Mama is missing Tommy

September 12, 2014 at 1:35 AM by Susanna


I wouldn’t wish my boy back down here from heaven, back into his broken, twisted, stiff, uncooperative little body.

But I am wishing I could see him one more time.

Wishing I could be allowed one more time to grab his hands and pull him to his feet, give him a good rocking-back-and-forth squeeze, rub and pat his back, and kiss his soft cheek.  He loved getting hugs, and would croon and giggle and had begun to pat my back in return.  So many little lovey moments recorded only in my memory.  I wish I hadn’t been so shy about asking others to snap a picture of me with Tommy.

I miss hearing him say, “Mama.”  I wish so much that we had recorded it.  I thought I’d get to it later, after one of the kids showed me how to use the video on the new camera.  Do you know, the last few weeks of his life, when I saw he’d dropped his toy, I’d prompt him, “Tom-Tom, say ‘Mama!  Uh-oh!  Mama!  Uh-oh!'”  And he’d respond, “Mama!”

I miss all his funny chattering.  He was such a funny little guy.  His bone specialist got it exactly right when he said, “There’s only one of him.”

I miss his happy pterodactyl shriek.  You don’t believe me.   You think I’m being sentimental.  I can feel the doubtfulness from here.  We all got so used to the shrieking.  I even fell asleep on the couch with Tommy shrieking a few feet away.  Of course that was after a full day at DuPont on two hours’ sleep.

Ever so often I think I hear him shrieking outside with the children.  It stops me in my tracks.

If only there could be one more time to put on some energetic Piano Guys or Celtic dance music, grab his hands and dance and laugh with him.  Just one more time.  He never got tired of teasing and silliness, and he loved it when I was in a zany mood.  I felt permission to be goofy with him as I rarely am with anyone else.  Life had been hard enough for long enough that I’d watched my lofty goals and ideals fade away one by one.  I’d let myself off the therapy hook.  Let someone else worry about therapy.  Those last couple of months, all I wanted for Tommy was for him to feel happy and loved.  Period.

He knew whether people really liked him or not.  Mama Bear only let a nurse go with him to school if it was obvious the nurse liked him.  He needed to know we wouldn’t send him off with someone who didn’t really want to be with him.

He also looked at faces to see whether they were smiling.  He didn’t respond to people who frowned, even if they were otherwise nice people.  He looked for smiles.

Look how his smile changed in eight months.  During his first few months home, his eyes remained watchful behind his smile, asking, “Who are you?  Can I trust you?  Do you love me?”  Over the winter, he slowly relaxed.  By the time springtime came…see how there was nothing hiding behind his eyes?  Just joy sparkling right out with no doubts to slow it down.  For weeks, I desperately needed the reassurance of these two photos.  Now I just miss his smile so much it hurts.


The only time I couldn’t get him to smile was when I told him it was time to go to bed.  His eyes would get big and solemn and sad.  He never smiled about going to bed, no matter how sleepy he was.  I guess he’d had enough of bed to last him for many lifetimes.  I’d console him by reminding him in a sing-song voice that his brothers would be up there with him.  “Tom-Tom!  There’s John Michael and Peter and James and Stephen and baby Ben!”  Only then would a smile come back to his face.

We haven’t touched his bed.  We don’t need it for anyone else, and I just don’t have the heart to strip it down yet.  His pillow is still waiting for him to pull it onto his lap and fall asleep sitting up.  He loved having a pillow.  What a simple gift, after endless years spent lying in an empty bed.  He loved it when I held his pillow up above him as he lay in bed, teasing, “Here it comes…!  Here it comes…!  Here it comes…!” Then dropping it onto him, “WHOOOSH on Tommy!”

Very late at night, after nursing Ben one more time and laying him down to sleep again, I walk back through the boys’ room and pause beside Tommy’s bed.  I can so easily imagine him there sleeping sitting hunched over his pillow as he so often did.  Funny goofy guy.  Sweet Tom-Tom.  I reach out my hand and rub his crooked little back.  As I so often did.

