Earthquake Aftershocks

Posted by | January 12, 2011 | BAMBINOS | 18 Comments

candle

One year ago today, January 12, 2010, my sons’ birthmother died. We don’t know the details. We only know the words we were told: that when that catastrophic magnitude 7.0 earthquake ripped apart Haiti, demolishing much of Port au Prince, Kyle and Owen’s birthmother “didn’t make it.”

She was one of an estimated 230,000 people who died that day. We’ve all heard the numbers— three million Haitians affected; one million made homeless; 300,000 injured; 280,000 homes and buildings collapsed. Tent cities still brimming with countless people living the unthinkable. For those of us who are not on the ground in Haiti, these numbers seem surreal. Having been to Haiti to adopt Kyle and Owen, these numbers seem especially surreal… it is hard to imagine that place any more distraught and distressed than it had already been. The aftershocks of it ripple far and wide. And the numbers don’t do it justice.

Like most of the other parents of Haitian adoptees that we know, in the weeks that followed the earthquake Braydon and I were glued to CNN, Facebook, and Twitter. Because of our connection to Haiti we were tied into a complex web of social networks that gave us a glimpse of what was happening in our sons’ birthplace. The pain and suffering that we witnessed, second-hand, was almost more than the soul could bear. And we were not even there. As a result of that, coupled with a fierce desire to protect our children’s privacy, when we found out that our boys’ birthmother had died, we kept it to ourselves. It seemed wrong, on so many levels, to talk about it publicly (our worst fears being overly exposing our children, and the potential for our story to be sensationalized). And so, over and over and over again, I refused to comment to the media, refused to do interviews with radio and television shows, refused to be the focus of newspaper stories, and refused to write about the full scope of the truth of our family’s own aftershocks on our blog. I still believe in my heart that was the right thing to do. And yet, it did what so often happens with monstrous catastrophes—it kept the private shocks and aftershocks just that—private.

This summer, five months after we told Kyle and Owen that their birthmother had died in the earthquake, they told us –on our way to our annual Haitian Adoptive Families Reunion— that they wanted people to know their birthmother was in heaven. They also told us that they wanted us to tell people about it, not them. They didn’t want to carry the burden of explaining it, but they didn’t want to carry the burden of people not knowing either. And so, we took our cues from them, and slowly began telling our own Haiti Earthquake Story more openly.

It seems like a day ago, and at the same time like a decade ago, (but not one year ago), that we told Kyle and Owen that a massive earthquake had struck their island. Snuggled up with them, in the warmth of our bed, with the morning light streaming through the windows, it was one of those profound moments in life where –cliché but true— time seems to stand still. I can remember so vividly their huge brown eyes staring right into mine with a million questions on both sides, and yet it also feels like a blurry hazy semi-memory. I’m glad that I wrote about it on the blog (here), because otherwise I surely would have forgotten the details. It was only because Owen was so insistent in the days that followed that we finally gave in to his urging and decided to try to find out if he and Kyle’s birthmother was o.k.

We put the word out to a trusted source in Haiti, the director of Kyle and Owen’s orphanage, telling him that that we wanted to search. All that any of us knew was that she had been living in Cite Soleil, the same place where she had birthed, in inhumanely gruesome conditions, the unbelievably healthy infants that would become our twin boys. No complex computer systems humming, no official documentation of the dead, no funerals or even proper disposal of human bodies that once gave life to others, no justice. None of that, but an on-the-ground spreading-of-word that rivals none. And it did not take long for us to hear the news. In a strange twist of fate – just another in a long series of impossible-seeming experiences that have taken place in the past six years of parenting our sons – I received the email on my iPhone while we were in New York City celebrating our 5th Adoption Day. While Haiti was suffering to the depths of which I cannot even fathom, we were on our way to see The Lion King on Broadway. I remember reading the email: “She didn’t make it.” She had died in the earthquake. I remember the feeling in my chest, like I couldn’t get a breath. I remember whispering the news in Braydon’s ear, and I remember our eyes locking in, trying to grasp the full meaning of this aftershock on our lives.

Kyle and Owen are, as much as anyone can be at age six, at peace with their birthmother’s death. That is a gift for which we are eternally grateful. We took the time we needed to figure out how to best approach it with them; we told them in a way that conveyed dignity, faith, and ever-lasting love; we’ve processed it with them for the past year; and we’ve struggled with them, wrestling with what it all means, and working through the ripple effects of the aftershocks. But ultimately it is to Kyle and Owen’s credit, and theirs alone, that they’ve weathered yet another storm – this one an earth-shaking, ground-quaking, heart-stopping one. They have, once again, amazed us with their resiliency. While this resiliency never ceases to surprise me, there is also a part of me that thinks, “of course they have handled this so well, they are Haitian through and through“… they are part of a people-hood, a Diaspora, a heritage, a legacy of sheer brilliant stunning resiliency. If there could only be one word to describe the Haitian people, including my two sons, it would be resilient.

