Sarah: The Suicide of Our Adult Child
Just Sarah, as a Teen
Suicide Ended Our Parenting Journey
We learned on Friday afternoon, May 15, 2009 that our daughter Sarah had ended her tormented life. We spent three hours this afternoon talking with her common law husband, and he is devastated.
Our daughter was very disturbed when she came to us as a foster child at age nine. We were never able to help her with the issues that had so damaged her. When she was a teen, her past and raging hormones kicked in together and caused her to leave at the age of 17.
In the two years before Sarah died, her birth mother committed suicide and her birth father died of cancer after he had won a long battle with drugs and alcohol. We had not seen or heard from her in 14 years. Her brother, the only person she had ever really loved and bonded to, rode a jet ski to Heaven in 1991, and that removed the only relationship she really seemed to care about until she met Wes in Colorado.
The picture shows Sarah in 1989, the last year before the real problems started. She was sixteen.
All pictures in this lens came from our family collection and albums.
Where We First Met Sarah
The Journey Begins
We first met Sarah at her brother Jason's fifth birthday party. He was a foster child next door and his foster mother knew I was bonding with him from our frequent visits. She knew he would go up for adoption fairly soon and that he also had a sister four years older than he -- Sarah. Jason had told me he had a sister and I knew he loved her and wanted live with her again. We all wanted it to happen. But first we knew we needed to meet Sarah. Joanetta thought the best way to meet would be at Jason's birthday party, since no one would suspect we were anything more than some of the other guests. We had not yet said anything to Jason about his moving to our home. We wanted to meet Sarah first.
Sarah is on the far right, next to Joanetta, Jason's foster mom. Jason is sitting in front in the black and white shirt. You can see Sarah watching Jason, and maybe a bit sorry she doesn't have any presents to open.
Sarah at the Zoo in Santa Barbara
The next step
Making a connection through official channels
By the time this picture was taken, we had made Social Services aware of our intentions to get a foster care license to get both Sarah and Jason into our home. The plan was then to wait for a termination of parental rights, as this was going to take some time. We were told the next step would be for us to take Sarah on an outing to get to know each other a bit. We decided to take her to the zoo in Santa Barbara.
Sarah has always been hard to get to know. She saw this cat almost as soon as we entered the zoo, and for most of the day she pretended to be a cat, communicating mostly by meowing. This made conversation rather difficult. Sarah was shy and probably afraid of change. She knew we might represent change. She had told her foster mother she didn't want to live with Jason again, but she told the social worker that she did.
Although we didn't really learn much about Sarah that day except that adopting her would be challenging, we decided to go ahead and get our foster care license. In August of 1982, we suddenly had two children. I will cover more about that in another lens I will write by and by. For now, let's just say that if you think getting married requires adjustments, picture a four-way marriage with two of the partners constantly vying for pecking order and the other two wondering what hit them. Consider also that Sarah had felt responsible for looking after Jason from the time she was six and he was two. This did not indicate that smooth sailing was ahead. For about two months, Kosta and I felt we were totally isolated -- that the world outside our home did not exist. There wasn't any energy left for the outside world.
Books for Those Considering the Adoption of an Older Child
Adoption can bring much joy to anyone who can't have children or who wants to expand a family. It can also bring heartache and turn your life upside down. It is imperative to learn as much as you can about what you might face before you take that step -- especially if you adopt an older child who has been hurt physically or psychologically. I suggest you get one or more of the books you see recommended here to prepare yourself.
The Beginning of our Legal Relationship
The picture shows us on the day we adopted Sarah and Jason. The adults, left to right are Kosta, me, the social worker, and the judge. Sarah is next to the social worker, and Jason is in front of her. Our journey had actually begun when the children entered our home through foster care in August of 1982. Sarah was nine and Jason was five. This picture was taken about two years later on our adoption day.
The Adoption Present from God
It was quiet in the car as we drove east towards home, where a celebration was scheduled. It was dusk, and there was a light rain. We were aware that we had a new legal relationship to each other, and I expect we were all silently pondering what new effect that would have on our life together. Ahead of us, in the almost dark sky, a magnificent double rainbow appeared. Jason was quick to observe: "Look! God is giving us an adoption present: two rainbows -- one for me and one for Sarah." This gave us hope that our new family was off to a blessed start.
A Blessing from God
Have you ever adopted a child? - Were you adopted yourself?
