My sister died at the age of 30. Just like she predicted she would. We all teased her, called her a hypochondriac, and laughed about her past worries of brain tumors and cancer. Two weeks before her death, she called me crying. “Cara, what if”? I reassured her of her health, and told her, “If it ever happens, I will take care of…” Then, she died of a pulmonary embolism. In the shower. As her 7 year old son screamed and cried into the ears of a 911 operator.
My family gathered around her as the emergency room nurse removed the ventilator that was forcing air into her chest, prolonging the inevitable clearly witnessed in her eyes. I told the nurse of my sister, the miracle, recovered from a drug addiction and finally caring for her son, the greatest love of her life. Working as an outreach case worker for the homeless, an angel to so many.
As my husband and I walked away from the hospital that day, he held my hand. “You know what we have to do, right”? I replied, “I know.” It was the only conversation we ever had to have about the decision to bring him into our home permanently. We talked it over with all of the family, concerns, logistics, etc.. but the decision had already been made in our hearts.
What I want you to know about our decision is this: We are not saints. We are performing a duty to my sister, and my nephew. Trust me, my sister was pissed about it. She may still be. It’s been four years. He calls me Mom now. He calls my husband Dad. It brings us great joy and pride. He is our son. But I feel guilt all the time for accepting the role that was hers.
He is half Puerto-Rican. He looks just like my blonde, blue eyed sister, but darker. It is none of your business, but if you ask me a direct question I am happy to answer it. If you try to be coy, and ask a stupid question regarding his skin color you will get a stupid answer.
I also have two biological children of my own. My two oldest children are 2 months apart. Depending on my mood, I will explain our unique family situation to you. I may also tell you I have twins that are 2 months apart and walk away.
I feel guilt all the time. I have worries so complex they would boggle your mind. I make a conscious, deliberate, effort to forgive myself. I am my own worst, and harshest, critic.
My son has special needs. These are compounded by his grief and emotional needs. I know he used to behave poorly. I know he used to be a handful. I know he had a tendency to be loud, obnoxious, overbearing, and mean. I also know he has come so far it is astounding. The 2nd grader who could hardly read, and was unable to learn in a traditional classroom setting now learns in just that – at grade level and beyond. Every Sunday he sings in our church choir, and he is making real friendships every day. He is amazing, and it is not thanks to me. This is a village like you have never seen, but he is the one doing the hard work.
Those of you who judged that difficult child at his mother’s funeral, and in the short time afterward, before you dropped us like a hot potato, look at the growth this child has made. Look at what he has overcome! Now, enjoy that very small box you live in. I won’t visit you there.
Know this, if you are one of those people, I am still mad at you. I will never get over hearing the talk behind our backs. I will never get over your stupid questions and insinuations. But I have moved on without you and I feel sorry for your lack of compassion for a child. A child.
I am grateful for this child. I love all of my children beyond words, and I know how very blessed I am. All I want out of my life is to raise my children. It is all my sister wanted, too. I will do that for both of us. I will second guess every decision I make along the way, because it is that important to me. I will hope that our love is enough to sustain him through childhood, and that all of our children will learn lessons about family, commitment, and love.