The Other Side of the Mountain: Surviving the Death of a Child

November 4, 2018 adopting again, adoption realities, Down syndrome, Family Stories, Lifelong needs, medical expedite, orphanage realities 3 Comments

It was a horrible stomach flu that took us down one by one. The kids were both sick. Ken and I were horribly sick. It was one of those “fend for yourself and hope to see you on the other side” type of illnesses.

When the phone rang that morning, I had no strength to even reach for the phone. Ken yelled from the other room that I should take the call because it was our adoption agency on the phone. On a Saturday morning.

We were so close to traveling to adopt our daughter Violet Mae from China. A sweet girl we had simply fallen in love with. It was love at first sight when we saw her photo listing. She had the fullest cheeks, her entire face was kissable! She had Down syndrome like our daughter Isabelle, and she was chosen and so loved from afar.

We had done everything in the adoption process with record speed. Once one step was finished, we had the next set of papers ready to go. We were set to travel in March, which worked perfectly! The kids would be on spring break for part of the time, and even though they weren’t going with to China, I felt better that I could involve them more in the process and FaceTime whenever we wanted!

We were a few days into the wait for our Article 5 paperwork, the tail end of the process. I had mistakenly put my married name instead of my maiden name on a form for the Article 5, and I had needed to email the Consulate in Guangzhou to make sure they had the correct information. I thought for sure the phone call was related to this, that I had messed something up and now we had a delay.

I didn’t make it to the phone in time, but called our case worker back.

“Sarah,” she said, “I’m so sorry to tell you this but your daughter has passed away.”

No. That’s not possible.
She must have been mistaken.
We were going to China to meet her in just a few weeks.

“I am so, so sorry,” she continued. “We called to the orphanage to get a final update on Violet before you were to travel. They told us that she had gotten sick in January and had been hospitalized with pneumonia. They called to check in on her and learned she passed away from complications due to pneumonia on January 24th.”

Today was February 27th. What?

Wait. What?

My daughter had died over a month ago, and I was just learning of this?!? I was irate. I was crushed, heartbroken, mad, confused… every possible emotion. Our sweet baby girl. She died alone. She died so alone that no one from the orphanage even knew she was gone. No one bothered to check on her for over a month! That is how incredibly alone my baby was. Fighting for her life in a hospital, without a family or an ayi by her side.

We would never hold this sweet girl. We would never know what it would look like to make her smile, or to hear her laugh. We would never kiss those sweet cheeks or hold her soft little hands.

I got off the phone without saying too much. I was completely broken. My husband came in the room. Though sobs I managed to say, “She’s gone. Violet died in China. In a hospital. She was alone.”

We held each other and sobbed. Tears for our loss of our child, tears for the tragedy, tears for her being just so alone. That is the part that still breaks me apart, even years later. We had to tell our seven year old twins that their sister had gotten too sick in China and the doctors couldn’t make her better. This was the first death in their young lives. This was the most painful thing I’ve ever had to share.

And how do you explain this? Someone we’d been working so hard to bring home, wasn’t coming home to us. Someone who was already apart of our family was suddenly just gone. We took comfort in knowing that she was healed of her illness and was able to see with certainty just how loved she was, from the other side of the world.

We had worked so hard, our families had supported us, our village had supported up. We had raised the funds for Violet’s adoption in just a few months time.

We had to tell everyone. Such a painful message to share with so many who were anticipating our travel to China in just a few weeks.

When you lose a child, the support means everything. We had friends who shared in our sorrows. They covered us in prayer and sent us their love. Some though, didn’t know how to respond.

Was it really the loss of a child if they didn’t have the child yet? (And the answer is YES if you are questioning! Yes, she was and still is our daughter.)

Some questioned if we had been scammed. Had we gotten this far and someone made off with our money? Maybe they just didn’t know what to say. Sometimes it’s okay to say nothing, to just be present.

Some family members got resentful for the attention this had caused. Yes, for the death of a child. Others pretended that nothing had even happened. Never mentioned her name after we shared the news. Maybe they didn’t want to make us sad, but not talking about our child at all felt like that nothing had happened, that she was never even apart of our lives at all.

Deaths can bring out so many emotions, especially when a death happened from afar. The death of a child you never got to hold. The death of a child you watched grow from half a world away. The death of such a sweet innocence.

I think until this point, we had been racing though this adoption process with the best intentions, but living in a bit of isolation. Unaware that things like this happen. Even to children without special needs.

There wasn’t a chapter to read in the adoption handbook titled “What to do if your child dies in process.” My child died in a hospital alone. Her death went unnoticed for over a month by her orphanage. Let that sink in. This is the pain and grief I carry with me daily as I think about all the what ifs. What if we had started the process just a month sooner? Or if we would have overnighted every single document, would that have sped things up just enough?

I’m sure the answer is no. We did everything in our power to move mountains, and perhaps this mountain was one we were never meant to see on the other side.

I think about this often too. Did God lead us to our daughter, knowing this would be how things would work out? Did he want us to see our love for our child knowing we would never bring her home? Maybe he wanted us to have our eyes opened to the reality for so many children – those who never make it home?

I know this journey has been greater than us, greater than just an adoption that wasn’t complete. This changed us, and pushed us to do more than we ever imagined.

