My foster baby left over a year ago and I am still grieving... like my body physically aches when I think about her. I know foster care is temporary. I know reunification is the goal. But I didn’t anticipate the emotional toll it would take on me and my family when she left... or how long the grief would linger. I still feel like I am walking with a limp. How do I get through this?
Dear Still Grieving,
It is one thing to know reunification is the goal, it’s another thing to actually live through the loss that reunification means to you as foster mom. As foster-families, we are aware that the goal in caring for children is the hope that they can one day return to a functional and healthy birth family. We get it. It makes sense. But that doesn’t mean is hurts any less or that the sorrow of saying goodbye is any less real.
In fact, the very thing that makes you an amazing mama and caregiver is your ability to feel deep love and connection for a child in your care. The grief you feel is the gift you have given your tiny one. You didn’t hold back your heart, you didn’t protect yourself by remaining aloof, you didn’t keep a safe emotional distance between yourself and your foster baby. You gave. You loved. You blessed.
I would say, yes, you are indeed walking with a limp. And although wounds can heal, not all limps go away. They serve to remind us of our calling, our passion, and even our pain. It is good and right to grieve. It is appropriate to mourn. And then it is time to allow that grief to fuel our love for those around us in a broken and needy world.
Like all grief, the path through it is feeling the pain, sharing the stories, remembering the laughter and not running from the tears. This is best done in community and not in isolation. Find your safe people and reminisce and allow the tears to flow and the memories to become deeply rooted in your soul. Your sweet little one is planted there and it is good and wise to tend to those memories and feelings she has left behind.
-Dena Johnson MA, LMHC
Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Attachment-Trauma Focused Therapist, TBRI Practitioner