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Sarah: The Suicide of Our Adult Child

Barb has been bereaved of both children, both, parents, and several close friends. She has a lot of experience dealing with grief.

Just Sarah, as a Teen


Suicide Ended Our Parenting Journey

We learned on Friday afternoon, May 15, 2009 that our daughter Sarah had ended her tormented life. We spent three hours this afternoon talking with her common law husband, and he is devastated.

Our daughter was very disturbed when she came to us as a foster child at age nine. We were never able to help her with the issues that had so damaged her. When she was a teen, her past and raging hormones kicked in together and caused her to leave at the age of 17.

In the two years before Sarah died, her birth mother committed suicide and her birth father died of cancer after he had won a long battle with drugs and alcohol. We had not seen or heard from her in 14 years. Her brother, the only person she had ever really loved and bonded to, rode a jet ski to Heaven in 1991, and that removed the only relationship she really seemed to care about until she met Wes in Colorado.

The picture shows Sarah in 1989, the last year before the real problems started. She was sixteen.

All pictures in this lens came from our family collection and albums.

Where We First Met Sarah

Jason's fifth birthday party gave us an opportunity to meet Sarah without making  big deal of it, since we were Jason's neighbors.

Jason's fifth birthday party gave us an opportunity to meet Sarah without making big deal of it, since we were Jason's neighbors.

The Journey Begins

Meeting Sarah

We first met Sarah at her brother Jason's fifth birthday party. He was a foster child next door and his foster mother knew I was bonding with him from our frequent visits. She knew he would go up for adoption fairly soon and that he also had a sister four years older than he -- Sarah. Jason had told me he had a sister and I knew he loved her and wanted live with her again. We all wanted it to happen. But first we knew we needed to meet Sarah. Joanetta thought the best way to meet would be at Jason's birthday party, since no one would suspect we were anything more than some of the other guests. We had not yet said anything to Jason about his moving to our home. We wanted to meet Sarah first.

Sarah is on the far right, next to Joanetta, Jason's foster mom. Jason is sitting in front in the black and white shirt. You can see Sarah watching Jason, and maybe a bit sorry she doesn't have any presents to open.

Sarah at the Zoo in Santa Barbara

Sarah has always related to animals better than people. This cat was at the zoo.

Sarah has always related to animals better than people. This cat was at the zoo.

The next step

Making a connection through official channels

By the time this picture was taken, we had made Social Services aware of our intentions to get a foster care license to get both Sarah and Jason into our home. The plan was then to wait for a termination of parental rights, as this was going to take some time. We were told the next step would be for us to take Sarah on an outing to get to know each other a bit. We decided to take her to the zoo in Santa Barbara.

Sarah has always been hard to get to know. She saw this cat almost as soon as we entered the zoo, and for most of the day she pretended to be a cat, communicating mostly by meowing. This made conversation rather difficult. Sarah was shy and probably afraid of change. She knew we might represent change. She had told her foster mother she didn't want to live with Jason again, but she told the social worker that she did.

Although we didn't really learn much about Sarah that day except that adopting her would be challenging, we decided to go ahead and get our foster care license. In August of 1982, we suddenly had two children. I will cover more about that in another article later. For now, let's just say that if you think getting married requires adjustments, picture a four-way marriage with two of the partners constantly vying for pecking order and the other two wondering what hit them.

Consider also that Sarah had felt responsible for looking after Jason from the time she was six and he was two. This did not indicate that smooth sailing was ahead. For about two months, Kosta and I felt we were totally isolated -- that the world outside our home did not exist. There wasn't any energy left for the outside world.

Books for Those Considering the Adoption of an Older Child

Adoption can bring much joy to anyone who can't have children or who wants to expand a family. It can also bring heartache and turn your life upside down. It is imperative to learn as much as you can about what you might face before you take that step -- especially if you adopt an older child who has been hurt physically or psychologically. I suggest you get one or more of the books you see recommended here to prepare yourself.


The picture shows us on the day we adopted Sarah and Jason. The adults, left to right are Kosta, me, the social worker, and the judge. Sarah is next to the social worker, and Jason is in front of her. Our journey had actually begun when the children entered our home through foster care in August of 1982. Sarah was nine and Jason was five. This picture was taken about two years later on our adoption day.

