I recently received a contact that one of the foster children I worked with years ago, Jessica, had passed away. It took me off guard at the moment. I had worked with this young lady many, many years ago, but my memories of her are just like they happened yesterday. I spent that afternoon trying to contact her former caregivers and feeling downright sad and sentimental. Over the years I enjoyed every foster child and youth I had the opportunity to work with – they all had their unique personalities and there was something good in each of them. I felt the same way about Jessica but there was a spark in her that made her a little extra special. She taught me so much in the few years I had the pleasure to be her social worker!
Jessica came to the LSS Foster Care program when she was about 6 – 7 years old. She had several issues that should have been obstacles for her. She had a significant hearing impairment. She had cerebral palsy which affected her mobility. She had developmental delays and seizures, which were sometimes challenging to control. But more importantly Jessica had a feisty spirit and she would not let any of these challenges get in her way. When she initially came into care we thought she had behavior issues. But with time and getting to know Jessica we discovered she was just trying to communicate with us and if we really paid attention and listened with our eyes and ears we could figure out what she was trying to tell us. And magically these behaviors dissipated!
I don’t know if Jessica ever realized this – but she was a teacher. She taught this young social worker many lessons that I have carried with me in my continued work with children and families. So I want to honor her memory by sharing the “Lessons Learned from Jessica.”
Jessica taught me that we should enjoy life – every minute of it. We should never take anything for granted in life. She may have had challenges but Jessica never seemed to let them get her down. She usually had a smile on her face and was ready to laugh at life’s silly moments. I remember taking her to Omaha for an evaluation at Boy’s Town. We decided to go to the mall after a hectic day of appointments. While there we rode on an escalator. As she got on and the stairs started to climb she got the biggest smile on her face. Her eyes got wide and she started to shake with excitement. She had never been on an escalator before. It was such a new adventure for her and it opened her world up – just a little. It made me realize there are so many little things in life that I take for granted and that I need to appreciate the little moments as much as the big moments in life.
Jessica taught me the importance of family. Although she didn’t get to see her Mom very often she still thought about her and loved her. When she did get to visit she would get so excited and happy. These were treasured moments for her. In my work now in the Kinship Program I think about Jessica and her family. I understand that even though kids can’t be with their parents – they really do benefit from being with family and having connections to family. Jessica also didn’t limit her definition of family. If she cared about and loved someone – they were her family. Her heart was nonjudgmental and very open to others. She was a very caring young lady.
And last but definitely not least, Jessica taught me to never set limits on a child’s dreams of what they want to be or what they can accomplish. We should encourage children to let their spirits soar! To judge and limit Jessica based on what appeared to be her disabilities would have done her a great injustice! She was feisty and spirited, yet loving and kind. If she wanted to do something she found a way to do it. She didn’t let anything get in her way. Her case worker in the facility who provided her services shared a story that even though they knew Jessica was terminally ill, she insisted on going to her volunteer job at a day care. She loved those children and wanted to be there for them. She wasn’t going to let her illness get her down. Her spirit soared right up to her passing.
So Jessica this is in memory of you. Thank you for being such a great teacher and a wonderful person. Thank you for modeling that a person can dream, love and just have fun – no matter who they are and what their abilities are! May God Bless you and all those who have been a part of your life!
Submitted by Dede Mogck, Kinship Program Manager