On Sunday, my son, Abraham, more or less woke up from his coma. He had the breathing tube in his throat so he couldn’t talk, but he was able to respond to questions by nodding or shaking his head.  It seemed that he could see also.  Whew. With all that, he had obviously beaten the odds and avoided the brain damage we were so terrified of.

On Monday morning though, he crashed and his brain “herniated.”  They ran him into the operating room and he survived their desperate operations. But not with much hope. On Tuesday morning, they ran their tests, and early yesterday afternoon, Abe was declared brain dead.  He is three months shy of his 40th birthday.

Today, they will “harvest” – how I hate that term – his organs, and disconnect him from his life support.  I dread it, though I dread it less than this horrible waiting around with nothing real to do.

I met Abraham when he was twelve; he moved in with us when he was thirteen; and I finalized his adoption when he was fourteen.  I knew nothing of his background except that he was in foster care for many years, was a very badly behaved kid, and had no contact with anybody in his birth family. His memories of that family, and of his younger years, were off – they didn’t make much sense to me. But, I didn’t do anything about it.  In those days it didn’t dawn upon me that his history would matter to him.  It was over; he was safe. What else was there?  I was very stupid.

Abe was a good kid – determined to be good. I didn’t know that there were kids whose good behavior was a desperate attempt to block enormous pain.  I had no problems with him day to day at all. He was honest, responsible.  He was so good that I remember saying to people that I thought he was God’s gift to me as a reward for what I had gone through with my older kids. I remember one day asking him what had happened to all that bad behavior that he had in foster care.  He said to me, “Do you want the troof? Do you want the troof?”  I said yeah. I wasn’t really interested in hearing any lies, I told him. So tell me the “troof.”  “You treat me right,” he said.

I treat him right?

I treat him regular.  I treat him as parents treat their kids.  What the hell did that mean that I “treat him right?”

At seventeen, Abe fell apart.  He found a cartoon one day in the Daily News and he brought it over to me and said, “Pop, this is how I feel.”  Whoa…an explanation?  Coming from him? I needed to pay attention to that.  I wrote about that cartoon in this blog last March. (copied below).  For nearly twenty five years we have used the cartoon, and its implications, as a partial foundation to build our adoption practices on at Family Focus.

Over the course of the past week, especially the past few days, everyone wants to know who did this to Abe; did the cops get the people?  Etc. etc. I could care less.  I find it a distraction and I wonder if folks use it that way in an attempt to avoid the pain of seeing Abe hurt so bad.

Abe gave us another gift at Family Focus: the concept of adoption transference.  After seventeen, Abraham blamed me for all the pain he’d experienced when he was young. The fact that I hadn’t even met him till all that was over, didn’t lessen the depth of his fury. The fact that I was the guy who took him out of the system that allowed him to suffer so, didn’t change how he felt.  It took my sister to help us figure out that he was blaming me because I was his father and I had failed in my primary job as a parent. I had not protected him.  The logical fact that I could not have – because I didn’t even know him then was irrelevant to that much greater truth: I was his father.

Abraham wanted help, he wanted to be free of all of it. He didn’t want the anger; nay, he didn’t want the rage; he didn’t want to carry around the consequences of his history.  Over the course of his adulthood, I tried to help him.  But nothing worked. Not because of Abe – though he would infuriate me. But because of us.  Not because he refused to cooperate, but because our solutions are nonsense. Nonsense.

If we can’t see that in looking at kid after kid after kid, year after year after year – and now I am old enough to say – generation after generation after generation that we are not helping, what is our problem? Our ways are not cutting it; our solutions don’t solve it, so then what chance does any kid have who had the horrific experience of being born into a family of people who don’t protect?

I loved Abraham. I love him still. I hate how he carried those consequences around; I hate how he himself, in turn, did not protect me, his son, his brothers, his wife. Himself. Right up until not protecting himself last week (by avoiding the circumstances. He is not to blame for his own murder.)

