread talking about your experiences in similar situations, my god. We are so lucky to have folks like you in the world.
posted by alleycat01 at 8:00 AM on November 20, 2017

We are foster parents and have had 15 kids placed with us, for varying lengths of time. We have 2 girls with us now who have been our daughters for 9+ months, and we know that they won't stay with us forever.

When we have to transition one of our kids, we try to make a little picture book for them of the time that we were together. We print one for them and one for us. And we have a spot in our house where we hang up pictures - usually just one per placement - of each kid that has been a part of our family. With these girls, I'd expect that we'll have a little party to celebrate their transition and invite all of the friends that have helped us all along the way. That gives the girls a chance to feel valued and lets the big community of people that have come to know and love them feel a proper goodbye.

And as Saminal said - expect (and accept) grief. No matter what rituals or ceremonies or little things you plan, when the kids are gone there will be a hole there. Our bio daughter still sometimes cries when she misses our very first placement. (I sometimes get a little misty too.)
posted by AgentRocket at 8:24 AM on November 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

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