Maybe you know people who have adopted children or maybe you have adopted children or fostered them yourselves. If so, you are aware of the changes that can bring to a family. Maybe you were even adopted yourself.
Is adopting an older child really a rougher ride than adopting an infant?
Sarah - The Early Years of Foster CareClick thumbnail to view full-size
A peek into Sarah's mind at the time of her adoption
We Pieced This Together Later
Naturally, we could not read Sarah's mind. We knew she wasn't really sold on being adopted, but that she went along with it because she knew it was the only way to stay with her brother Jason. We had hoped as time went on, she would begin to accept us as her parents. Jason immediately began to call us Mom and Dad. Sarah continued to call us Barbara and Kosta.
We knew she was drawn to influences that weren't good for her. We knew she had been molested by her birth father and had had to testify against him in court at the tender age of seven. That, in itself, is enough to seriously damage a child and fill her memory bank with images no child should have to remember. Later she told us about parties she remembered from those days, filled with drugs.
Sarah Was Used to Being Responsible for Jason
We know from stories Sarah told us that she was often the only one looking after Jason before they were put in foster care. She told us several times the story about her mother lying on the floor and asking Sarah to go to the store to get milk. But Sarah was afraid her mother was sick, so she got some cola for her mother instead.
She told us of the time Jason escaped from her watchful eye and the police later found him in a 7/11 store eating cereal from the boxes. Jason often escaped her watchful eye, since he later pointed out places to his first foster mom (as they drove around town) where he had been picked up by police and taken home.
There was also a story about a dog bite, and another of Sarah and Jason hiding, in fear, in another room while a boyfriend was abusing her mother. She tells of them finally being able to sneak out of the house and run away to a field. All these things happened before we met Sarah. They happened by the time she was seven. She gave Sarah a lot of emotional baggage to carry.
Sarah Felt Abandoned by Her Mother
Sarah was in a supportive foster home before she came to us. Both the social worker and the foster mom told us that Sarah had been trained by her mother to steal to help pay the rent. She also related this story later to her common law husband, Wes, when she was living with him. She continued stealing, according to her foster mother Mary, in her home, and somehow seemed to think if she could get enough money she could go back to her mother. (The County told us the mother had brought the children to them because she could not longer pay the rent and was being evicted.)
Mary also tells of Sarah getting phone calls from her mother that led her to believe her mother was soon coming to take her home again. She would call in another week. Mary said Sarah would sit by the phone all day for the call that never came. This happened repeatedly, and Mary tells of Sarah's disappointment each time. All these memories were with Sarah when she finally came to us at the age of nine.
This is the book that hooked me. You will find the others in the series when you click through.
A Book I Wish Our Family Had Owned When Sarah was Thirteen - Unfortunately, it hadn't yet been written.
This book helped me envision how scary it is for a child in the system to enter and adjust to a new foster home. Although it's fiction, what both Katie and her foster parents, James (a pastor) and Millie went through during the adjustment period, is pretty realistic. The books in this series deal with serious issues -- acceptance, love, cancer, drug abuse, bad friend choices, boundaries, and more. But there is also comic relief -- plenty of it, in the form of Maxine, Millie's mother and Katie's foster grandmother. She is the only unrealistic character in the book, but somehow she still fits.
The books are narrated by Katie and written from her perspective. She is sure from the beginning she will be sent back to the group home, so she decides to hasten the process by trying to show James and Millie she's the opposite of what they want. Instead, they have the wisdom to see through the tough exterior and just love her.
Katie's background was much like my Sarah's, except she had no sibling to help raise. Her mom was in prison for dealing drugs and she was pretty much raising herself before her mother was arrested and she was put into the system. Sarah was in the system longer before she came to us, and she was younger than Katie when she entered the system. She was never in a group home until she left us and three more foster homes after she left. She wouldn't stay within stated boundaries in any home. The group home was the last stop for Sarah, not the first, as it was for Katie.
I loved the relationship Katie had with Mrs. Smartly, the head of the group home, who also seemed to act as her social worker. We meet her as she is taking Katie to meet James and Millie. I could see Sarah making some of the same comments as Katie, had she been older. Mrs. Smartly seemed to really have Katie's best interests at heart, and this shows itself through the entire series.
I have read through all the first three books in this series and I can hardly wait until the next is published. I received the first book, In Between, as a free Kindle book, and it still may be free. But I was so caught up in the lives of the characters that I couldn't wait for book two and I bought and read both books 2 and 3 in the same two-day period. Although the reading level is young adult, I couldn't put the books down. Maybe that is just because we had Sarah. I wish she could have read these books when she was entering her teens, before her own hormones kicked in. I wish her story could end as happily as it appears Katie's will.
