Foster youth have experienced the intertwining of love and loss in their young lives.

As you know, today is Valentine’s Day.

In the Christian calendar, it is also Ash Wednesday. This is the first day of Lent, which is a season of self-reflection and penitence in preparation for Easter. On Ash Wednesday, people are marked with ashes on their forehead, with the reminder “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday are commemorations of very different things – one lifting up love in various forms, the other reminding us of our mortality. But this year they happen to intersect.

All of us who have lost anyone we have loved know that love and grief are different sides of the same coin. The more we have loved someone, the more we mourn their absence. Our love for each other always comes with this potential for loss.

The youth we serve at Braid know very well the intertwining of love and loss.

Every one of our youth has a heartbreaking story that we hear when they enter the Braid program. Each one of them has experienced “complex trauma,” the specific term for abuse or abandonment at the hand of a child’s caregiver.

All of our youth have felt betrayed by the people they should be able to depend on for love and support. Some have gone into foster care simply because their families do not want them.

Sometimes it can be easy to forget how much grief our youth have gone through. It is actually a good thing to forget sometimes – overall, we hope your hours with them each week can be a kind of oasis from that pain, giving them the opportunity just to have fun like any other child.

But some of you have experienced behavior that is the result of that complex trauma. You have felt your youth’s hesitance to enter into relationship with you at first, already afraid of when they might lose you. You may have even been on the receiving end of your youth’s testing you or even trying to push you away, so that your leaving will be in their control and not yours.

We know that foster care is a constant process of change and grief, causing youth to wonder where they belong, who they can trust, who will love them.

We know too that even youth who are reunified with one of their parents will continue to carry these doubts with them for years to come. The memory of the loss they have experienced – and the fear that it will happen again – informs every breath they take.

This week, one of the youth a Braid team has mentored in the residential program at Edgewood is leaving, to live with one of her parents in a neighboring state. Her mentors Gina, Allie, and Betsy have walked with her faithfully for several months, knowing that this reunification and departure was the eventual goal.

Still, this week holds loss for them as they experience her last weekly visit with her, and as they are having to say goodbyes to a sweet girl they have grown to care about deeply. Their youth also steps into a new chapter, likely with a mix of expectation and trepidation.

Thankfully, there is more to the story.

Saint Valentine is remembered for his unconditional love, a living example that real love is never truly lost. Ash Wednesday reminds us of our mortality, but all in preparation for the joy of Easter, the resurrection and new life that emerge from every loss.

And so, later this month we will sit down with this Edgewood team to look behind and to look ahead, to name what they will miss about their youth and to celebrate the ways their love for her will continue in their lives and in hers.

On this day that invites us to hold space for the complexity of love and loss, please remember this youth, and all children who continue to seek love in this world.

Please remember a parent who will be re-earning the trust of their child, and all parents who struggle to do this.

And please remember in your hearts these mentors who have opened their hearts with such grace and courage.

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