I miss my little Tom-Tom.

Thank You, God, for picking me to be Tommy’s mama.

I loved being his mama.







Thank you, again

September 11, 2014 at 11:57 PM by Susanna

If you have written me a personal note by email or snail mail and I haven’t yet replied, please know that I am thankful beyond words for every one of you and will continue to answer your notes as I can manage it.

Thank you all so much, friends, for the incredible kindness and patience and empathy and openness of heart that you have shown us.  Thank you for faithfully lifting me to the Savior when I was barely functional, like the lame man whose friends carried him to Jesus on a mat.

He is answering your prayers for me, for all of us; it is so evident.  He is doing His work and the enemy is not winning.

Thank you.





And the truth shall set you free

August 29, 2014 at 3:57 AM by Susanna


This is not real…this can’t be real…I can’t believe this is real…he’s gone…I’m sure he’s gone…he can’t be gone…this can’t be real…please let this not be real…please make this not real…oh please please please please…oh Tom-Tom! 



“We didn’t…bring him home…for this!”

The words come out louder than I expect, forced past the choking weight of tears.

The police officer’s face is kind as he steps toward me where I am huddled against the doorway.

“God already knew this was going to happen,” he said.



After I give my statement to the EMT, she stands and asks, “May I give you a hug?”

And hugs me long and tightly through my wrenching sobs.

“Listen to me,” she says, stepping back with her hands on my shoulders and looking into my face.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’ve seen a lot.

You’re going to blame yourself. Don’t do that.”

“How can I not blame myself?” I choke out.

“Look at me,” she says.

“This was not your fault.”



Pastor Mike and his wife Jenny stay with us throughout that endless afternoon of horror, serving our family with quiet compassion along with several other faithful friends and neighbors. As Mike and Jenny prepare to leave, she leans down toward me where I’ve been sitting for hours, holding Katie on the big rocking chair.

She cups my face in her hands, forcing me to look up into her eyes.

The words come through her strong Chinese accent as clear as day.

“God is sovereign. Do not take responsibility for what He did.”




Nothing they say feels true…they’re just trying to make me feel better…

I know God is sovereign, but this feels like a horrible, traumatic mistake.




What was this for? What sin was this for?

Was this because I didn’t trust Him enough?

What is God thinking about me? “You failed the test. You weren’t taking good enough care of him so I brought him home?”

What we managed to give him was so pitiful compared with what we wanted to do for him. We’d hardly gotten started. It was so brief, so pathetic, so pitifully small.

Every official process took months longer than it was supposed to. His whole first year was full of setbacks and delays.  We had big plans for his future. We were finally getting there. Getting so close.

I’m so sorry, Tom-Tom. We failed you.

I hope he knows we loved him. Please, God, tell him I’m sorry.

This was not what we brought him home for.

If he was still in Pleven, he would at least be alive.

Nothing about this could possibly ever be anything but bad. It’s horribly bad for so many reasons on every level.  Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad…

This plays right into the enemies’ hands. They are gloating now–having a heyday.

Why didn’t I just wash him and get him out? Why didn’t I just wash him and get him out? Why didn’t I just wash him and get him out?

We brought Tommy home to take care of him and help him live, not to bury his dead body in the ground!

It didn’t feel like a risk. There are holes covered with duct tape down near the bottom of the tub, and it loses water down to an inch or two. We were always having to go back and run more water for him. “Tom-Tom, where’s your water? You need more water!” Katie can turn on the faucet, but I had never known Tommy to. I expected to see him playing in two inches of water. It didn’t feel like a risk, and he died. I will never trust myself again.

What kind of mother…? Not a good mother.  Mothers like me shouldn’t be allowed…

I’ll never again be able to say, “Sure, bring your kids over here to play!”

I’m a mommy. Mommies take care of their babies when their babies need them.

There’s good mother, and there’s this, and they can’t possibly go together.