Adoption Day, 1984, in Judge's Chambers

Adoption Day, 1984, in Judge's Chambers

The Adoption Present from God

It was quiet in the car as we drove east towards home, where a celebration was scheduled. It was dusk, and there was a light rain. We were aware that we had a new legal relationship to each other, and I expect we were all silently pondering what new effect that would have on our life together. Ahead of us, in the almost dark sky, a magnificent double rainbow appeared. Jason was quick to observe: "Look! God is giving us an adoption present: two rainbows -- one for me and one for Sarah." This gave us hope that our new family was off to a blessed start.

A Blessing from God

Have you ever adopted a child? - Were you adopted yourself?

Maybe you know people who have adopted children or maybe you have adopted children or fostered them yourselves. If so, you are aware of the changes that can bring to a family. Maybe you were even adopted yourself.

A peek into Sarah's mind at the time of her adoption

We Pieced This Together Later

Naturally, we could not read Sarah's mind. We knew she wasn't really sold on being adopted, but that she went along with it because she knew it was the only way to stay with her brother Jason. We had hoped as time went on, she would begin to accept us as her parents. Jason immediately began to call us Mom and Dad. Sarah continued to call us Barbara and Kosta.

We knew she was drawn to influences that weren't good for her. We knew she had been molested by her birth father and had had to testify against him in court at the tender age of seven. That, in itself, is enough to seriously damage a child and fill her memory bank with images no child should have to remember. Later she told us about parties she remembered from those days, filled with drugs.

Sarah Was Used to Being Responsible for Jason

We know from stories Sarah told us that she was often the only one looking after Jason before they were put in foster care. She told us several times the story about her mother lying on the floor and asking Sarah to go to the store to get milk. But Sarah was afraid her mother was sick, so she got some cola for her mother instead.

She told us of the time Jason escaped from her watchful eye and the police later found him in a 7/11 store eating cereal from the boxes. Jason often escaped her watchful eye, since he later pointed out places to his first foster mom (as they drove around town) where he had been picked up by police and taken home.

There was also a story about a dog bite, and another of Sarah and Jason hiding, in fear, in another room while a boyfriend was abusing her mother. She tells of them finally being able to sneak out of the house and run away to a field. (After I wrote this, someone who was with Sarah when this happened saw this article and contacted me. He validated it. Sarah's family lived with his during that time.) All these things happened before we met Sarah. They happened by the time she was seven. This gave Sarah a lot of emotional baggage to carry.

Sarah Felt Abandoned by Her Mother

Sarah was in a supportive foster home before she came to us. Both the social worker and the foster mom told us that Sarah had been trained by her mother to steal to help pay the rent. She also related this story later to her common law husband, Wes, when she was living with him. She continued stealing, according to her foster mother Mary, in her home, and somehow seemed to think if she could get enough money she could go back to her mother. (The County told us the mother had brought the children to them because she could not longer pay the rent and was being evicted.)

Mary also tells of Sarah getting phone calls from her mother that led her to believe her mother was soon coming to take her home again. She would call in another week. Mary said Sarah would sit by the phone all day for the call that never came. This happened repeatedly, and Mary tells of Sarah's disappointment each time. All these memories were with Sarah when she finally came to us at the age of nine.

A Book Anyone Fostering or Adopting an Older Child Should Read

A Book I Wish Our Family Had Owned When Sarah was Thirteen - Unfortunately, it hadn't yet been written.

In Between, which I linked to above, helped me envision how scary it is for a child in the system to enter and adjust to a new foster home. Although it's fiction, what both Katie and her foster parents, James (a pastor) and Millie went through during the adjustment period, is pretty realistic. The books in this series deal with serious issues -- acceptance, love, cancer, drug abuse, bad friend choices, boundaries, and more. But there is also comic relief -- plenty of it, in the form of Maxine, Millie's mother and Katie's foster grandmother. She is the only unrealistic character in the book, but somehow she still fits.

The books are narrated by Katie and written from her perspective. She is sure from the beginning she will be sent back to the group home, so she decides to hasten the process by trying to show James and Millie she's the opposite of what they want. Instead, they have the wisdom to see through the tough exterior and just love her.

Katie's background was much like my Sarah's, except she had no sibling to help raise. Her mom was in prison for dealing drugs and she was pretty much raising herself before her mother was arrested and she entered the system. Sarah was in the system longer before she came to us, and she was younger than Katie when she entered the system. She was never in a group home until she left us and three more foster homes after she left. She wouldn't stay within stated boundaries in any home. The group home was the last stop for Sarah, not the first, as it was for Katie.

I loved the relationship Katie had with Mrs. Smartly, the head of the group home, who also seemed to act as her social worker. We meet her as she is taking Katie to meet James and Millie. I could see Sarah making some of the same comments as Katie, had she been older. Mrs. Smartly seemed to really have Katie's best interests at heart, and this shows itself through the entire series.

