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The Shadow in our Midst

Mon, Nov. 30, 2015 Posted: 10:10 AM


In 2010, Jeralyn; her husband, Jim; and their three children welcomed into their family a sibling group of four young sisters from Ethiopia. Just like that, they became a family of nine. Jeralyn shared more about their adoption story in the summer 2014 issue of LifeLines. In her guest post today, she writes about the complexity of emotions that linger—both for children who have experienced profound loss, and for adoptive parents who long to comfort them in their grief.

When we brought the four sisters home from Ethiopia, it became apparent that a shadow had accompanied the girls and was dwelling among us. There was no explanation for this visitor, the shadow that loomed and seemed to grow daily in our midst.

Unsettling, yes.
Scary, kind of.
Unexpected, absolutely.

Her name is Eyaya.

Her tenderness was evidenced in the tearstains left on my shoulder, in the whispering anguish for arms not mine. The darker hues cast by her shadow echoed the pain of her leaving this life too soon. She left her precious fingerprints on four tiny hearts.

Her absence is... painful. For all of us.

Eyaya, who bore 10 children that we know of.
Eyaya, who buried three of them.
Eyaya, who swatted at mice in the thatched hut so they would not bite her girls while they slept.
Eyaya, who squatted by a fire, cooking all day long and letting them help.
Eyaya, who had a clay pot and a string toy that made the girls giggle.

Through their telling, I find I have a precious connection with this shadow. She loved flowers— ones that look just like the sprigs of lavender growing in my garden. Eyaya used to snap off the ends of flowers and put them to their noses, just like I do now.

She parted tangled hair with them sitting wedged between her knees, just like I do now. Sometimes she pulled a little too hard on the tangles, just like I do. She soothed hearts with hours of touching hair and rubbing their scalps, like I do. The stories they share come at uncalculated times. And with each story, the shadow fades ever so slightly, and I begin to notice in myself the weight of an unexpected sorrow—grief for a woman I know only through her daughters’ memories. The tears I wipe from little eyes are becoming more and more… shared. I find a strange longing to dwell here with her, sharing her life with her girls.

With time, the telling turns to asking.
“Show me a picture of Eyaya,” they ask. My own tears streaming, I wipe tears from the cheeks she wiped. I have no picture to show.

“Eyaya is dead?” they ask. I choke out, “Yes,” wishing God had written a different story for these children I now hold.
“Eyaya is in heaven?” Yes. She loved Jesus.
“Eyaya has a new body?” Yes.
“She hold baby?” Yes.
“She eating?” Yes.
“She no sick?” No sick.

“I like heaven…………… Mama.” Me too, honey, me too.

She and I have more in common than I could have ever imagined, the best of all four precious princesses. I have grown to love her through their little eyes. Her presence with us is not scary or unsettling anymore. It is painful, but it is good.

Holding onto shadows is difficult; losing them would be worse.

Bethany Christian Services