Even good isn’t good enough. Nothing less than perfect is good enough. I wanted to love Tommy perfectly, and I failed him in the most colossal way.

I remember hearing about a school bus driver who accidentally backed over a child and the child died. I remember asking Joe how you could possibly go on living with yourself after that. And now here I am. And there’s nothing I can do about it.

There’s preventable and there’s unpreventable. This is called preventable. My child died a preventable death on my watch and nothing anyone says can change that reality.

There’s a big black “F” on the inside of me that will never go away for the rest of my life.

I will never be able to forgive myself.

I’m a failure as a mom and as a human being.




When one of our children is protected from serious injury or death, we heave a sigh of relief.

“God had mercy on us,” we say.

So what was this?

What was this??



“Please, if you think of something true to say to me, say it.  Don’t second-guess yourself or talk yourself out of it.  I’m not going to be offended at you.  I desperately need to hear the truth.  The lies feel way more real to me right now than the truth.”


Texts from our oldest son, Joseph~

“It’s like any wound. You want it to stop hurting, but it takes time to dwindle. It’ll never be gone, only underneath like everything else, good or bad, that makes you who you are.

Right now is the time to allow grief to have its full place. Remember the miscarriage, Verity’s diagnoses, Katie and Tommy at the orphanage? It is keener the more recent it is. It will heal. God will comfort you. But right now I love you and I am sad with you.

Vine and fig. Shall we accept good from God and not evil? You thought that was just about the miscarriage once. But that was just preparing you for more. You made the right decision, a very hard decision, harder than cutting off your hand, when you decided to let go of the things that mattered to you most for God’s glory. And that gave glory to God like nothing before. And then because you were faithful and obedient in the small things, God is proving his power in a larger area.

You are surrounded by strength when you feel weak. You believe the truth when you search for meaning. Satan cannot stand against the Name that you glorify. He cannot make you curse God. And in the end he will howl with disappointment because instead of wrecking your tenacity in holding to Christ, he only caused you to cling tighter.

You are God’s little girl. He collects each of your tears in his bottle.”


Susie, you know why you didn’t just wash him and get him out. You felt like you were cheating him every time you had to do that. Playing in the bath was one of the things he liked to do.


Susanna:  They can’t say anything meaner to me than I am saying to myself.  How can I possibly not blame myself?  If it happened to another mom, I would be judgmental of her.

Joe:  Susanna, no you would not!  Were you judgmental of your friend T. when her two-year-old drowned in her backyard while she had stepped into the house?  You knew she would be in anguish, you grieved with her, and you never questioned whether she was a good mother!  This is your emotions talking.


“As I was crying for you and sensed the floodgates of grief and despair roll over you, to human eye and capacity, more than is naturally possible to cope with, I felt Jesus say to me what he would say to you…

‘And my grace is sufficient for this….yes even this! you have tested me on this many times, and realised my faithfulness in this matter time and time again…and now….my grace is sufficient for this moment in your lives…even this….more than sufficient…as the waves wash over you, they will not drown you…for you will remain standing. And when you really really understand my plan for Tommy’s life, you will realise that this moment, his months with you, as you loved him and transferred him into my arms…and that moment he came into my arms….all part of my perfect plan for him…my son.‘”


“You had plans for Tommy’s future, but they weren’t God’s plans. From the beginning, God intended for him to be home with you for fourteen months and then call him home to Himself on July 31, 2014. God did have mercy on Tommy. He has no long, hard road ahead of him anymore. He got to skip to the end.”


“We cannot take one breath of life without HIM, and we CANNOT die without HIM either. If, perchance, you are going down the ‘if only’ or ‘I should have’ road, please know that road gives you the guilt, but also the power, which does not belong to you. You have been prepared for even this harder step, the deeper cost…”


“As I searched for anything at all to say that might speak some truth to your heart, the first thing the Lord brought to mind was something I learned from you. I will probably get the wording wrong, but you have said several times in the context of adoption that we cannot accidentally take on more than God intends us to. I know that the same must be true here, that even this was not a surprise to our loving Father and that He will equip you to walk through it.”