We Provide More Social Interaction OpportunitiesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Issues in the First Years of Foster Care and Adoption
These are some of the problems we faced in those first five years.
Although we had been forewarned, it was still a shock the first time we discovered that Sarah was shoplifting. This started almost as soon as she came to us, while still in foster care. There were several episodes, and each time we found Sarah with things that weren't hers, we had to take her back to the store she'd taken items from, and have her return them and ask for forgiveness. As you have seen from the early pictures, Sarah still appeared to be a shy, vulnerable little girl, and the merchants were getting their items back. Unfortunately, they bent over backwards thanking her for bringing the items back and in the process almost made her feel like a hero. She knew she could generate a good deal of attention this way, and so she continued several more times.
Sibling Rivalry and Adjusting to Each Other
Another issue was jealousy. Since Sarah had taken such responsibility for Jason when he was a toddler, she resisted me as his mother, since she felt I was usurping that role from her. She would often test Jason's loyalties by asking him to do the opposite of what I had just told him to do. He often obeyed her instead of me, and that also filled a need she had while making it very confusing for Jason.
She was also competing with Jason for our attention. She had not lived with him for a couple of years and the two were adjusting to living together again and trying to reestablish pecking order. Think about what happens when people get married or first start living with another person. They must adjust to that person. Now multiply that by three. Each of the four of us were adjusting to new people with us, and the children had three people to adjust to living with. For the first two months we hardly knew there was a world outside our house except for places we had to be like work, school, and church. Everyone was emotionally drained just from adjusting.
When Sarah came to us, she was about to enter third grade and could neither read nor do the simplest math. Academically it was as though she should be in first grade. She was put in a special education class with a wonderful teacher, and with some extra attention at home, she began to make some progress.
By this time we had her in counseling, and her therapist told us that Sarah had the intelligence to learn, but the emotional baggage she was dealing with interfered with her concentration, thus slowing her learning. We were told that once Sarah worked through those old issues, she would fly academically. But that was still a future event at this time. Sarah was also the only girl in her class.
School was not a good place to make friends. We did go to a church where there were children her age in Sunday School, but Sarah was not yet ready to form relationships. She did not know what to do if we would invite a friend from another family we knew over to play. Whereas Jason had already lived in our neighborhood a year when Sarah came, and had lived next door with five other children, Sarah came knowing no one but Jason.
She gradually got to know the children next door and play with them because Jason knew them and also played with them. But the first time we invited a new possible friend over for Sarah to play with, Sarah couldn't handle it for more than a few minutes. Then she would come in and just sit inside while the friend continued playing outside alone. Gradually Sarah learned a few more relational skills, but she still had no real friends.
One day another girl her age, whom I shall call Nancy, rode her bike into our cul-de-sac while Sarah was in the front yard. They became acquainted and decided to be friends. Nancy was also a bit disturbed, and she was not the person we wanted Sarah to spend a lot of time with, but we were uncertain as to what to do about it. We decided to take a wait and see attitude, so as to not hurt Sarah by keeping her from the one friend she had made on her own. This decision led to major grief later on.
Sarah Loved Her Piano
Meeting the needs of a special needs child
As I mentioned above, when Sarah came to us as a foster child about to enter grade three, she could not read or do any math. She had been enrolled in special education in her previous foster home in a different city. We also enrolled her in special education, and she had a wonderful teacher who had a very helpful teacher aide. Sarah was the only girl in her class and made good progress. We also helped her academically at home and read to her a lot. She continued with this teacher through third grade and the first semester of fourth grade. As I mentioned, she was also getting counseling privately to help her work through her emotional problems.
The second semester of fourth grade Sarah's teacher took a sabbatical and the long term substitute was a man who had very different values from our family's and from those of the previous teacher. Now Sarah was the only girl in the room except for the aide, and the aide left before the last period. Sarah began to feel very uncomfortable in her class, and was constantly asking about the things the teacher was saying that conflicted with our values. She also began to encounter problems on the playground she had not mentioned before.
As you probably have noticed in the pictures, Sarah was a very attractive girl. She began to complain when she got home from school that some of the boys in her class were saying "I'm going to lay you." This disturbed all of us. We spoke to the teacher and he wasn't really very helpful. He said he can't control what happens on the playground. The principal's response was that the teacher on playground duty can't hear everything that goes on. She did indicate she would move Sarah into a special reading resource room the last period of the day so she would always have a female adult in the room. We accepted that as a temporary solution.
