Keeping Connected to Kin

Keeping Connected to Kin

Children in the foster care system carry invisible and painful wounds coming in part from the separation from biological loved ones. In the 30 years I have been in the human service arena I have interacted with children and adults who struggle with the question, “who am I?” as a result of being adopted, even some who were legalized into another’s family as infants. There seems to be a gnawing wonder about those with whom they are related by blood. I’ve heard many a story, both good and bad, about finding biological family after a court’s decision to terminate parental rights and a new family is subsequently found. The following is our story.

It numbers among one of the worst weekends of my life. Tears flowed freely as I anticipated telling my adopted sibling group of four that I had received word that their biological mother was dead. DNA tests confirmed that the bones found four months earlier were indeed those of their mom.

I received the call on Thursday at 4 p.m. My heart sank as I struggled with how to tell four children I loved so much that their dream of someday being reunited with their mother was now crushed forever. I would have to wait until Friday morning to inform them of this news since Matt, the oldest, was at work and wouldn’t be home until after the youngest were in bed.

Watching the movie Pay it Forward that night only provoked more tears. My kids looked at me as if to say, “Yeah, Dad, it’s a sad movie, but not that sad.” Little did they know what was to come in less than 12 hours.

Having been a state social worker in the 80’s I recalled how children in the foster care system pined for their biological parents or family members. Knowing this, I had plugged my children’s maternal grandmother’s phone number, which the worker gave me long ago, into my cell phone for future reference. It was upon getting the call regarding their mom’s death that I decided to risk the phone interaction at this sad time for both of us.

You don’t know me, but I am calling to tell you how sorry I am to hear of your daughter’s death. I just want you to know that my wife and I have adopted four of her five children and that they are OK.”

Tears came readily for both of us as she explained how she had been looking for her precious grandchildren, wondering for more than half a decade if they were together, healthy, and thriving wherever they might be placed. Grandmother asked permission to give my number to her youngest daughter so she could contact me also. Permission was granted. “Gramma” also informed me that there would be a memorial service for Mom on September 19, when an ordained minister uncle from Ohio would be in Iowa as he wanted to perform the service. I let her know that we would do everything possible to be there with the kids.

During that six-week period between the initial call and the family reunion, Matt, Jose, and I met with Aunt Jackie, who was thrilled to see her nephews. She filled in many of the blanks of the boys’ life for all of us. The boys were reticent on the 90-minute drive home, but content to have once again connected with a biological family member, who was gracious and supportive of my wife and me for keeping her family together through adoption.

Two weeks prior to the memorial service, a cousin found through Facebook an older biological half-sister who was living with her father’s mother in Texas. Gramma Mary drove from southern Texas so the kids could be reunited once again for the remembrance of Mom. To say the day was “bittersweet” would be an understatement.

Diane and I were nervous as we witnessed this emotional event. However, upon receiving the hugs and many “thank yous” from those who were genuinely grateful that the children landed in a Christian home where parents were so willing to allow them contact with blood relatives, our fears were relieved.

Gramma Mary and sister Crystal drove to our home for supper that night. There was not a dry eye in the place as the kids said goodbyes, not knowing when they would see each other again. We vowed to keep in touch.

Fast forward six months. Matt, being 16, struggled with the “who am I” question. He was restless here and needed to find
himself. Thus, Gramma Mary, Diane, and I agreed that Matt would go to Texas for an indefinite period of time when school
released for the summer. I told Matt I loved him enough to “let him go.” The months prior to him leaving were difficult, at best, between the two of us because separation anxiety reared its ugly head. It is often easier to leave when everyone is angry with each other, a phenomenon that I have seen repeatedly in my human service career.

Matt left in June for a new chapter in his life and ours. It was difficult fearing Matt would grow to love his biological family more than he loved us and thus perhaps choose to stay in Texas. I was many times on my knees in prayer for him during his absence.

My family was able to take an extended vacation in October to stay with Matt and his family down South. It had been four months since we had seen him and didn’t have much contact with him prior to that time because I gave him his space as I told him I would. We discovered a new maturity in Matt since he left Iowa. As much as he loved his biological family there, he wanted to come back with us, but knew that wasn’t possible to keep the credits he needed to graduate on time in Iowa.

Matt returned to our home in March last year. The nine months he was gone helped refocus his priorities. He realized that “family” was more than just a blood connection — the emotional connection was significant as well. His stint in Texas was a great experience for him and drew us closer, rather than apart, as I had initially imagined. Matt has developed into a fine young adult for whom Diane and I are quite proud.

We continue to keep in touch with our children’s biological family both in Iowa and Texas. Crystal, now 20, is planning a trip to Iowa this spring. We look forward to her visit again enhancing the biological connection between siblings, which we have seen to have healing properties for all involved. Iowa grandmother and aunt are involved with us, as is their family in Texas — supporting us when things get rough as they sometimes do.

As a follower of Jesus, I trust God’s word, and have seen it play out...“all things work together for good for those that love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) The tragedy of Mom’s death was not an end, but a beginning...the beginning of some healing that might not have otherwise taken place in the hearts of my children.

I think the signature line on Matt’s thank you letter to Iowa Gramma for the $50 WalMart card he received for Christmas speaks volumes, not just from our 18-year-old adoptee, but for many who have been separated from families: “Love you forever and always! — Matti.”

Kim Combes, LBSW, MEd, is a private practice counselor and national presenter, as well as a former foster dad to 40-plus teenage boys since 1994. Currently he and wife, Diane, live in Colo, Iowa, with their five adopted children who range in age from 11 to 18. To contact Combes, write to Reprinted with permission from Fostering Families Today magazine. 

Reprinted for Rainbowkids with permission from EMK Press.

Searching for My Daughter: A Familiar Face

Family Adoption Stories, Waiting Children
Adopting Sweet Reagan

Special Needs Adoption, Family Adoption Stories