Letter Box Contact.

Yearly letter box contact has been agreed and we diligently get the boys to write Christmas cards for birth Mummy and Daddy – regardless of indifference from our oldest and huge resistance from his younger brother – in addition we put pen to paper and write a letter updating them on the boys past year.

This has taken place three times so far, but sadly the boys have received nothing from either Mum or Dad – who are no longer together.

I understand that the situation must be tough for them both and I appreciate that it could be easier for them to try to erase the past and to get on with their lives. However, we hope that social services have explained the importance of this contact for the boys and for us as a family and that they are constantly encouraging both Mum and Dad to be doing the right thing and put their feelings to one side for the sake of the children. If that is happening then it’s clearly not getting any results, but actually I wonder if it is at all, after all this is the agency who have supplied very little information of ours sons past and have failed to get a photo of either birth parent regardless of many requests from us.

Of course all correspondence must go through social services and it is checked for anything inappropriate or upsetting to any party. Awareness of this ensures that we give extra consideration to what we say and how we express it, consequently we were most surprised to have our most recent letter returned to us.

We had written two things which social services had an issue with. Firstly we wrote that the boys were looking forward to meeting their new baby brother when contact was finalised for the baby to join the twice a year contact that was already set up for various siblings. Apparently the term ‘looking forward’ was deemed to be inappropriate, we have been told that as having the new baby removed from birth Mum would be a traumatic experience anything ‘positive’ in relationship to that would be hurtful and disrespectful.

Secondly, we have been told that our comment that out youngest was ‘still struggling to come to terms with the changes in his life’ and that we were dealing with difficult behaviour as a consequence was insensitive as it could be seen as judging them and commenting negatively on their failures at parenting.

Really?

I responded saying that we have absolutely no animosity toward birth Mum and Dad – in fact maybe surprisingly quite the reverse – and that we would never attack them in any way in what we wrote. I went on to say that being open and honest is an essential part of adoption and that I was confused that we were being asked to edit out truth and to ‘sugar coat’ reality.

They stood by their original criticism and insisted that the letter was edited at it is not acceptable in its original format.

This has angered me as yet again as an adopter I feel that we are the ones expected to ‘make it work’ for everybody else. I have often felt that social workers expect too much from us and have been frustrated in the past at being judged unfairly and being expected to tow-the-line regardless’ of us clearly disagreeing.

Maybe I’m just being a bit over sensitive and a bit touchy, but you know even if that was the case I think we have a right to be occasionally and wouldn’t it be nice for social services to respect that and acknowledge that?

As an adopter I don’t expect any kind of gratitude – in fact it embarrasses me to even consider that – but I do expect respect. Not for adopting, but for being a parent of a ‘troubled’ child or children and everything that comes along with that. In addition most of us have relationships – put under pressure since the children moved in, work to prioritise, homes to run, finances to juggle, we have to deal with schools, child minders, play dates, friends, illnesses… the list is endless. Yet on top of that social services expect US to put the feeling of the birth parents over our own and to ‘Pussy foot’ around reality – a reality that we have to deal with and live with every minute of every day.

There was a time when I was angry at the birth parents – for the neglect, for the resulting damage and for the lack of any responsibility, but I am long over that and now I am not even angry at the fact that they fail to write or send a card once a year, in fact in a perverse way I am just grateful for them giving the chance for us to be the family that we are – a family that feels like it was meant to be.

Yet I feel that social services are threatening that ‘harmony’, the resentment and anger at the birth parents that I felt Initially could indeed return and not because of anything that they have done (or not done), but because of – what I feel is – a huge injustice and imbalance from social services.

Surely that would be bad for ALL concerned

P.S. it’s somewhat ironic and very frustrating that the letter to us pointing out our supposed lack of consideration towards the birth parents was sent a month AFTER Christmas, apparently our correspondence which was sent to social services two months early had sat forgotten about on a desk. If only social services could show the same consideration and respect that they expect of us.

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Gold Tooth.

A greasy winter’s day a couple of years ago I was walking down the street, as you do, pushing a newly arrived Jack in his buggy and my goddaughter by my side. My little brand new family and hers were heading off for some half term shenanigans.
The three of us were walking a little away from the rest of the group. Sophie was deep into a riff about volcanoes and Pompeii. She’d recently done a project on both in school. She was excited and detailed in her explanation using her whole body to show me how lava breaks up through the earth’s crust. I asked questions and was quite taken with her passion (she is usually a quiet and at times slightly withdrawn girl). She went into more detail and kept talking. I was able to give her my undivided attention as my little bug was sleeping soundly in his buggy. We were having a good moment. I was thoroughly enjoying it and her, when suddenly a man stepped out in front of us and said STOP! He looked homeless, unkempt and he smelled of alcohol and bodily fluids. I pulled Sophie close and tried to push past him.
He blocked our way again.
‘No! Just stop for a moment.’
I felt threatened. I held Sophie’s hand and swung the buggy a bit so I could see Jack. Alert and scared. Could he have recognised Jack? A birth dad? A relative perhaps? My brain was working fast.
‘I don’t want to harm you. I don’t want anything.’ he said. ‘I just want to say something.’
‘Okay…’
‘You’ve cracked it!’
‘Excuse me? Cracked what?’ I looked around.
‘You’ve cracked it! Life! Motherhood! It’s beautiful. How you talk to your daughter. How she is so alive. And your son… I just thought you should know. I’ve followed you for a little while. That’s all. I’ll leave you alone now. Have a good day.’
And then he smiled. A big gold tooth blinked in the winter sun.
I was perplexed.
‘But …’ I started. ‘This is my goddaughter and …’
‘It doesn’t matter. It’s beautiful. Enjoy it.’
I smiled back. I had nearly waffled on about how neither were actually mine. How I didn’t feel I knew the first thing about motherhood or life for that matter. I’d nearly made that excuse about my son not being mine. I was so fresh to it all. But it was true that the moment was bliss. And he felt it too.
He shifted a lot in me that day. It’s still shifting. Some of it is about prejudice. I had reacted so strongly to his smell and looks. I had felt really scared. And I wanted to run away from him. But he could have been Jack’s birth family. I can’t ever really run from that. It was an ever timely reminder that it is up to me as Jack’s mum to build that bridge to his past, as part of his present and future. I owe to both of us to move out of my comfort zone to explore it. The man with the gold tooth gave me a precious gift that day. Amongst other that both children – in very different ways of course – are also mine.

