Late at night, after one of the worst days of my life, I walked through the front door of a home I’d never seen before, full of people I’d never met, carrying only a duffel bag containing whatever I managed to stuff into it before the Whitley County Sheriff’s Department came to my rescue.
In a short time, that new house full of strangers became something I hadn’t experienced in many years — family.
Family was a word that lost its meaning for me until that point.
My mother passed away unexpectedly when I was 7 years old and, shortly after my father remarried the following year, I was estranged from my biological grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins for the next six years.
For those six years, my “family” didn’t feel like family at all and the courts agreed that the environment was not a good one for me.
But things were different, much different, when I was placed in my foster home. The two years I spent with them taught me what it meant to be part of a family. We ate dinner together. We talked about our days. We went for walks and enjoyed each other’s company.
When I went into foster care, life as I knew it was over — and it was one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.
Not only was I fortunate to have a wonderful foster family, but I also had support from many other entities. The Whitley County Department of Child Services case worker was essential to finding a family that was a good fit for me; my Court Appointed Special Advocate was a voice in the courtroom for me; and I always felt Whitley County Circuit Court Judge James Heuer had my best interests at heart when he made his decisions.
But it was the day in, day out support of my foster family that I feel has largely influenced my ability to be the parent that I am today. I learned that not all parents have loud, aggressive arguments that keep their children awake on school nights. I learned that good parents are proud of their child’s accomplishments — and they aren’t afraid to tell them that.
Good parents are there for their children when they’re sad or upset. For all the times I didn’t have someone to stand beside me on my darkest days, my foster parents were right beside me through every triumph and tribulation in those two years — someone was always in the stands to cheer me on in my athletic events and someone was always there to stand beside me at every court hearing.
This family that had no idea who I was, opened its door to me and took me in as its own. My foster parents sacrificed their time and my presence surely impacted everyone in the family.
While I’ve often thought about how that experience was for me, it wasn’t until I got older that I considered what that experience must have been like for them. It takes a special kind of family to take on the burden of someone else’s mistakes. My life was a psychological and emotional roller coaster ride, and they hopped on to buckle the safety belt without giving it a second thought.
Though I was eventually reunited with my biological family and placed with them, my foster family will always hold a special place in my heart for the sacrifice they made for me — someone they didn’t even know.
Nicole Minier is editor of the Churubusco News and IN|Whitley County Newspapers.