Private School Education
The next year we enrolled Sarah and Jason in a small Lutheran school after a talk with the principal who had also adopted some special needs children who would be in Sarah's combination grade 5-6 class. In this class Sarah met a friend with whom she stayed in touch through the years until the time she left home.
Our families became friends, and we spent every Christmas Eve with them, and the children also went Trick or Treating together every Halloween. Sarah did well while she was there, but was still behind academically. It's hard to make up three years' work in just three years. Unfortunately, toward the end of that year, the school announced that it would have to close the next year.
For the rest of that last term I looked for a private school that would meet the needs of both children. All of the Christian schools were geared toward the academically gifted. We didn't have many other kinds of private schools in the area. I was beginning to despair when I was talking to some other moms after a Community Bible Study meeting one Wednesday. I asked if any of them knew of any other schools I hadn't tried, and one recommended a new school -- a small principle approach school. I began to investigate it.
When I investigate a school, I first talk to the principal, and then I observe classes. I liked what I saw, and was confident Sarah would not only get the individual attention she needed, but her teachers and the parents of the other students shared our values. Any socialization Sarah got at this school would be healthy, as teachers were aware of everything that went on during recess and continued to teach character values as they monitored playground activity.
By this time, although I knew the children were doing well at The Master's School, I was meeting a lot of parents who were home schooling. I very much wanted to be one of them, but Kosta didn't think I could handle it, in spite of my teaching credential. The more I learned, the more I wanted to bring the children home, but it was three years before that happened.
We Begin Home Schooling
In 1988, Kosta got a contract to to work at Boeing in the Seattle area. At the time, I was teaching part time at the Master's School. During our spring vacation, we decided to go visit Kosta, who was living in a small apartment. We stayed in a motel nearby for that week.
We went to play in the snow with friends from Kosta's temporary church home in Enumclaw one Sunday afternoon, and somehow, Sarah's sled got stuck in a root and she asked Kosta to free it. In the process, he severed a tendon in his arm and needed surgery. That meant that either he would have to quit his job or that he would need to have us join him in Seattle.
I called my principal, and he convinced Kosta that I would be perfectly capable of home schooling the children. We called the school district in Auburn, where we found a house to rent, and they were very cooperative. So our home schooling adventure began there in Washington.
We continued home schooling until Sarah left home, and since her foster mom was also a home schooler, the court ordered that I would continue to make lesson plans and supply the books, and Sarah's foster mom would continue to teach her during the rest of that school year. When she left that foster home, she moved to an independent study program in a public school.
Sarah's Education after She Left
By the time Sarah left home, she was reading at grade level and voluntarily keeping a journal. She liked to write letters to her friends and relatives. Her math was also up to grade level. While we were home schooling we traveled a lot to visit Kosta and incorporated the travel into our history and geography curriculum.
Jason thrived under the home schooling, and Sarah did well, but the last year she wanted to be in public school -- mainly to be out of our sight. By this time she was already sneaking out the window at night and we were convinced that once in public school, she would make the wrong kind of friends. We continued to teach her at home. She was still seeing her friends at church, at home school gatherings, and in each other's homes. She was far from isolated.
Sarah finally passed the GED before she left the county system to be on her own. After that, we didn't have much contact with her. We had taught her to cook and manage the practical skills she would need to run a household. Unfortunately, we were unable to teach her to be wise in her choice of friends, even though we tried. Given any freedom to choose friends we didn't know , she would choose the wildest ones she could find, even though she had many loyal friends who really cared about her.
Throughout her most time with us, Sarah also took piano lessons, and was quite gifted. For physical education, we walked regularly as a family, and Sarah also ran with her friend who was on the high school track team at least once a week. She didn't like competitive swimming so she was allowed to drop it after a couple of years. She learned to paint well enough for us to hire her to help paint the interiors of our kitchen and some of our rental properties. She liked to repaint her own room every couple of years. By the time she was 16 she was quite good at painting.
1987: Socializing - These pictures only show planned events Sarah was part of outside outside the homeClick thumbnail to view full-size
Wish We'd Had This When We Took Our Trips with the Children
This book helps you find most of the places we discovered and many more. As you plan your trip, the maps make it easy to see what you shouldn't miss on your road trip in the United States. This is a great resource for anyone who likes to travel with children, but especially traveling home schooling families.
