Friday, May 30, 2014

Goodbye.... Almost

If you follow me on Twitter @leadedtech, or Facebook, you may have seen a tweet from yesterday, Thursday May 29, that said "Goodbyes.... Things I suck at. :*( Goodbye Helen. You too are forever a part of our family tapestry. We love you. #journeytogia."
Interestingly enough, another twitter user sent her condolences. I guess I'm too emotional. If you have to revoke my man-card, so be it. The point I was trying to make was that I really hate goodbyes. Goodbyes tear me up, they always have. Ever since I've been old enough to remember, saying goodbye to friends, family, and loved ones has been something that really tugs at my heart. I am an emotional dude, and I am not ashamed to admit that. Events in life move me, frequently to the point of tears welling up in my eyes. Sometimes I know it is coming, but sometimes it takes me by total surprise. It is just the way God made me.

It is the subject of goodbyes that causes me to realize that I have a couple of regrets when it comes to Gracie and Gemma's adoptions. Despite the fact that both of those experiences were absolutely life changing and wonderful, they also included some difficult goodbyes. When you adopt internationally, China, specifically, you typically spend 3-5 days in the province of your new child, taking care of the Chinese legal items, in addition to actually meeting your new little one. This may include traveling to different cities for the various needs such as orphanage "Gotcha Day," visitation, and other items like legal paperwork and applications. The one key component in all of this, is your Chinese guide. My regrets from Gracie and Gemma's adoptions are that despite our abundance of technology at my fingertips, I did not arrange to, and have not stayed in touch with either of the guides we met while grafting our family together. Both goodbyes were very difficult for me. I remember both of them vividly. I have not communicated with either Michael (Gracie) or Rebekah (Gemma) since departing at the Guangzhou airport each time.

I am sure you have all said and experienced difficult goodbyes to loved ones, all for various reasons and circumstances, so you can probably relate. But I want you to consider a few more additional components. The guides in the adoption process are your primary conduit to meeting (Gotcha), and then getting to learn about, know, and care for your new daughter/son. They are not only responsible for the logistics, such as travel, meals, and lodging, but they are also responsible for facilitating all the required paperwork to make the entire process legal and official. (My dad was a social worker for over 2 decades, so I know first hand how physically and emotionally exhausting it can be.) They are there to comfort the emotionally fragile children, and also the anxious families. Your guide, throughout this intensely emotional time, becomes an integral and intimate part of your family.

Our guide for the 1st part (provincial) of our adoption of Gia Pearl ChunYu is named Helen. (American Name) From the moment we passed through the immigration terminal after landing in China, picked up our bags, and ventured out into a land of total strangers who didn't understand a word we spoke, Helen was there to lead us, guide us and support us. Without our guide, Helen, not one step of the process would be possible. We would be lost in a sea of humanity, unable to even communicate well enough to merely find a hotel!


Helen is an amazing person. Her compassion and devotion to her job is nothing short of inspirational. While getting to know her, she spoke so fondly of the kids at the Social Welfare Institute (orphanage) in Gia's province, Shijiazhuang, and explained in detail her relationship with each of the little ones. She knows them all well and has been instrumental in placing nearly all of the children she has worked with, into loving forever families. Not only that, but you can actually HEAR the love she has for these kids in her voice as she speaks to them. I know 5 Mandarin words give or take a mispronounced or misused word, but when Helen talks to the children, I can feel the love in her tone of voice. It is an amazing experience. Equally as passionate, we also got to hear Helen speak very firmly to a co-worker on the phone when we were forced to use a van for 12 people, with a non functioning AC system during 95+ degree weather mixed in with some car sickness.



Throughout our fast paced, emotionally intense stays in Beijing, and Shijiazhuang, Helen was our rock. She was our counselor, interpreter, tour guide, legal aide, "auntie" to our children, advocate, and much more. But most importantly, Helen was our friend. She was our cheerleader, encourager. She was like a sister, mother, auntie, and best friend all in one. In a few short days, Helen became part of our forever family. It is a bond that will remain forever.




But you see, that is where it gets exponentially harder, when it comes time to say goodbye. This time, because of the intense emotional experiences with Gia (mourning leaving her friend, severe motion sickness, etc) I hadn't had time to prepare myself emotionally for departing Helen. But Thursday morning in our Beijing hotel lobby, it hit me like a freight train. We would be departing Helen, and saying goodbye shortly. Hadn't I fulfilled my quota for heart wrenching goodbyes already? Could my heart take another goodbye? It didn't matter...  I had no choice.


As we presented Helen with her gifts, which is a tradition in the adoption process, I felt the heaviness coming upon me. I couldn't even speak to Helen without my voice cracking and tears welling up in my eyes. Although I was dreading the unavoidable goodbye that would come shortly at the airport, I was able to step outside of myself and just take in watching Helen interact with the children, and us. I was able to take a picture or two, and just whisper to myself, "look at the impact she is making." I can't believe Helen does this week in and week out. Seriously, how does she handle the emotional attachment to all of these families? What a gift she has. As we moved toward the hotel entrance/exit to get our van, I was able to return to our room and get a house maid to let me back in our room (we had checked out) so that I could get 3 of the "collector's edition" Coke glasses from our McDonalds delivery order. Helen had said earlier she collected them. She was so thrilled to get those glasses as I ran back to the lobby, she gave me a hug. My eyes welled up again.  As we drove to the airport, I conversed with Helen on some techno-stuff. See, I can find a way to deal with my sadness! Helen was rocking a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and was using an app that resembled WhatsApp or Voxer. I was intrigued and asked her what it was. It turns out that it was WeChat, and I remembered my 2 regrets, not keeping in touch with our previous two guides. I asked Helen if it would be OK for me to contact her via WeChat and she was so excited. I snapped a picture of her user info, since my phone has 3G data only and couldn't log in via sms verification. Hashtag Firstworldproblem. Regardless... connection: MADE.


Fast forward to the airport. Helen assumed the role of communicator, travel agent, organizer, and guide, once again, leading us through the chaos of Beijing International Airport. All went smoothly and it was time... the security checkpoint. Helen could go no further. As she hugged each of us and told us goodbye, I felt the tears coming again. As much as I tried to suppress it, when I saw Helen kneel down to warmly hug Gia and whisper something into her ear, I felt the cool tears running down my cheeks. I managed to wipe them away and "man up" as Helen turned to me to say goodbye. But on the inside I was destroyed, reduced to a ball of mush. But I quickly remembered that this wasn't actually "goodbye." I was sure we would connect again. Just when I started to realize the magnitude of our experience and grafting of Helen into our forever family, and approaching mush ball status again, we were engulfed into the chaos of Chinese airport security. It was a welcome distraction, because if I looked back one more time, I may not have been able to take it. Even though I tried to wave to Helen one last time, I couldn't find her. Time to move on to the next chapter in #journeytoGia. It was a goodbye... almost.



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