‘I received an email 3 sentences long. Those 3 sentences unraveled 10 months of life together. The time had come. He was leaving.’

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People often say to me, ‘I don’t know how you do it, I could never let them go.’

The truth is…I don’t ever want to.

These past four years, several hellos and goodbyes have taught me that nothing ever prepares you. You must walk the hard journey of love with an open hands and heart approach. Foster care develops in you the art of letting go. There is no magic word or potion that makes it easier, in all truth you must walk every step of the process. You must feel every tear, the ache of loss for the pain seems to validate this whole journey.

A Tuesday back in March we woke up, working through our normal routine getting everyone to school. The babies and I came back home after drop off to do laundry, have a play date. Nap time left me some time to get caught up on work, I sat down at my computer receiving an email three sentences long.

Those three sentences began the unravel of 10 months of life together. The time had come, our journey together is over. He was leaving, we had four days to untangle 10 months of life lived. Our home was changing again.

You are never prepared for these moments, goodbye is counter intuitive to a mama heart. I ugly cried over the inevitable goodbye. He was leaving, traveling three hours away and this was it for us, the end of our story.

If you are one of our local friends, you will say you have never seen a transformation like his. His hollow eyes and heavy heart came to us burdened, barely able to speak or sleep. His eyes now sparkle when you talk, he speaks in sentences and he asks why. He smiles, loves and spreads joy wherever he goes. His presence in our home changed us.

Melissa Pennington Photography

The ache of my mama heart is knowing about the changes that are coming up ahead. Being a foster family means we have had a lot of loss and our home is always changing. My mama heart struggles at the hard decision that this loss is not mine alone to carry. The never ending question is how do I tell him and the rest of the family?

I think of my seven year old daughter who adores him, she creates make believe games for them to play. She waits for him each morning and cheers when he gets into the car after preschool. I think of my nine year old son, who sometimes finds him annoying but delights in finally having the bottom bunk of his bed filled. I think of my 11 year old who lovingly cares for him helping him tie shoes and get his breakfast. I think of my sweet little three year old who delights in him and spends the entire weekend with her best bud. I think of the babies who will forget him quickly but who benefit from his big brother heart.

I hate this. I want to delete the email and pretend that this is not our story. I want to close my eyes to the reality of the foster care world. I want to reply, ‘no thank you.’

I sat the crew down and shared with them that I got an email. That it was time for him to go back to his biological mom, that she was making good choices and was ready for him. I told him we would never see him again because I needed him to understand that this isn’t a visit with mom, this is forever. Our story written together was ending but we would all keep growing and loving the world around us. I showed them all the emotions as I choked over the words and cried into our embrace.

My promise from day one to myself, God and this calling is that each child who enters our home would know love. That we would embrace the process and the grief of it all and that we would not shy away.

My mama heart was heavy but his four year old heart was delighted to hear he would get to live with his mom again. We celebrated that he would get to be reunited with his birth family again through our tears. The best definition of bittersweet, is in moments like this, my loss, their gain.

In that moment around our table, I fell a little bit deeper in love with them all. They all began to process and grieve in so many different ways. One channeled her grief into the design and creation of a cake. Another went to the art table to make cards and pictures, and my kind-hearted 9 year old son found a bag and began packing presents for him to remember us by. They love well and each day they teach me how to do it.

Melissa Pennington Photography

In the days that followed my little man started to ‘run’ from it all, one moment elation and joy followed by pure sadness and tears. One moment saying, ‘I won’t miss you’ and the next falling into a pile of tears on my lap, whispering, ‘I don’t want to stop seeing you.’ We measured our time out in sleeps, four sleeps, three sleeps, two sleeps and talked through his farewell party and our plans to say goodbye to his friends at school. He has been planning his birthday party for months and him leaving would be before his birthday so we rallied and threw him one right before he left.

So that Friday we celebrated him hard, we cheered and loved him with every ounce inside of us knowing that this all matters. Our community came over to celebrate with us, our home was packed with 40 of our closest friends. They have embraced, welcomed and said grieved right along with our family. I know one thing is true — if you enter into our home you will find love, the special kind of love that is fought for and cherished.

The nights leading up to him leaving I would wake to find him in my bed, sleeping beside me. I was unaware of when he came in, this was a behavior he did in the first several nights he came to me.

His heart is heavy, I can see it in his eyes, the hollow dark is beginning to creep in. He feels all the feels and we are riding each one with him. The up and down of the roller coaster, the cycle of grief. Does he understand? Can he possibly? At four how do you process the ache of foster care, the process of hellos and goodbyes.

For those who say they can’t handle the goodbyes, we are adults with coping skills, so yes we can. If they can, then we can. The loss and grief I feel is nothing compared to the love and joy he has felt these last 10 months. To pretend that these goodbyes don’t hurt like hell, would be a lie. In all the goodbyes I have done it never gets easier. Loving him for 347 days was worth every ache now. To love and be loved is what changes us, to lose love makes us aware of it and to seek love is what heals us.

Six weeks after we said goodbye, the phone rang again. This time it was birth mom, asking if I would take him back, as the kids were being removed from her care again. The facility where she was located was under resourced and overwhelmed by the needs of her family, so two of the four kids had to be removed. She chose for him to come back to me. So once again we made room in our hearts and home. He was dropped off at our door, he looked older and his eyes were darker than when he left.

We spent two more months together when the call came again, this time we had more time to plan the separation. The week that followed the call I began the packing of bags and the collecting of memories for the goodbye. I savored the giggles and soaked in the hugs, balancing the paradox that continually confronts me with our reality,  time is a sweet and short gift.

We gathered his things, packed his bags, and sent him forth. For 12 days, 291 hours — and we noticed every single one of them — we felt the loss of him. Then on a Wednesday between two meetings, I got a call and at 9 p.m. that night he was back at our door.

This is foster care. The making of room and the sending forth of little ones. Foster care is exhausting, the packing and unpacking. The toll it takes on your heart is real and there is a cost, but when you look in their little sad eyes you realize that any inconvenience is worth it, just to see the smile of security and to know the joy of loving borrowed babies.”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Julianna Klepfer, a 30 something, single, foster/adoptive mama. She lives with her crew of seven, ages 11, 9, 7, 4, 3, 18 months and 6 months, their two dogs and 6 chickens in the hills of Iowa. You can follow along with her ever changing family at My Joyful Broken Heart.

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