I have read through all the first three books in this series and I can hardly wait until the next is published. I received the first book, In Between, as a free Kindle book, and it still may be free. But I was so caught up in the lives of the characters that I couldn't wait for book two and I bought and read both books 2 and 3 in the same two-day period. Although the reading level is young adult, I couldn't put the books down. Maybe that is just because we had Sarah. I wish she could have read these books when she was entering her teens, before her own hormones kicked in. I wish her story could end as happily as it appears Katie's will.

Issues in the First Years of Foster Care and Adoption

These are some of the problems we faced in those first five years.


Although we had been forewarned, it was still a shock the first time we discovered that Sarah was shoplifting. This started almost as soon as she came to us, while still in foster care. There were several episodes, and each time we found Sarah with things that weren't hers, we had to take her back to the store she'd taken items from, and have her return them and ask for forgiveness. As you have seen from the early pictures, Sarah still appeared to be a shy, vulnerable little girl, and the merchants were getting their items back. Unfortunately, they bent over backwards thanking her for bringing the items back and in the process almost made her feel like a hero. She knew she could generate a good deal of attention this way, and so she continued several more times.

Sibling Rivalry and Adjusting to Each Other

Another issue was jealousy. Since Sarah had taken such responsibility for Jason when he was a toddler, she resisted me as his mother, since she felt I was usurping that role from her. She would often test Jason's loyalties by asking him to do the opposite of what I had just told him to do. He often obeyed her instead of me, and that also filled a need she had while making it very confusing for Jason.

She was also competing with Jason for our attention. She had not lived with him for a couple of years and the two were adjusting to living together again and trying to reestablish pecking order. Think about what happens when people get married or first start living with another person. They must adjust to that person. Now multiply that by three. Each of the four of us were adjusting to new people with us, and the children had three people to adjust to living with. For the first two months we hardly knew there was a world outside our house except for places we had to be like work, school, and church. Everyone was emotionally drained just from adjusting.

Academic Problems

When Sarah came to us, she was about to enter third grade and could neither read nor do the simplest math. Academically it was as though she should be in first grade. She was put in a special education class with a wonderful teacher, and with some extra attention at home, she began to make some progress.

By this time we had her in counseling, and her therapist told us that Sarah had the intelligence to learn, but the emotional baggage she was dealing with interfered with her concentration, thus slowing her learning. We were told that once Sarah worked through those old issues, she would fly academically. But that was still a future event at this time. Sarah was also the only girl in her class.

Making Friends

School was not a good place to make friends. We did go to a church where there were children her age in Sunday School, but Sarah was not yet ready to form relationships. She did not know what to do if we would invite a friend from another family we knew over to play. Whereas Jason had already lived in our neighborhood a year when Sarah came, and had lived next door with five other children, Sarah came knowing no one but Jason.

She gradually got to know the children next door and play with them because Jason knew them and also played with them. But the first time we invited a new possible friend over for Sarah to play with, Sarah couldn't handle it for more than a few minutes. Then she would come in and just sit inside while the friend continued playing outside alone. Gradually Sarah learned a few more relational skills, but she still had no real friends.

One day another girl her age, whom I shall call Nancy, rode her bike into our cul-de-sac while Sarah was in the front yard. They became acquainted and decided to be friends. Nancy was also a bit disturbed, and she was not the person we wanted Sarah to spend a lot of time with, but we were uncertain as to what to do about it. We decided to take a wait and see attitude, so as to not hurt Sarah by keeping her from the one friend she had made on her own. This decision led to major grief later on.

Sarah Loved Her Piano

Sarah playing the piano.

Sarah playing the piano.

Sarah's Education

Meeting the needs of a special needs child

Public Education

As I mentioned above, when Sarah came to us as a foster child about to enter grade three, she could not read or do any math. She had been enrolled in special education in her previous foster home in a different city. We also enrolled her in special education, and she had a wonderful teacher who had a very helpful teacher aide. Sarah was the only girl in her class and made good progress. We also helped her academically at home and read to her a lot. She continued with this teacher through third grade and the first semester of fourth grade. As I mentioned, she was also getting counseling privately to help her work through her emotional problems.

The second semester of fourth grade Sarah's teacher took a sabbatical and the long term substitute was a man who had very different values from our family's and from those of the previous teacher. Now Sarah was the only girl in the room except for the aide, and the aide left before the last period. Sarah began to feel very uncomfortable in her class, and was constantly asking about the things the teacher was saying that conflicted with our values. She also began to encounter problems on the playground she had not mentioned before.