We Wanted Our Children to See the USA
Whatever your country, help your child to see as much of it as possible, and more of the world, if you are able. There is so much to see and learn that requires being there. A book is only a beginning. The books your child will read and study mean much more if you've seen the Oregon trail country, walked the Mall in Washington, D.C., and been dwarfed by Abraham Lincoln in his monument.
See our country's history at the Smithsonian. See where George Washington lived. Visit Gettysburg and see living history museums. See the replica of the Mayflower to understand what the trip across the Atlantic was like for the Pilgrims. See the places that are most connected to the people you want your children to know and understand in America's history. Travel is a wonderful gift to your children as soon as they are old enough to appreciate and understand what they are seeing.
Seeing the United States. - Our First Real Summer Vacation Besides Family CampClick thumbnail to view full-size
1988 Contained Lots of New Experiences. - Snow, a New Temporary Home, and the Beginning of Home SchoolingClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Teen Hormones Kick and Problems Escalate
Sarah Shoplifts Again
While Sarah was still at the Master's school, we had a rude shock. Jason was on a soccer team, and when we were taking him to practice one afternoon, we were rear-ended. I thought I should get Jason to a doctor to be checked out and Sarah was home alone, so I went to pick her up.
We took Jason to an Urgent Care Clinic in a local shopping center. Sarah grew restless during the wait and asked if she could go look around at Long's, also in the shopping center, where a close family friend was the assistant manager. Sarah was gone a very long time, and I was beginning to be concerned. She just didn't come back.
I finally managed to get Jason through his examination, and immediately went to Long's. As soon as I walked in my friend approached me to tell me the manager had spotted Sarah putting items in her purse. She knew about Sarah's earlier shoplifting experiences, but we had all thought that was in the past. We hadn't known of any episode for about three years. I approached Sarah and asked her to please open her purse, and everything was there to see. I took her and the merchandise to the manager.
Sarah was no longer a cute little girl. She was a teen-ager. This manager did not behave as the others in the past had behaved. She gave Sarah a severe tongue lashing, since Sarah just stood there and said nothing and did not even seem to react. She did not express any remorse. The manager told her never to come back to the store, and if she did, she would be arrested for trespassing. This was not the result Sarah was expecting. It had been a rough day, and I was very embarrassed and annoyed that Sarah had done this. We waited until we got home to talk about it. Jason, fortunately, was unhurt.
When we got home, Sarah said she had been mad at me and had taken the items to get even with me. Then she had frozen, afraid to leave the store, and did not know what to do. So she had waited for me to come. I don't remember what consequences followed this episode. I'm sure there were some. She was probably grounded.
That summer we allowed Sarah to go to a Christian summer camp. When we picked her up, a young man met us, introduced himself, and recited what sounded like a resume of his qualifications to date Sarah, though he didn't mention dating. It sounded as though Sarah might have coached him. He wanted to visit Sarah and we let him make a few visits that year, but Sarah's counselor said that in spite of her age, Sarah was not emotionally ready to date.
After Kosta went to Massachusetts, Sarah turned 16. Since this was special, we did not have the joint beach party. She instead invited R, her admirer, and also her best friend Jenny, for dinner on her birthday. She had had a birthday slumber party the night before. It was about this time that Sarah began sneaking out after we were asleep, in the middle of the night, to meet R, who drove a good 90 minutes from his home to meet her. It took us a while to discover this. Eventually we did, and that caused us to put more restrictions on Sarah's freedom.
For a few months, Sarah had been babysitting for a neighbor we didn't know very well who lived down the street. This neighbor was a single mom who had three children -- all by different fathers. Sarah had made her acquaintance, and told us she didn't want to charge B for babysitting because she really couldn't afford to pay. She said she felt it was her Christian duty to babysit for free.
Attraction to Inappropriate Media
Because Sarah had demonstrated on several occasions that she was attracted to things that weren't good for her, the children were not allowed to have radios or phones in their rooms. They were allowed to have tape recorders that played cassettes so that they could have music in their lives. Jason had no problem using the kitchen phone for his calls to friends. He rarely used the phone anyway, preferring to ride his bike to a friend's to see if he could play. He was also not attracted to dark music.