Sitting in our house, I am watching Kyle and Owen spin their globe on its axis, around and around, as fast as they can. In typical fashion, they are screaming out loud and jumping up and down as they do it, as if it is the most exciting thing in the world. With the landscape of the earth mapped out in bright colors, Haiti seems so close. And then I look outside the window, to our snow-covered yard, with its swing-set and sandbox and swimming-pool-closed-for-winter, and Haiti seems so far away.

A year later, my heart still aches for my sons, their family of origin, the island nation and people of their roots. A year later, thinking about that earthquake still results in a lump in my throat that makes it hard to swallow. Even as they play happily on the floor right now, just a few feet from me, racing remote-control cars, I never forget from where they have come.

For a family like ours, Haiti is never far from our thoughts or hearts. For us, it is impossible to not remember. We feel the aftershocks everyday. Not just from the earthquake, but from the entire history, trauma, tragedy, and resiliency that is Haiti. I rarely ask for much on this blog, but today I ask you, if you are reading, to please REMEMBER HAITI. And if you can, please HELP HAITI. There are so many ways you can give. If you are looking for a trustworthy organization to which to send a financial contribution of any amount, please consider Heartline, Real Hope for Haiti, or Meds & Food for Kids Haiti.

18 Comments

  • T. says:

    we are observing a (planned) day of grief today, much of the country is doing something to remember … this post brought tears … they are coming easily today … thanks for writing it.
    t.

  • Jennifer says:

    Oh, I am so sorry for all of you.

  • Sarah says:

    My heart aches for your family today. I’m so sorry for your loss. Thankful for the boys’ resiliance too.

  • Erin says:

    Heather, I am so sorry to hear this news. XO

  • stacey says:

    Have been thinking of you all week. Much love and many hugs to you and the rest of the crew.

    Xoxo
    SRU

  • Rebecca says:

    It seems strange to be profoundly influenced by a blog, but what I read here has opened my eyes in so many ways. Thank you for taking the time to write such powerful words and share your story.

  • MM says:

    And to think that we were asked tonight by our President to widen our circles of concern….thank you for the ways in which you continue to do this and share it through your blog.

  • Ashley McCain says:

    So sorry to hear about the boys’ mother. Do you know if their father had survived the earthquake? Was wondering if the orphanage provided you with some photos of the boys’ mother and father, so that you could show them one day?

    • Heather says:

      As far as we know, their birth-father survived. We do have photos and K & O have seen a photo of their birth-mother. That is really all I’m comfortable sharing at this point. Thanks for reading, ~Heather

  • Ashley McCain says:

    Oh, I didn’t mean for you to show US the photos here on the blog, just wondered if you had the photos to be able to show the boys one day. I am so glad they have those precious photos. K and O look so different to me, so I figured one probably favored each parent. God bless your resilient boys! They have been through so much in their young lives. I am so glad they found their way to your loving home!

  • Deb (Nelson) Johnson says:

    I read the new posts on Facebook early each morning, as I sit with my coffee. I enjoy the comments and quips from my friends. This morning, I saw that your Mom had posted your Blog onto Facebook to share the story of the boys. I sat for a long time, after reading the blog, thinking about what I would like to say. I don’t know if words can honestly tell how I feel. We are blessed to have a ton of grandchildren (7 of my husbands, 4 of mine! However, Jen is about to have 2 teenage stepchildren that we include in the count and Butch is marrying a girl with 2 children as well! So, soon to be 15 grandchildren)! All healthy and happy. We have not had contact with the kind of horror that the boys came from, nor the passing of a birthparent. I cannot imagine what that e-mail did as you read it initially to yourself. I cannot fathom having to explain to the boys that their birthmother had died in the quake. The depth of the emotion and love that you relate in your writings about your children AND their birthmother I find incredible. I believe that your comments place us all closer to the Haitian problems with love and compassion . . . .thank you for sharing. You have a beautiful family. Enjoy and relish every moment of those children . . . they grow far too quickly. God bless us all in a time that sees such horror daily around this world.

  • HCP says:

    I am so, so sorry.

  • Kate says:

    I am so sorry for you all, word cannot express. And to keep it simple, you and Braydon did the right thing completely in terms of sharing/not sharing and the timing.
    - Kate

  • jess says:

    Wow. I hope it doesn’t sound patronizing to say: I hope you feel a bit unburdened now too. Huge thing to keep private so long. My condolences to all of you on her loss.

  • Sarah Kate says:

    Bless you, Birthmother x

    Resilience seems to be a J-M family trait also.

    I do and will remember Haiti. and help Haiti.

    I’m so sorry for the boys. And for you.

  • Sarah Kate says:

    Sweet Owen spans the realms, doesn’t he. He must have felt it. I love the expression you guys cultivate in your home. I’m still a bit speechless. I am thinking of you all.

  • Megan says:

    Crying tears and saying prayers for your sweet family- and all the families that have been so deeply affected by the devastation.

  • NJTed says:

    Oh my, Heather I don’t know how I missed this last year, I was previously under the impression that she had been long gone before the earthquake even happened. I don’t want to say too much about it, because I know you’re all trying to move forward at this point, but I am so sorry, that must have been really hard for them, just the part about Owen wanting to find out about his birthmother made my eyes well up, that poor little guy.

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