As you probably have noticed in the pictures, Sarah was a very attractive girl. She began to complain when she got home from school that some of the boys in her class were saying "I'm going to lay you." This disturbed all of us. We spoke to the teacher and he wasn't really very helpful. He said he can't control what happens on the playground. The principal's response was that the teacher on playground duty can't hear everything that goes on. She did indicate she would move Sarah into a special reading resource room the last period of the day so she would always have a female adult in the room. We accepted that as a temporary solution.

Private School Education

The next year we enrolled Sarah and Jason in a small Lutheran school after a talk with the principal who had also adopted some special needs children who would be in Sarah's combination grade 5-6 class. In this class Sarah met a friend with whom she stayed in touch through the years until the time she left home.

Our families became friends, and we spent every Christmas Eve with them, and the children also went Trick or Treating together every Halloween. Sarah did well while she was there, but was still behind academically. It's hard to make up three years' work in just three years. Unfortunately, toward the end of that year, the school announced that it would have to close the next year.

For the rest of that last term I looked for a private school that would meet the needs of both children. All of the Christian schools were geared toward the academically gifted. We didn't have many other kinds of private schools in the area. I was beginning to despair when I was talking to some other moms after a Community Bible Study meeting one Wednesday. I asked if any of them knew of any other schools I hadn't tried, and one recommended a new school -- a small principle approach school. I began to investigate it.

When I investigate a school, I first talk to the principal, and then I observe classes. I liked what I saw, and was confident Sarah would not only get the individual attention she needed, but her teachers and the parents of the other students shared our values. Any socialization Sarah got at this school would be healthy, as teachers were aware of everything that went on during recess and continued to teach character values as they monitored playground activity.

By this time, although I knew the children were doing well at The Master's School, I was meeting a lot of parents who were home schooling. I very much wanted to be one of them, but Kosta didn't think I could handle it, in spite of my teaching credential. The more I learned, the more I wanted to bring the children home, but it was three years before that happened.

We Begin Home Schooling

In 1988, Kosta got a contract to to work at Boeing in the Seattle area. At the time, I was teaching part time at the Master's School. During our spring vacation, we decided to go visit Kosta, who was living in a small apartment. We stayed in a motel nearby for that week.

We went to play in the snow with friends from Kosta's temporary church home in Enumclaw one Sunday afternoon, and somehow, Sarah's sled got stuck in a root and she asked Kosta to free it. In the process, he severed a tendon in his arm and needed surgery. That meant that either he would have to quit his job or that he would need to have us join him in Seattle.

I called my principal, and he convinced Kosta that I would be perfectly capable of home schooling the children. We called the school district in Auburn, where we found a house to rent, and they were very cooperative. So our home schooling adventure began there in Washington.

We continued home schooling until Sarah left home, and since her foster mom was also a home schooler, the court ordered that I would continue to make lesson plans and supply the books, and Sarah's foster mom would continue to teach her during the rest of that school year. When she left that foster home, she moved to an independent study program in a public school.

Sarah's Education after She Left

By the time Sarah left home, she was reading at grade level and voluntarily keeping a journal. She liked to write letters to her friends and relatives. Her math was also up to grade level. While we were home schooling we traveled a lot to visit Kosta and incorporated the travel into our history and geography curriculum.

Jason thrived under the home schooling, and Sarah did well, but the last year she wanted to be in public school -- mainly to be out of our sight. By this time she was already sneaking out the window at night and we were convinced that once in public school, she would make the wrong kind of friends. We continued to teach her at home. She was still seeing her friends at church, at home school gatherings, and in each other's homes. She was far from isolated.

Sarah finally passed the GED before she left the county system to be on her own. After that, we didn't have much contact with her. We had taught her to cook and manage the practical skills she would need to run a household. Unfortunately, we were unable to teach her to be wise in her choice of friends, even though we tried. Given any freedom to choose friends we didn't know , she would choose the wildest ones she could find, even though she had many loyal friends who really cared about her.

Throughout her most time with us, Sarah also took piano lessons, and was quite gifted. For physical education, we walked regularly as a family, and Sarah also ran with her friend who was on the high school track team at least once a week. She didn't like competitive swimming so she was allowed to drop it after a couple of years. She learned to paint well enough for us to hire her to help paint the interiors of our kitchen and some of our rental properties. She liked to repaint her own room every couple of years. By the time she was 16 she was quite good at painting.

We Wanted Our Children to See the USA

Whatever your country,