A Human Canvas-in the darkness of childhood abuse and neglect-Volume 11-"Memory Lane's Dead End"
A Social Worker's Journal
With the holidays upon us, I reflect on my wonderful childhood and all the warm, toasty memories it lends to me. My mother baking cookies, while dad planned out that special Saturday we'd go cut our tree and haul it home, tied to the roof of our old station wagon. Drinking eggnog while we trimmed the tree, playing Christmas carols on the old record player that took 33s and 78s, and singing along, or humming, if we didn't know the words. The true substance of the meaning of family and tradition.
Then, when I grew up, and entered the adult world of reality, I looked around and noticed that not everyone had been given the loving foundation I had been afforded. Working in foster care for as long as I did, I learned even more, about the sadness and despair that the holidays brought to others' lives. What broke my heart the most, was the suffering of the children. Always, the children, and their personal loss and suffering. So, unfair. So cruel. So menacing to their innocence.
Jamie had come to us when she had turned eleven, after being discharged from a local group home. A solid, caring, foster family had been found for her, and things seemed to be going well, for a while. Around Thanksgiving we started to see a change in Jamie's behavior in school. She had started skipping classes, and sneaking out of the building. I met with her and her foster parents and a plan was made with the school regarding Jaime's attendance. Things became better in school, but had taken a turn for the worse in the foster home. Jamie had become aggressive with her foster brothers and sisters, and the foster parents had reported that they heard Jamie crying during the night.
I felt that Jamie needed more attention, and to discuss what was going on with her recent behaviors, so her counseling sessions were increased to two sessions a week, at least for now. In speaking with Jamie's therapist, she shared that Jamie had told her that the holidays were a sad time for her because it reminded her of what she had lost. She also shared that she was jealous of her foster siblings for having what they did, so started being mean to them.
In finding out this very useful information, I spoke with Jamie, and asked her if she'd like to speak with me about anything that had been bothering her. Much to my surprise, she said she did. A day and time was set up, and Jamie and I met a week before the school Christmas break.
I had known that Jamie's mother had "voluntarily" placed her in foster care due to her own failing health, but I had not been aware of what had happened before that. Jamie was about to share this with me. Before we discussed anything any further, I gave Jamie a gift from myself and my staff. A baby doll. I had seen it written on her Christmas list to Santa. When she opened it she immediately hugged it, and her tears flowed. She repeatedly said that she missed her mom, and that she wanted to see her for Christmas. I told her I would do what I could to make a visit happen for them. You see, Jamie's mother was in the ICU unit of the local hospital. She had AIDS, and had developed pneumonia that usually accompanies it in very late stages of the disease. Jamie's mother had placed her in care, because she didn't have any other family member that could take her. Jamie's maternal grandmother had also passed from AIDS, and Jamie and her mother had only had each other until her mother's health failed so drastically.
Jamie had never known her father, even though the local department of social services had tried to locate him. Once Jaime dried her eyes, and could steady her breathing, she started to tell me about all the good memories she had had with her mom and grandmother (Maime). She talked about the stockings that they had made together with glue and glitter, and then taped to the living room wall. One for Mom, one for Jamie, and one for Maime. She talked about the cut-n-bake cookies they made and decorated, and how they always made spaghetti on Christmas Eve. When she shared her stories, Jamie had a light in her eyes. I knew that I had to make the visit with her mother happen and that we needed to make something special for her to take with us. As the Christmas holiday crept up on us, we chose a day and time for the visit. Jamie's foster mother helped her bake the cookies, and Jamie made 2 stockings, with glue and glitter, to take on her visit.
When we finally entered the ICU unit, we were told that we couldn't stay long, but that her mother had been told that Jaime was coming. Luckily, and thankfully, Jamie's mom was awake and smiled at Jamie when she entered the room. You could tell that she was very weak, but she glowed when she saw her daughter. Jamie held her mom's hand and Jamie placed the cookies on the nightstand. (We knew her mom wouldn't be able to eat them, but that they were there, was all that mattered...to both of them). Jamie's mother squeezed her daughter's hand, and she barely whispered the words, "I'm sorry". Jamie kissed her mother's hand and told her she loved her. Her mom drifted off to sleep, and Jamie sat with her for a few more minutes before we were told we would have to leave and let her mom rest. Jamie reluctantly left, but understood.
We tried to make another plan for Jamie to visit her mother, but it never happened. Her mother passed just after Christmas, and Jamie attended the funeral with her baby doll in hand. I worried about Jamie for a long time after that. Things would get better for a while, but then she would bottom out, and she'd be in trouble again. Jamie's life became a roller coaster of ups and downs, medications, new foster home placements, and stifled heartache. Before long she had been returned to the group home she had been placed in before she had been placed with my agency. Being in the social work field, there are always ways to keep tabs on children that remain in care.
The last update I received about Jamie, was heartbreaking. She had developed a history of running, and was currently AWOL/missing from the group residence where she had been placed. No one knew where she was now. It was believed that she was staying with a distant relative, that had a criminal background herself, but no further information was given.
My Christmas wish for Jamie is that she finds the peace she seeks. I pray for her safety, and ask that where ever she is, she is cared for and protected. I also hope that she has her baby doll with her to remind her, that she always was, and still is, loved.
Merry Christmas, Jamie.
Her mom lost life.
AIDS was her strife.
her story told,
of times gone tough.
Home life was rough.
The streets became, her just enough.
No family member made the rule,
so, 12-yr-old won't go to school.
Instead, she walked the neighborhood.
Looking for the not-so-good.
She missed her mom that left her dry.
Her saving grace was getting high.
She shared a needle that fateful day.
Her mind told her, just walk away.
Her heart was screaming, go ahead.
You're all alone, already dead.
Hopelessly, a year had passed.
Her youthful, fragile life was trashed.
Her legacy of human waste,
threaded with untimely haste.
Her veins were poisoned.
She would die.
Buried next to mom, she'd lie.
What a tragedy they'd say,
too bad no help had found its way.
Kim Diaz 2012