I have long written that the adoption of my younger daughter and the death of my partner shifted the ground beneath my feet and that I write to make sense of life as I am now living it. If you are visiting my blog for the first time, “adoption” and “death” might be enough to explain me to you. I am not, however, one to stop at simple explanations and so, I offer the following:
I am a rather mature~read that as, old~single mother to a 14 year old daughter, Julia, who joined our family through adoption in 2006, when she was five and a half years old. Before that time, I had a pretty ordinary life. I was married and living in Indianapolis, where my husband and I raised our older daughter, restored an old house and made a garden. At the time of Julia’s adoption, I expected to take a maternity leave and go back to work as a staff attorney at the federal court. However, shortly after my re-entry into the work force, it became clear that Julia needed a full time parent. My leaving the work force coincided with my husband’s appointment as clerk of the Wisconsin Supreme Court and our move to Madison.
For more than a year after Julia came home, doctors, social workers and friends in the adoption world, assured us that Julia was experiencing a hard transition and would ‘soon’ ‘settle down.’ My husband and I wanted to believe the experts, but Julia’s behavior was troubling and the list of what she was not and could not do grew. Finally, in January, 2008, Julia was diagnosed with PDD-NOS, ADHD and RAD at the UW’s Waisman Center. Over the next few years, we gathered a team of remarkable therapists, teachers and friends. Julia began what has become thousands of hours of therapy–occupational therapy, speech therapy, intensive autism therapy, post-intensive social skills therapy, attachment/trauma therapy and vision therapy. Franklin and Randal Elementary Schools in Madison taught all of us and helped uncover Julia’s talents.
Julia is now in middle school. She is not a typical kid by any means and is far behind her peers in academic subjects, maturity and social skills. She is, however, an avid reader and has learned basic math. Both of which still seem like miracles to me. Julia is gifted artist. She draws, paints, works in clay and makes linocuts. In the past year, she has explored crafts, learning to knit, bead, fold paper cranes, work the rainbow loom, and knot strings for bracelets. Julia began to play cello in school in fifth grade and a year later has kept up with her peers. Julia learning curve is her own. I have no idea where it will take her. No one gives parents a prognosis when they diagnose a kid on the autism spectrum and the unknowns have, at times, scared me beyond measure but I have faith that Julia will grow into an adult who will touch many hearts and do some good and beautiful work.
So, that is half of what shifted the ground for me. The other half is death. In January of 2007, David, my partner of 30 years, was diagnosed with a heart condition, which led to medication and medical intervention, which led to a heart transplant, which led to his death.
In March of 2010, David received a new heart. He had been on the waiting list since November of 2009 and he was an excellent candidate for a successful transplant because other than a congenitally bad heart, he was in perfect health. All of his organs operated well, he was not overweight, he lived a very moderate life and he was 56 years old. There was and is a 20% chance that a heart transplant recipient will not live out their first year post-transplant, but we were sure that David would slide easily into the surviving 80%. Then, on June 27, David was re-hospitalized with a gall bladder infection. The docs fought valiantly but the infection was too strong and David’s body could not bear the assault. On July 5, David died. I was in no way prepared for his death. I grieved long and hard through the best part of three and a half years.
For a long time, I blogged at Spicy Dragons and Dinosaurs and before that at Waiting for Hari. Waiting for Hari began as an adoption blog. At the time, there was little reliable information about life in the trenches after the international adoption of an older child. Julia’s diagnoses altered my focus but the subject was still Julia and our rather happy family life. David’s death changed everything. Where I am now is . . . well, chasing joy as grieving wanes, discovering the family I now head and writing about autism, grief, mindfulness and resilience.
And if you’ve made it this far, I should probably offer you some tea and biscotti.