We were beginning to find very adult books in Sarah's room, and when we asked where she got them, she always said she got them from her friend, Jenny, whom she knew we liked. We really didn't believe Jenny would be reading those kinds of books or loaning them to Sarah. There were also some cassette tapes that were not healthy to listen to, and we had no idea where she had gotten them. We did know that our next door neighbor's adopted daughter had been having some problems and that Sarah was spending a lot of time talking to her.
Choosing to Go Her Own Way
In the summer of 1989 we drove across the country to spend two weeks with Kosta in Massachusetts after his contract ended, but while he still had his condo. We explored all the historical places we could get to. Sarah was writing postcards to R in the car and in every place we stayed. R even called, wanting to join us on the trip. Kosta said no. After we got back home, we found out about the midnight trips to meet R. Kosta confronted R, who was involved in music ministry at his church, in a meeting between R's father and his pastor. R repented of his behavior. Because of that, Sarah lost interest in him, since he was cooperating with us now.
Sarah become more and more distant, and she also began to be sullen. Her sixteenth year was far from sweet. We felt we could no longer trust her. We knew that she was seeing someone new that we didn't know. We knew because Jason often tailed her on his bike when she went to run with Jenny in the park.
He reported seeing a man with Sarah who was not R. This man also turned up at a skating party the home school group was having. Jason was becoming concerned because he knew his sister was up to no good. He would report seeing Sarah making phone calls on the pay phone in the park.
We also knew that Sarah had begun to sneak out her window at night. We noticed the screen off one day, and Sarah said she had been washing her window and had forgotten to put the screen back on. Jason began to check under her window for footprints, and he started to find them. We were losing sleep trying to keep track of her.
In April of 1990, Sarah went out the window and did not come home. We discovered it when we went to wake her at 6:30 AM. We contacted all friends to be on the alert. We contacted the pastor, to whom she had run once before when she was upset. We left a message with the therapist Sarah had been seeing. The police took a missing person's report later that morning. We had a pretty good idea where she would be, and the police found her there. But we didn't know that until later. I will continue this in another section.
The Last Year Before Sarah Ran Away - During This Time Family Life Was Very Tense. Some of These Are Goodbye Shots.Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Police Shot
Sarah Returns to the System and Goes into Foster Care
After Sarah went out the window that last night, she falsely accused Kosta of hitting her hard enough to knock her to the floor. Jason and I were both in the next room. There was not so much as a raising of voices.
Kosta was trying, for the last time, in a gentle, almost wooing voice, to appeal to her conscience, to decide to do what was right. All of us were in the house and we heard what was happening. This was the shot the police took of her that night. From that moment on, we had little input into Sarah's life.
The Modeling Opportunity
Attempts by Sarah's Foster Parents to Help Her
We did convince the court to foster Sarah in the home of our past church youth leaders, who were licensed and willing to take her. Although their parenting style was much more permissive than ours, Sarah still could not stay within the rules the county set. She had run away so she could see M, a man twice her age. The county didn't want them to be alone together either.
This is the first shot of two photos we have of a modeling make-over that Laura, the foster parent arranged. Sarah had the physical characteristics needed to be a model, and had expressed an interest in it. We hadn't encouraged it because we didn't think she was mature enough to handle the pressure and emotional aspects of the job should she be successful. Laura thought maybe modeling would be a good outlet and give Sarah a way to make a living when she turned 18. We had no objections, since we knew it our input didn't matter at this point.
You see the second shot of the model make-over below the first. It's my understanding that after this Sarah was offered a full scholarship to a modeling school. She had often expressed a desire to be a model. She supposedly refused this opportunity because M didn't like the idea.
Reunion with Birth Father
Contact with Birth Father
When Sarah left us, she was still in touch with her birth family on her father's side, whom she chose to turn to after she left us. We had encouraged the relationship with the paternal grandparents, since they had been supportive of our adoption, and we felt they would keep the children connected to their roots. They and the children's half-brother Bob, whom they had adopted after the father's first marriage failed, made regular visits with our blessing, and it soon became evident to the social worker that her supervision on these visits was no longer necessary.
We didn't feel the same way about their father, who had kept contact up by mail. When he was released, he wanted to see the children. We knew they were curious so we permitted a visit as long as we were there the whole time, in the grandparents' home. We timed it before our trip to Washington, D.C., so that no matter how it turned out, the trip would provide a distraction.
We were surprised that the grandparents had chosen not to be there. Neither child recognized the father at first. Jason, who had never been abused, treated it as though he was meeting any other adult he didn't know. Sarah, on the other hand, whom he had molested, and whose testimony put him away, reverted to three years old before our eyes. She even began to talk like a three year old, but mostly listened. She sort of hid behind me at first and then crawled into my lap and remained there until we left.
