Never give up hope. But when you do give up hope, never give up trying.
Emily was our challenge. We knew she would be from the day that the Russian social worker begged us not to adopt her. She told us that the fourteen-year-old girl had severe behavioral issues and probably even disorders.
Maybe my insistence on following through with the adoption had something to do with my type “A” personality. Perhaps it had ties to my overconfidence (part of the oldest child syndrome I have had my entire life). One thing is sure; deciding to adopt that oldest sibling of my earlier-adopted daughters was largely based on cowardice.
I knew that one day, just like me, my young daughters would find that obscure document and learn of their older siblings, just like I had. I knew they would ask me what happened to them. I also knew I didn’t have the courage to crush them with the speculated details of the only things that could happen to those older girls if we didn’t bring them home.
Most adoptions of older children (even down to toddlers) have a honeymoon period, where parents and children do their best to please and to fit in. With Emily it spanned the time of the drive between the rural Russian town of her orphanage, to Vladivostok, where our hotel was located. Three hours. Then she demanded first chance at the shower to freshen up after the long drive. Of course that wasn’t a big deal. It didn’t become an issue until an hour later when she continued to soak in the tub and refused to get out while laughing maniacally behind the locked door. Then she refreshed the bath with more hot water. It took two hours to get her out of the bathroom while others used a shower in our other room. Eventually, Emily emerged and my wife, Amy (through clenched teeth and a twitching eye) helped her to do her hair.
After that, things were fine until dinner (ten minutes later). Then she kept trying to re-order food. When she was told that she had chosen her food and needed to eat it, she lunged at her sister’s plate and crammed a handful of spaghetti into her mouth and onto her face.
Upon arriving home, it didn’t take long for diagnoses to confirm what others had warned us and what we had now come to believe. There were words like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and Borderline Personality Disorder. We held out for almost a year, through multiple suicide attempts and abuse of other family members, before it just wasn’t safe for us or our daughter, for her to remain at home. Eventually she was institutionalized.
To me, the commitment I had made to that troubled child was like
the words of the all too familiar traditional wedding vows:
for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.
Amy and I continued with weekly visits even when Emily screamed that she didn’t want a family and demanded that we leave. Almost every week we made the two-hour round trip to visit with her, though sometimes she refused to come out of her room to see us.
I remember others at the time telling me we had witnessed miracles before and we needed to have faith that Emily could get better. On several occasions I lashed out. “Sure! Fine! God does have the ability to heal her. I’m not going to argue that point. But while you say that, remember you are saying He can heal quadriplegics too. So why don’t you spare me and go tell someone in a wheel chair to get up and walk.”
That was my position with my daughter’s condition. Whether or not she “could” get better, I didn’t believe she would. Still, I had entered into our relationship of my own free will. To me, the commitment I had made to that troubled child was like the words of the all too familiar traditional wedding vows: for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. Though I had lost hope, Amy and I refused to abandon our daughter.
As I look out the window of my office to the towering heights of the Rocky Mountains,
I am reminded of how unnecessary speed is in creating something great.
Eventually she started to improve, though three steps forward was always followed by two steps back. That is frustrating, to say the least. But after time, three steps forward, two steps back does equate to progress. And she has progressed. Emily is twenty-two, now. She has finally been able to advance beyond life in lockdown institutions and has begun to function in family type settings provided by a group home. She now interacts well with our own family and spends time with us in our own home, where she is loved and appreciated by Amy, me, and all eight of her siblings (including three biological sisters).
Emily’s path since leaving Russia has been filled with dozens of people who have done all that they could to help her progress. Our part, as parents, has been small compared to others. My biggest failure was that I failed to believe when others did not. As I look out the window of my office to the towering heights of the Rocky Mountains, I am reminded of how unnecessary speed is in creating something great. Small and slow progress is progress. Direction matters so much more than speed. And people with serious mental illness can improve. Mostly, they need people to stand by them, and to help them, even if they do so without faith or hope.
If you are like me, and struggle to believe when others do not, don’t worry about it too much. I’d tell you to never give up hope, but I know how it is. So, if you do give up hope, never give up trying. That’s the important thing. Then be a bit more patient than I was and cut those with greater faith some slack, when they are only trying to help.
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