“Every mother and every father (often even siblings) have instances in their lives. They have moments that could turn out with a sigh or with heart rending, marrow ripping tragedy. In our palms, with fingers curled over, we hold one, two, four…instances. We open our hands not knowing if the instance will result in tears of relief or life altering heartbreak.

One parent may open their palm as they are talking to a neighbor, and a child slides past them running into the street only to stop when called. One father may turn their back for a second, a child toppling a bookshelf on top of them and end in horrible tragedy.

We ALL hold these instances in our hands, Susanna.

In a room of 500, 495 parents would admit to these instances…and four out of the five left would be lying.

We stand around you with our hands held out and our palms closed, not knowing what our instances will lead to. Your beautiful Tommy is no longer on this earth. This is blood pouring out your heart brokenness beyond what can be fathomed.

I know you will blame yourself, but Susanna…I ask you to look around at all the parents around you. We all have our palms out with these instances in our hands. You are not alone. We all have our humanity right out there. You live with the reality of what happened. Yet Tommy is with Jesus. He does not blame you. He’s in pure joy. God does not look at you as anything but His precious broken daughter.”


Praise the Lord in joyful numbers,
your Protector never slumbers;
at the will of your Defender
every foeman must surrender.

“The Protector of little Tommy fully awake and present! The foeman had to surrender when Tommy’s Defender called him home!”


“A few words taken from your blog to comfort you in your grief:

-‘He has not forsaken us.
-He can and will keep His grip on us when our strength is gone and we can’t even see where He is in the dark.
-He did not make a mistake when He sent Tommy to us.
-He is still a good God.'”



“Tommy was never alone.  Jesus came to get him and Jesus took him home.  Jesus was with him the whole time.”



“Statistically, far more accidental drownings happen to children in small families than in large ones.  Tommy died because God said it was time for him to come home and not for any other reason.” 


She grabbed my hand and said vehemently, with the tears running down her face, “Will you quit saying that what you did for Tommy wasn’t enough?  God knew exactly what you would be able to do for him, and He wanted him to be with you.” 


I thought I believed in grace.

And then my little treasure from Pleven, my vulnerable Tom-Tom, died a preventable death on my watch.

And I was smashed into a thousand pieces of agony at the bottom of the blackest pit.

I did not see the face of God for many days.


What sin was this for?  I wish I knew how He was looking at me, what He thought of me.  I wish I knew what He would say about Tommy’s death if He came and sat next to me and talked to me.

“Can you picture yourself being tenderly held in Jesus’ arms, and He’s calling you His precious daughter?”

“No, I can’t.”


Not only was it revealed that I didn’t truly believe in grace, but I couldn’t explain what it is.

I still can’t define it.

But now, in my wrestlings, I can more clearly see what grace isn’t.

Unknowingly lugging around the presupposition–“No mistakes allowed! No imperfections! No failures!”–the weight growing heavier with every flub-up, more unbearable with each rehearsal of the record of my own wrongs that I was keeping.

Operating from an unexamined underlying sense that everything hinged on my getting it right. Getting what right? Everything, of course. Every priority, every opportunity, every moment…

“I’m failing, I’m failing, I’m failing. This is not working, and it’s my fault.”

That’s not grace.

That’s trying to get it all perfect enough so God will be happy with it and bless me.

Failure as a mom and as a human being? Yes, I fail constantly.  My best efforts are pitifully short of perfection, miserably shot through with sin.

His grace is for failures.

His grace is for me.

Tommy didn’t have to be perfect for us to love him and call him our child.

I don’t have to be perfect for God to love me and call me His child.

I belong to Him, and there is nothing I can do to make Him love me more or less than He does right now.

And it is in that truth, in the love of my Savior as He is newly revealing Himself to me, that my heart is finding freedom.


Herein is love;
when I cannot rise to Him He draws near on
wings of grace,
to raise me to Himself.

~The Valley of Vision