It’s kind of a whole different world, and one that you may not know a lot about if you’ve never been in it.
It may not make any sense at all to some people, it may be the kind of thing you’ve always wanted to do but have just never have yet, or you may be a foster parent yourself!
Regardless of where you are in all of this, I just wanted to share from my heart and my experience some tips on how to help a foster family after the loss of a child.
Going into fostering for us, was a little bit of a different situation.
We got licensed for a specific child (even though we had never met him) and while the process took some time, it ended with us adopting our son!
I felt like I kind of knew the ropes about fostering, had met the people, gone to court, dealt with CASA’s, social workers, judges, therapists and had some stuff figured out.
I had read about people who had lost children after having them for a long time, (and even had someone from my church have this happen) and I imagined the sadness they must have felt, but honestly I never gave it a lot of thought after a little time.
Life moved forward and I just kept going with it.
And then came my baby girl.
We had been placed with her and her sister for 2 weeks as emergency placements.
And then she came to us 6 months later (without her sister) the week of her 3rd birthday.
She instantly lit up every room with her bright, cheerful smile.
She gave the best hugs, and her facial expressions could make any bad day disappear.
I connected to her instantly, and she became my shadow.
She struggled sleeping through the night and so I was with her through the night several times, as soon as she woke up, all day (until she started part time daycare) and then into the night when I would read to her, snuggle with her and pray with her every night before bed.
Then we would repeat.
This girl was my baby and I was her mama in every sense of the word.
For almost 6 months.
Then, due to many circumstances beyond my control, she was gone.
I woke up with her one day, and woke up without her the next.
I said goodbye and I think she thought I was coming right back.
I mean, how do you explain this kind of thing to a 3-year-old anyways?
And just like that, everything changed.
No more pull-ups, pacifiers, sippy cups…just gone.
And here is where I want to educate those of you who don’t know how to handle this kind of situation with other foster families.
The reason I want to educate you, is because the amount of grief I struggled with (and still am struggling with) is something that I felt very alone in.
I think one of the hardest parts for me, is the fact that I have felt like people acted like I never had her in the first place. Like this was a babysitting gig, and now it’s done.
That is not what it was at all. Raising a traumatized 3-year-old is incredibly difficult.
It is all consuming and she became part of me when she moved in with us.
We did everything together.
And when she left? It created a huge, gaping hole in my heart.
Ignoring it doesn’t make it better…it only makes it worse.
I don’t think it was the fault of anyone in particular, and I am not upset with people, or bitter towards anyone.
I just think people don’t know what to do, and so they don’t want to make things worse by trying to do something they shouldn’t.
Or honestly? They just don’t think that much about it.
Because that’s where I was in the past, and if I had known any part of the grief other people were dealing with, I would have wanted to know and I would have wanted to do something.
1. Be present.
That’s it. Just be there. Don’t ask questions about the details, unless they bring it up first. There are so many parts of the story that parents aren’t allowed to talk about, and many parts that are so complicated it would be hard to explain even if they did tell you.
There is a lot of guilt that can be associated with it, so asking questions about details can make things even more painful.
Acknowledge that you know. That you care. Say the things you loved about the child, that you love about the parent!
Say that you hate it for them, that you hurt for them.
Just be there.
There needs to be acknowledgement of the loss for the parent. When it’s not there, it makes the hurt even deeper.
2. Show up.
This is huge. We are able to do so much with so little effort these days.
We can text, email, send flowers, send food…all without getting up off our couch!
Do something for the family who is grieving.
Treat it like it is…a loss.
And treat them how you would treat anyone who had just lost a loved one.
Send dinner. Send a coffee. Bring over a coffee. Stop by their house simply to give them a hug.
Send a text that you are thinking of them. Text a memory you have of the child, a picture you may have.
It goes back to acknowledging that you know and that you care and that you are in their corner.
I can’t tell you the amount of emotions and feelings that can come up and any given time.
Finding a pacifier under a seat, a video on your phone, a picture in your Bible, can all be enough to send you over the edge.
If you have been feeling prompted to message a foster parent who’s child is now gone (even if the child has been gone for a long time!)
Trust me, they need you to.
They need you.
Foster parents need to be seen and they need time to heal, so they can start the process again.
Show up. Be the friend they need. Keep them involved in your life too.
Don’t stop sending pictures of texts of things in your own life.
We still want to be included. And when we aren’t? We feel even more alone.
This is huge. Pray for the healing of the foster family, and the foster child!
Prayer is so powerful and speaking to God on the behalf of the foster parent is enormous.
Text a prayer. Voice message a prayer.
It is so moving to hear someone praying over you. It is soothing and so comforting.
Voice messages (through facebook, texting or instagram) are so useful because you can allow the parent to hear your words, but doesn’t put them in the awkward position of having to respond (probably through grateful tears!) We need people to be praying for us in times when we don’t feel like we can pray ourselves!
4. Don’t forget the siblings.
Fostering is a family affair.
It impacts the family way more than I could ever tell you. The siblings feel the stresses, they feel the joy, they feel the loss.
I can’t tell you how many times my kids have expressed their sadness over the loss of our little girl. It is heavy for them too.
They are not always going to express it, but they sure do feel it.
A simple text, card, or prayer is going to impact them too. Don’t forget the siblings.
The bottom line is this.
Grieving is painful.
Grieving alone is even more painful.
If you don’t know how to help a foster family after the loss of a child, don’t just do nothing.
Every little thing will make an impact and will help to bring the healing that they need to continue being who they need to be.
And if you think they look fine, so they must be fine?
Think a little harder about that.
Maybe they are? But probably they are not.
Be what they need as they navigate through the confusion, the sadness, the loss.
Let’s be better together.