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Words can’t describe it, but sometimes I awaken in the night with a smile on my face. The smile comes from a faraway dream, one in which I was running my fingers gently through your curls or tracing your nose and lips in a way that only a mother can. In those foggy moments between sleep and awake, I listen to you tell me stories while I calmly rock you back and forth as I had a thousand times before. I dream that you laugh, that you run to me, that you remember me.

And then, as dawn wakes me from my sleep, I realize that you aren’t really here. My smile leaks from my eyes and down my cheeks, bittersweet memories making me wish I could close my eyes forever. Because when I am awake, I am reminded that I have not seen you face in a year - that I have not heard your laugh and your lispy words since that fated day last September. Your wailing pleas to stay with me were the last you uttered, and I failed you. I wasn’t able to let you stay. And little did we know that we would never see you again.

The pain that you may think I don’t love you, that I left you in your dire circumstances, is often more than I can bear. And yet thinking that you don’t remember me at all, well… that’s my own selfish fear. Yet I would rather you to have forgotten all of our memories if it meant that you were safe, that you were happy - that you were truly loved.

If I knew you were healthy and that there was nothing to fear for your future, I would gladly awaken to those tears each day. I would comfort your siblings with ease. I would hold your other Daddy without quite as much pain. But I don’t know those things. And my children don’t. And my husband doesn’t. We are tormented with the constant knowledge that you are so close, and yet we are helpless to save you.

I have given myself over to the fact that there are others that will never understand this loss. Many have reminded me, so innocently, that I chose this. I chose to foster. That I should have expected you to leave. But what I choose is to forgive their words. I know that they don’t understand what you go through, what you’ve seen. I know they have no idea the pain you’ve endured and how that pain has affected our family, as well.

They couldn’t possibly know. And then there are others who say that we should “move on, already”… like we are capable of pretending your existence wasn’t real – or treat you as if you are no longer alive and grieve you in a way that is impossible. But again, I choose to forgive because I know that those words are spoken as an attempt to ease our suffering – knowing that people are trying to help, even if they don’t know how.

I remember the day that I told a stranger how many children I had. For so long, I had four kids. It didn’t matter their status. Adopted, Foster, Pre-Adoptive, Biological – they were just terms that confused others. But there I was, in line at the grocery store. A woman told me how well-behaved my two kids were that had come to the store with me that day.

“How many children do you have?” she’d asked simply.

For months I had said four. I couldn’t bear to discount you, as if your lack of presence meant you no longer mattered in our family line-up. But on that day, the sadness was more than I could explain. And honestly, I know that she didn’t need to hear my story. She just wanted to buy her groceries and go home. And so I answered in words that sit clearly in my memory to this day.

“Three. I have three kids.”

I remember the look my daughter gave me as she tried to contradict my answer. I swiftly spoke over her and made quick conversation with the woman until it was time to take my bags and leave. Once in the van, I had to explain to a sobbing girl that WE still counted you in our family, but that others wouldn’t understand our story. I told her that we left you out of the equation for the ease of those around us.

But today, on the anniversary of your loss, I will not leave you out. I am aware that so many will read this – a handful will cry, some will offer words of condolences, and even more will interject more words of “let it go” and “you’re still struggling with this?”

But today is not about any of the readers. Just as we honor Memorial Day or September 11th, celebrating lives that were lost and allowing ourselves to sit with our grief without trying to brush it away to appease daily life, today is not about them.

Today is about you, sweet boy. It’s about you, and me, and Daddy, and Brother, and Sissy, and Wyatt. It’s about remembering you, whether it’s with laughter or with tears. Whatever emotion comes, I will face it and so will my children and my husband. We will look at your photos and watch home videos, sharing your memory and praying for your safety. And tomorrow, our “holiday” will be over, despite waking up with smiles that turn to tears as usual. And we will wipe the tears and go about our days, acknowledging you silently and lovingly as we pass your pictures on the wall.

But don’t mistake our silence. For you will never be forgotten, my child. You will always be one of us – one of my four.

I love you forever and always.