This photo of Sarah with her birth father was taken in 1990, long after that, while Sarah was in foster care. I'm not sure how often she saw him after that. I do know he died before she did.
From Laura's House to Turning 18
The first photo below shows Sarah's first and last Christmas in her first foster home with Laura. She lasted longer in this one than in any which followed.
The second photo was also taken on Sarah's first Christmas in foster care during an unsupervised visit with her brother. You can see the expression on his face, trying to look happy while being inwardly upset that M really bought the present. He expressed those feelings after the visit. He didn't like M. Notice Sarah's slightly triumphant look.
Sarah went from Laura's to a "real" foster home -- one where no one knew her and she was one of several other foster children. She didn't last more than two weeks here before complaining and asking to be moved. She had actually had to drink powered milk!
She then went to another home with someone who knew had known her while she was still at home and gotten a license just to take her in. This family was well off enough to have a landscaped pool. The foster father shared Sarah's interest in making music, and he was a professional at it. It seemed an ideal placement, but she didn't last there, either, because she still kept sneaking out with M in violation of county rules. Before she left there she took a few small things. She did this often when she went somewhere new. I now wonder if she took things more as souvenirs than anything else.
She was then placed in a group home until she turned 18. That's when she first decided she wanted to see us after all, just to get away from their supervision for a while. Really she was hoping to sneak in a visit with M. She didn't want to see us at all. She just thought we would be easier to evade. So we took her back to where she was supposed to meet the social worker in a parking lot. She wanted us to drop her off before we got there, saying she could walk. I'm sure M was somewhere waiting. We said she needed to go to the agreed on place and we would not leave until the social worker picked her up.
We didn't see her again until she turned 18 and needed me to help her access her custodial savings account, of which I was the custodian. She was with M by then, and we didn't see her again until Jason's death.
Sarah remained in California, taking jobs as a care-giver for elderly people, and then living first with my brother Bob, and then with her half-brother Bob and his family while working at a restaurant. She felt she wasn't being treated right by the management, and quit. At least that's the version we heard.
Her Aunt Carol in Colorado offered her a home and job as a receptionist in an insurance company but she found that boring. She finally moved in with Wes and stayed with him for many years on and off, until her death. We learned about everything from the time she left my brother's house until her death after she was gone.
The Last Christmas in Foster CareClick thumbnail to view full-size
Now You've Learned a Lot About the Problems Older Adopted Children Bring with Them - Would you risk it?
After reading this lens, would you be more or less likely to adopt an older child?
Sarah's Adult Life After She Ran Away - The Sarah we never got to knowClick thumbnail to view full-size
Once You're Dead, It's Too Late to Change Your Mind
Understanding the Suicidal Person - You might be able to save a life!
Most suicidal people send signals they might be considering ending their lives. If you can read these signs, you might be able convince a person to seek the help he or she needs before it's too late. I have not personally read this book, but I did read the reviews for it. I suggest you read what the Amazon reviewers who did read it have to say to see if this might help you or someone you know.
If you suspect that someone you live with might be considering ending his or her life, you might consider having this book in the house where they are likely to see it. Don't pretend you don't notice the signs. Don't be afraid to bring up the subject if someone you love is very depressed or had been and suddenly seems better. You won't be giving hem ideas they haven't thought of yet. This book may help you to help your loved one before it's too late.
God's timing is perfect
When we were making Sarah's arrangements with Forest Lawn, we were asked if anyone was going to witness her interment. Since we are a five-hour drive away, we said no. So they said it would happen between 7 and 8 AM on Wednesday, May 27. That is the day I am writing this. I told family members the date and time to keep them informed. Then my brother, who lives closer than I, said he would like to witness the interment, and one of Sarah's aunts also wanted to witness it, so I said I would call on Tuesday to see if I could make it happen. (They made their request when it was too late to contact the mortuary before the Memorial Day weekend.)
Tuesday I called, and they said they had not planned for that and since if someone watched they would have to schedule it, there would be a $500 charge, since they like to do the unwitnessed interments at their convenience early in the morning before the gates open to the public. I then asked if maybe those who wanted to watch could just park outside the gate and watch through the gate, since the grave site is in view. They said this wouldn't work either. I emailed Bob and Melody and told them we simply couldn't afford the fee, but if they wanted to come after the gates were open and check to see if the earth showed evidence of the recent burial, they couldn't object to that. My brother is a bit skeptical, and he wanted to be sure the mortuary was doing all they said they would do. He said he would go over this morning anyway and see what he could see.
