LIE: Bringing Tommy into our home was unfair to our other children, et cetera, et cetera.
TRUTH: See this post: Lies and the Truth: Introduction
On the contrary, hard as it was, having Tommy as part of our family was one of the best things that has ever happened to us. It is God’s kind of love for the stronger to sacrifice for the needier and weaker. It was good, not harmful, for our other children to see us live that out, albeit imperfectly, as well as to live it out themselves in a limited way.
In all the intangible measurements of what’s most important in life, while it felt to us at times like Tommy’s adoption was a disaster for our family, God was accomplishing only good in us–in our family as a whole, in our marriage, and in every member of our family individually. We were reminded that when the pressure He had sent our family had accomplished all He intended, He would lighten it.
It is becoming more and more obvious that the pruning He was doing in us then is working to make us more fruitful now.
Every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Those aren’t just words; it is the truth.
LIE: Tommy’s life was tragically cut short before it was complete. He would still be alive if we hadn’t adopted him. He survived sixteen years of hell but couldn’t survive much more than a year of my mothering. He would have been better off left where he was.
I did not choose for Tommy to die that day; God did.
God knew from the very beginning of Tommy’s story what was going to happen. In God’s eyes, Tommy had accomplished his mission on earth and his life was complete. It is not tragic to Tommy or to God that Tommy is now in heaven with God.
LIE: Tommy died because we had too many children.
TRUTH: In reality, the circumstances of Tommy’s death had nothing to do with how many children were in our home; it could have happened the same way had he been the only child in our home. In the absence of actual specific facts, the leap of logic required to connect the size of our family with the manner of Tommy’s death is similar to seeing a red car wrecked by the side of the road and deciding that it must have crashed because it was red. Statistically, most children who die in accidental drownings are from small families. The judgment that Tommy died because we have too many children says more about the bias of the critic than it does about our family and who we actually are in real life. The officials who came to our home thoroughly investigated every detail of the situation and readily closed the investigation with the conclusion that Tommy’s death was a tragic accident and that we are nurturing parents who are providing more than adequately for our children.
My assumption based on my knowledge and experience of Tommy’s size and his abilities as well as of that particular bathtub was that he was at the same risk of death playing there in a few inches of water as he would have been playing in the living room next to a heavy piece of furniture or outside in the yard under a tree.
He was far more at risk of dying in a vehicle accident one of the countless times I drove to duPont hospital on a couple hours’ sleep.
Tommy did not have cerebral palsy or a seizure disorder as his adoption papers stated. At the time of his death, he was the size of a seven year old with the ability to sit up and lie down on his back readily. Due to his cognitive limitations that affected his grasp of cause-and-effect, he was uninterested in the faucet handle. Even had he made the logical connection and purposefully attempted to turn the water on, due to his significant lack of core strength he would have been unable to turn it on using his hands. The bathtub leaked, so even the few inches of water I ran for him to play in had to be replenished periodically. He very much resisted lying on his belly, and in fact was uncooperative with his physical therapist when she attempted to put him into that position. He would immediately flip to his back as soon as he could, as he had spent nearly all his first sixteen years in this position, and it enabled him to move across the floor. At his size, it was impossible for him to drown lying on his back in the bathtub in the amount of water I had run for him to splash in with his toys.
I had never known him to lie down and push the faucet on using his feet, but since he was found lying on his back with his feet facing the faucet and the water running full blast, that is the best theory of what happened. If so, it happened very quickly.
The email that was most powerfully healing to me in working through the tragic way Tommy died is worth quoting here:
“I’ve worked in pediatrics for a good while now, and the most striking thing about children with disabilities, especially cognitive disabilities, is their incredible skill at injuring or making themselves sick in completely bizarre and unpredictable ways. If I hadn’t seen them with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it. Please don’t doubt yourself.”
LIE: Tommy died because the older children weren’t at home.
TRUTH: In reality, if the older kids had been at home rather than vacationing at a cabin, they would almost surely have been at work or busy with their own activities. Running the household with only younger children in it was actually much simpler and easier for Joe and me that week without the added complications the five older kids bring to the family. In my defensive response to the criticism of others that our adoption of Tommy was unfair to our other kids, and in my imprudent desire to protect all the other family members from any unpleasant tasks related to Tommy, I had taken more and more onto myself and was asking less and less from Joe and from the older children.
As greatly as we love our older kids and are overjoyed that they want to live here, brutal honesty demands we admit that they add an undeniable element of fun but exhausting conversations, agendas, opinions, energy, needs, late nights, noise, mess, emotion, and chaos to our home that was absent the week Tommy died. It was enlightening to us, in fact, to experience this, and we joked that maybe we should rehome them all to make our lives that much more manageable.
LIE: Tommy died because we were too over-extended; something had to give and it’s just too bad that it had to be Tommy’s life.
TRUTH: The circumstances of Tommy’s death actually had nothing to do with the extreme stress of the previous fall, winter, and spring. When he died, we were in the easiest, least stressful place we had been in since bringing him home.
Among other things, we had adapted to his quirks and needs, helps and supports were either in place or coming very soon, we weren’t on a learning curve, we had a good routine established, his toughest emotional and health challenges had been resolved for the time being, he was happy and growing fast, I was getting more sleep than I’d gotten for months, we were looking forward to some positive changes, and we weren’t also fitting homeschooling into our days.
LIE: Tommy died because we took on too much by bringing him home. Due to our bad judgment in adding Tommy to our family, we are culpable for his death, no matter how well-intentioned our motives were in adopting him. Furthermore, those who counseled and supported us in adopting him were stupid and partly to blame for his death.
TRUTH: From all we could see ahead of time as we and others who know us very well thought it through, we could handle another child with Katie’s needs, and Tommy was in a far better place emotionally and in other ways than Katie had been in when we brought her home. We had successfully weathered Katie’s transition into our family, and both she and we were thriving. We approached Tommy’s and Katie’s adoptions similarly, with the benefit during Tommy’s adoption of added knowledge and experience.
We assumed there would be challenges while Tommy transitioned into our family, especially in the temporary phase before we all adapted to each other and were able to access the outside supports we would need, but we made our decision to bring him home based on all that was known at the time of his needs and our resources, and on our experience with Katie. The unique circumstances that developed after Tommy came home were not chosen by us, they were chosen by God, and He did not reveal them to us ahead of time. It’s ironic to us now that after spending a week with Tommy in Bulgaria, my greatest concern was how his frequent, high-pitched shrieking would affect our household, especially Verity with her sensitive hearing and temperament.
While it’s a very human tendency to second-guess ourselves if acting by faith seems at any given time to have a poor result (questioning in the dark what we knew in the light), it springs from another very human tendency–thinking we have more control over circumstances and outcomes than is actually the case.
Living by faith will always stretch us beyond what we can easily handle on our own. By definition, acting on faith will always involve taking a risk. After due diligence has been satisfied, additionally demanding a guarantee of a successful outcome according to our definition of success will prevent us from living by faith.
Mama and Tom-Tom~
Coming up soon–Lies and the Truth: Part Three