But never will I grant – ever – that he could have solved this himself. Never. We invented the foster care system that hurt him. We have not yet invented the way to help him heal from it. That’s on us. To say that he was damaged or broken in his early years is a cop out. I never experienced him – ever – as damaged, or as broken.  Normal reactions to abnormal circumstances look abnormal.

I experienced him as confused, as hurt, as lost, and in terrible terrible pain from seventeen years old….until Monday.

Yesterday, standing by his bed, what convinced me that he was really gone was that the morphine was gone. His pain was really done.

Abraham – let me repeat for the last and loudest time – did not choose the pain, the confusion, the hurt nor the loss. Nobody chooses that.  It doesn’t work to “just say no.”  It doesn’t work.

Abe is the fourth of my kids that I have lost. It didn’t work with Gilbert (October 15th, 1985), nor with Irving (February 4th, 1994), nor with Ricky (May 9th, 1995). It didn’t work because it doesn’t work.  Not because they are broken or damaged.  I loved them, I know.

Each of them was whole. I experienced their wholeness. I experienced it from each of them.

We have not figured out yet how to protect our foster kids, nor heal their wounds. That’s on us. Not on them.

I told another of my adult kids last night that one of the things that Family Focus has discovered is the importance of apologizing to our kids when we give them a family that gives them up.  When we don’t apologize to someone who has been wronged, especially those who haven’t much power, the wronged person can rarely be sure that they were wronged.

Abraham did wrong in his life, no doubt. But that life began with Abe being wronged to a depth, and for a length of time, that I doubt I will ever know, or understand. I hate that for him.  I hate that for all of them.

I am sorry, Abe. I love you so much and I wasn’t able to give you what you needed.  But I am sorry. And, God knows, no matter what else, I do love you.  You were, for a long time, my baby.

I am posting this as is. I suppose it’s turned into Abe’s eulogy. So be it.

And so much for not being a diarist, huh?


[Many years ago, my then seventeen year old son brought to me a cartoon and said to me, “Pop, this is how I feel.”

It was a man in a spacesuit, standing on the moon, reading a note, left by his fellow astronauts, who were in the spaceship flying way above and leaving the planet. The note did not say what it should have. It didn’t say, “Henry, we are so terribly sorry to have left you here. We did wait as long as we possibly could. But the window of opportunity for us to get off the planet was upon us. Had we stayed any longer we all would have died. And we chose not to let that happen.”

Instead, it read: “Dear Henry, Where were you? We waited and waited, but finally decided that…”

Not only blaming Henry for their decision, but minimizing what they have just done. “We finally decided to go to the movie without you” does not have the same import as “we finally decided to abandon you on the moon.”

And what on earth does “where were you?” matter now? Blaming the victim was a concept that I first heard named in college when I read the book of the same name (thank you William Ryan) – but by no means was the experience it named new to me.]

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3 Responses to Unbearable…

  1. Rick Whitaker says:

    I’m speechless, but I can’t help but think of how much worse it would have been for Abe if you, Jack, hadn’t entered into his life when he was a teenager. I’m so sorry, Jack. The pain you must be feeling is unimaginable to me.

  2. MJ Romeo says:

    Jack, my heart is breaking for you, your family and daughter in law for the loss of Abe. What a horrible tragedy. God blessed you with 28 short years of Abe, and blessed Family Focus with all that you learned from him. I am so very sorry for you loss. Mary Jo

  3. Donna Kelleher Frake says:

    I am so very sorry to learn of the loss of your son. I hope the memories of your life together will bring you comfort and strength. Please let the prayers and the love of your friends and family surround you and help to ease your grief.
    Thank God that Abe had you in his life to anchor him when he was set adrift.
    You have a special gift, Jack, to mend hearts, How I wish there was a way to mend yours now.
    Please know that you are in my thoughts and prayers.
    Donna Kelleher Frake

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