Bob arrived shortly after the gates opened. At the graveside he saw only the open hole, so he went to the mortuary to see what was happening. He wound up talking to the one in charge,and she even allowed him to see Sarah and take pictures -- at no charge. When Bob left the mortuary, he noticed Melody outside and showed her the pictures. Then they saw the hearse moving toward the grave, and they saw Sarah's interment -- at no charge. Bob managed to capture it all with his camera and you can see the highlights of the burial in the photos in the module below this one.
God knew how much Bob and Melody wanted to be there to witness Sarah's burial, and He also knew we were out of funeral funds. In His perfect way, He made it all happen -- without extra charges.
As a footnote: My brother had been very suspicious of the mortuary, even wanting to make sure all Sarah's jewelry was still with her in the casket. I tend to be more trusting. By the time Bob left, he was pretty impressed with the way things were done at Forest Lawn, and a bit more ready to trust them with the final arrangements for himself and his family. He saw all was as it should be on his surprise visit and the respect with which Sarah's remains were treated as she made her final journey to join Jason, even when they weren't expecting a witness.
More Books to Help You Come to Grips with a Suicide
Losing a family member to suicide is more painful than almost any other type of death to deal with. These books confront honestly the problems that Christians go through in the grieving process. I read as many of these books as I could, because I had a lot of issues I was trying to resolve. Each author had a unique perspective. The individual reviews on the Amazon site will help you pinpoint which books will be most helpful for you.
When Suicide Happens in Your Family
William Ritter, a pastor, lost an adult son to suicide. As a fellow suicide survivor, he really does understand how it feels to lose a child the way we lost our daughter. He shares his long journey to healing as he shared it in his sermons during the process.
Finding Your Way Out of the Grip of Grief
This book will help individuals trying to recover from the suicide of a loved one. It is also a great resource for pastors, counselors, and support groups as they seek to help suicide survivors.
The Interment - Just a Sampling of what few people get to see.Click thumbnail to view full-size
As a Christian, this was one of the most helpful books in helping me to think through my feelings after Sarah's suicide.It had been recommended by a friend, and I'm glad I read it.
The Grave Sarah and Jason Share
The Memorial Service
Saying a Last Goodbye
We had a simple service for Sarah, which began around the grave which she now shares with Jason. She was interred before the day of the service, which was June 6, 2009, at 10 AM. The day was neither too hot nor too cold. We had the service without benefit of clergy or mortuary services. A small group of family and close friends gathered to remember Sarah. Her half brother Bob Gnewuch, who had known Sarah since her birth, filled up the gaps all of us had in Sarah's life story. My husband, Kosta, shared some hope from Romans 8:28 to the end of the chapter, concluding with the idea that nothing can separate us from the love of God. This message is explained in greater detail on my blog
After the service at the grave site, most of us went over to Bob and Diane's home in Orange to share memories as we looked through a big box of pictures Sarah's husband had sent from Texas. Except for Bob and Grandma Gnewuch, none of us there had seen the adult Sarah. We tried to identify people in the pictures by letting everyone see the mystery pictures. It was an intensive period of quality time with many friends we hadn't seen in person in years. I hope to add a picture when my main computer comes back from the shop.
Sarah After She Left
Writing has been part of my grief work.
I started this article right after learning of Sarah's death by her own hand when she was 36. Creating this page is part of my grief work. It is also way of exploring what might have contributed to this tragedy. It takes time to grieve and time to explore. If, in the meantime, you need answers because you have also lost someone in this tragic way, consider the books I mentioned above which address the questions you have probably better than I can.
Soon after I wrote this, I wrote an article about adopting older troubled children. Most of it was taken from a poem I wrote for Sarah two months before she was 18. We had an opportunity to talk about it after she read it, and she told me I had it right.
The picture shows Sarah after she left us. I'm not sure where it was taken and I'm not sure how we got it. It might have been in Jason's scrapbook. The year was 1990 or 1991. Sarah was 17. Some pictures taken after Sarah's leaving us were supplied by Jason's scrapbook, after he died or because he let us see them when he was still alive. The rest were sent to us in a big box by Wes after Sarah died. I wish there were room to share all of them.
© 2009 Barbara Radisavljevic