‘What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men …… That is what love looks like.’ - St. Augustine

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Life Without Meaning

Imagine being abandoned as a toddler. Imagine you move into a neighbor's home with your little sister whom you carry around like a little mother. Imagine your sister almost dying and being rushed to a hospital you are not allowed to visit. Imagine the nights you spent missing her and wanting her back. Imagine the hundreds of times you must have asked about her and begged to see her. Imagine she is lost to you forever.

Imagine that you live in an area that is so impoverished that your neighbors have to share the care of you. You are so poor and neglected that you don't ever set foot in a school. No one registers you, no one bothers to see to your daily needs, nevermind your education. Imagine that for eight years you live like this -- being passed around and never knowing who will care for you. What kind of wall would you have built up around your heart?

Imagine now being ripped out of this emptiness, the only existence you have ever known. Imagine being placed in a sterile institution with hundreds of other orphaned children like you. Imagine the teasing about your inability to read or write properly. Imagine the nights you lie awake wondering where life is taking you. Imagine going to bed every night dreaming about your sister -- the only family you have.

This is a tiny taste of the life Anya lived before we found her. She entered the orphanage system at 11 and a half. In many ways, as depressing and cold as the orphanage is, it is a huge step up from what you've lived through until now. You savor having a bed each night, and food to eat every day. You pour your heart into studying, learning to read and write and add and subtract. You do as you're told, and then, after five years of this stability, you are out on your own again.

I watch Anya and I grieve at her inability to make good decisions for herself, grieve at her lack of understanding even basic human values, grieve at the gaping hole in her heart that is there for all to see, if they spend any time with her. Anya is handicapped. Not in the way we usually use the word -- but emotionally, spiritually and mentally she does not have what most of us do. She lacks the inner resources that most of us develop through our years of early nurturing. She is stunted in her emotional and mental growth in ways I do not think are fixable. She walks around like an empty shell looking to fill itself with ANYTHING.

I love this girl. I want to wrap her up in my arms and carry her back to her infancy and nurture her into a wholeness. I adore this child, but she is an adult and I am unable to reach across that void in between and fill it with what was kept from her. I would die for this girl, and yet she does not hold her life "at a pin's fee" as Shakespeare would say. She doesn't care for herself. She is in survival mode, just as Nastia was five years ago. But with Anya it feels so much more insurmountable, because she is an adult and in some ways feels too old to be parented.

When it is night and she is close to sleep, she will allow me to be that Mama she misses so. I can cuddle her and kiss her and she'll call me Mama. But in the light of day, the harsh reality of her current life burns away the softness around her heart. She calls me "Keri" then, and wants to  be fiercely independent and tries to mother me instead of the other way around.

I can't help feeling very sad tonight. Anya is out with her friend Katya, Nastia is asleep, and I feel an emptiness that is only compounded by the coldness of many of the people I must interact with. I have only ever felt homesick once before in my entire adult life. I was stranded in Dublin with a violent illness and wanted nothing more than my mom and a familiar room. But I am homesick again tonight, and am only admitting it because maybe it well help someone else some day. I am ashamed to be homesick, but there is nothing I can do about it but pray.

Anya just needs to come home with us. Plain and simple. Her life is utter emptiness here. She now drinks to numb the feelings of loss that are getting the better of her, and she is too ashamed to even share much of her life with Nastia. Tonight she had to go back to the shack she is staying in to retrieve some clothes. she utterly refused to let Nastia come along, and the first big sister-fight ensued.

" I'm your SISTER!" Nastia yelled at her. " You shouldn't hide ANYTHING from me!" She was crying.

" No, I cant let you see it. Be mad if you want to, but I am not taking you there. EVER." Was Anya's response, and she headed out into the night.

Nastia cried and rocked and rocked and cried and finally fell asleep, not allowing me to comfort her in any way. I pray and wait, for both my girls to let me in . Tomorrow the sun will rise as it always does, and a new day will open its arms to us all. I'll try again, to be the Mama they both need. I'll knock on the fortress-like door of their hearts, and stand in hope of an invitation in.


  1. OK, you made me cry. Does John Kerry read your blog. He needs to read what is in your heart. I am writing to him again. Stay strong. Your love will get through to her heart.

  2. I am so glad that you have both your heart and your eyes wide open about all of this. I'd be more worried about the situation if you were reporting that everything is lovey-dovey hunky-dory instant and perpetual happiness right now, because I'd know you were in denial and not able to see reality and therefore be unable to really help her.

    That fierce independence is what has literally kept her alive to be here this day.

    And alcoholism takes on a life of its own, too. Heaven knows, there's no support there for anyone who wants to be sober and every reason in the world not to be.

    We are all praying for you and for Nastia and for Anya and her friend Katya. And for Dasha, and for all the other children in the world who need parents, and for the other children who have grown up without parents who live with that hole in their heart and soul.

    My daughter's older 1/2 sister in Saratov, Russia, has a baby and lives with her baby's daddy. She just turned 19. I don't know much about her, haven't been able to keep up much of a correspondence, and phone calls are quite awkward. I pray that she has found peace through creating her own family, and I hope that the fact that she lived with her grandmother until the age of 9 helped her know how to live in a family. She lived in an orphanage from age 9 to when she aged out at 16, dropped out of vocational school at 17 when she got pregnant.

    You're doing all that you can do. You're there. You're trying to stay there as long as you can. You've been trying to move heaven and earth to make a way for her to come to live with you in the US. You're doing more than a huge majority of people would have attempted to do. Sometimes you have to take it day by day, sometimes minute by minute.

    We are all praying for you.

  3. We are with you in spirit. I can only imagine how hard it is to watch them and want to scoop them up and run away, back to toddlerdom, back to your comforts. Keep working. We all believe in you.

  4. Ditto what RC says--every thing she says. You are not alone . . . even though it feels like. Many of us are holding you and the girls close in our hearts and lives, and lifting you up in prayers. May GOD move on behalf of the powers that be in both countries so that stories like this do not need to keep being repeated. Maybe through all of this awareness will come . . . In the meantime, keep the Faith and the Light of God alive in your heart, so that it spills out on to your girls. Love is winning my Russian princses. . . . much younger, yes, but already at 5 she thought she was the adult and tried to "care" for me and even would go so far as try to remove dishes from my hands, telling me to give them to HER because I might break them--and she was dead serious.

  5. Keri, I am so sad for how hard her life has been. I'm sure I'm not alone in saying as an adoptive parent, it is MY nightmere that had we not said "yes" to the children we now call ours, their lives would be similar. It transcends race, culture, country lines, and religion. While the bulk of us wait around..for more money, for more bedrooms, for more, more, more, children are "aging" out to go worse places then they were before. I can't even begin to understand how hard it is for you to watch all this pain so far away from home; but I do "get it" that it's far more then mere words on a blog could explain. Praying for emotional and physical endurance for you and Nastia. Jennifer

  6. The fact that she can form friendships is probably a good sign, but it sounds like it's going to be a very, very long road for her. Learning to trust is a hard thing for a lot of people to do, but under these circumstances, hard doesn't begin to cover it. Hugs to all three of you.

  7. So heartbreaking. So very, very sad. Praying for all of you - especially for you, my friend. May you be blessed with peace and strength beyond measure. (((hugs!)))


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