Instead of staying in a state of grief, we used our daughter’s death to move forward with such speed and determination we were in China less than three months later adopting our chosen daughter, Everly Rose. Our sweet Violet’s given name was JiaWei which translated to “beautiful rose.” Everly was taken from Eve, meaning life. Our sweet Violet’s memory and our love for her lives on through our little Evie.

Many wondered how or why we moved on so quickly after Violet’s death. I’m not really sure how we did, but to us it just made sense. We were so incredibly close to travel. My suitcase was packed. Diapers filled her changing table, clothes filled the closet. We were weeks from having a baby in our arms. And then we were empty.

Feeling such a sense of loss, from all our love we had shared and lost.

We knew that every day we waited to begin the process again was another day a child would have to sit and wait. Days they might not have to spare. Every day from the day we started the process of reviewing more files until I landed in China felt like I was running a marathon. I didn’t want to sit still. I felt like I was holding my breath. I wasn’t calm until I was up in the air on the way to get our Everly.

When we got Everly she reached her arms out to me and rubbed my face. She was so soft and cuddly, so baby like. She was perfection. She was chosen for us, and we were chosen for her.

Through it all, I have no doubt that this was God’s plan, placing this sweet child in our lives. We are so thankful to have had this journey because it opened our eyes to so much more than we anticipated. We have seen the unimaginable and have pushed though.

The love we have for our daughter Violet was not lost; it was expanded and the love has reached to all those waiting for families in China.
For all those alone and waiting.
For all those receiving medical care, alone.

For those who will never have the love of a family while they are here on earth, we pray for you. We pray you will see the hands and feet of Jesus from those around you. We pray you have a caring ayi, a sweet friend in the crib next to you, a hand that holds yours as you pass your days.

Upon returning home with our daughter Everly, our plans for the future began to change. Our world looked different after experiencing China, after having a child die, after spending time in an orphanage. The balance was hard, coming back to what was our normal, and remembering all of the faces of children and hands I had held just days prior, knowing that many will remain orphans.

Adoption does something to you that is hard to explain. It makes so many prior concerns seem like a waste of time and energy. When you see where the need is, it makes everything else seem so trivial.

We made the choice to adopt again very soon. I knew we would adopt again by the time I walked out of my daughter’s orphanage. With so many children and so many needs, we struggled to know which direction to turn. We researched so many needs this time, and reached out to many parents who have children adopted with different needs.

After speaking on the phone for hours one night with a dear Facebook friend, I began to feel I had understood the special need that we could manage, along with the needs of two children with lifelong needs.

We were matched with our son Alexander around the one year mark of coming home with Everly. He has beta Thalassemia major, a blood disorder requiring blood transfusions every few weeks because his body doesn’t make hemoglobin. While very serious in nature, it is manageable in the states. In China, the care is not what is needed to have a healthy, long life.

We knew the risks going into another adoption. We knew there was a chance that our son’s health would decline. But we knew he was worth it. Every single child is worth it.

We pressed through and fundraised again, had the documents ready, and were able to expedite the end of the adoption once we had lab numbers that showed how severe his health condition was.

Through all this joy, excitement and preparation, I was cautious. I was scared to get too attached to this little boy. I hesitated to decorate his room, to buy boy clothes or toys. I wanted so much to be as excited as I was when we first started the process, but that fear was still there.

I had a hard time as we neared the Article 5 wait, when we received the news about Violet passing. Our Article 5 was dropped off on Friday March 30th, and it was an expedited case. I cried tears of joy as I knew it might be ready by April 2nd, which is Violet’s birthday. It would have been the best gift, almost a confirmation that all is well. Instead I got an email that we had same day processing (I didn’t even know this was possible!) and our TA would arrive on her birthday, April 2nd.

We would be in China holding Alex one month to the day after our LOA arrived. I know that God helped to push things along as to not make us go through the slow and painful wait.

I often think to myself, if I knew that we would have to go through the death of a child, would we do it all over again? Would we go through all the loss and pain of letting go of a child we never really had?

And the answer is yes, a million times yes. Because that yes is what allowed two beautiful children to join their forever families. It has allowed us to understand what it means to love with your whole heart even in the most difficult losses in life.

We will continue to advocate daily for our children, inclusion, their needs, and for all those who wait to join families as well.

– guest post by Sarah

3 responses to “The Other Side of the Mountain: Surviving the Death of a Child”

  1. Colleen gillies Peterson says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this story♡

  2. Rachel says:

    Thank you so much for sharing.

    In 2007 I worked in a foster home in Xi’an and was very attached to a little baby who passed a few months later. I always have mourned that she never had a family. We adopted our son from Xi’an this past March and he spent many months in and out of hospitals alone and I would pray so hard that we would get to him in time.

    I think it’s important to shed light on this sad subject and celebrate the lives of all these precious children of God!

  3. Allison says:

    Wow! This story brings tears to my eyes bc there are so many parallels between you and me. I have bio twins (born April 2). We lost a child that we were fostering to adopt (in the US) to complications from pneumonia. And, we are about to travel to pick up a little boy with Beta Thalassemia. LOA came yesterday. Thanks for sharing your story, Sarah!

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