Letterbox contact is here again…


Oh no – the pressure of having to do letterbox contact is here again!

Every six months, I feel the stress and pressure rise the closer it gets to letter box exchange.
It’s like going to the dentist to get a filling when all I’ve rather be doing is …. well…anything else. Absolutely anything else!
That feeling as the reminder letter arrives that it’s exchange month again.
The call to tell us the birth mother is fretting because the adoptive family of a sibling sent their letter on the first day of the month so where is our’s? – We still have a week to go… it’s been busy…… it’s still on the bottom of the to do list.

The emotional roller coaster

I don’t want to share details about my children with the birth family!

I don’t want to be reminded that they had them first!

I also don’t want to think about and be reminded of what they experienced while in their birth parents care. I already parent the result daily.

I don’t want to feel like I can’t gush about how much I love my children and how amazing they are, due to fear of causing upset and distress.

I don’t want some unknown social workers to be reading personal details about our children and our family.

It feels like that one last link is still there; which means despite paperwork to say we are their parents, they are still not quite completely ours.

I want to stop writing!

I really,really want to stop writing. If it was up to my husband we would never have started. But; I worry that my children will blame me later on when they are older and understand more about their life story if I stop.

I worry that by not having fairly current information on how the birth family are doing; as my children get older they might go in search of their birth parents before they are really prepared for a meeting, just to get information that they could easily have by continuing letter box exchange.

I feel bad for the vulnerable woman who is their birth mother and the loss she has already endured.

I feel pressured by the social workers who have to support the birth mother regularly as she bombards them for any info on how the children are doing. When we asked if we could reduce exchange to yearly, this was met with oppositional pressure from all levels within the department.

I look at our two most amazing children and feel a debt to my children’s birth mother for the chance I have to share their lives and have them call me mummy!

So here we go again!

I’ve just sent our 6 monthly letters. It took me 6 weeks to write them because it was a start and stop thing.

I’ve shared lots of superficial detail so she will feel a part of their lives even though I know she will never really know them like we do.

I realise this is a small thing to do that means the world to her and that she pressures the adoption contact team daily during exchange month, to find out if our letters have arrived.

I know she has constructed a fantasy in which she gave us our children and she believes one day they will come in search of her and want to be with her again. In reality; they were removed and it may be that they choose never to meet with her. It’s a big unknown.

I know that she will write back. That despite the challenge it is to her, she always makes a big effort…… I also know I should be grateful for this and that my children will appreciate the letters and cards we receive from her when they are older.

I’m aware that many birth parents are not able to respond to letter box exchange. That my children are fortunate in having current information and we can save every single response we get from our children’s birth mother and their birth family.

I find myself having to convince my children that it is their best interests that I write to their birth mother as they have recently started to question why I’m doing it as they understand more about the reasons they were adopted.

So when will it end???

I have taken the step to write and let her know that while our children are happy to share how they are doing with her, I will continue to write and support them. But if that changes; and that should they at a later stage decide they don’t want letterbox exchange to continue or they want to limit the information, we will prioritise and respect their choices.

I know that this will be upsetting for her and she will not really understand but, I felt she needed to be prepared.

I didn’t expect the social worker to call me after reading it and suggest that if the children decided they don’t want to do letterbox exchange in future, couldn’t we just do it anyway? Do the children need to know? Clearly we were not in agreement with this idea!

So when it ends, I do not know. Looks like were staying on the emotional roller coaster for quite some time to come.

Dear Grandparents.

Dear Grandparents.

Being the birth mum it seems that people simply put all the blame on your daughter, even the birth dad gets overlooked by most – regardless of the obvious fact that he failed our sons just as much as a parent.

Somehow it seems that it is always the mothers inadequacies that are ultimately brought into question and she who has the finger pointed at her for her failings, regardless of the fact that in this case mum and dad were still together up until the children were removed and indeed beyond.

As unjust as it is I do get it, dads can have a horrible habit of sitting back and leaving it all up to the mother or worse still just walking away from their children, their responsibility. It’s then when the – often very capable and to be admired – mothers have to stand up to the plate and keep returning those balls no matter how fast and relentlessly they keep coming.

But not all mothers can manage and can you not see that your daughter was possibly set up to fail from way back, maybe even from the very start.

And fail she did – horribly, yet does the responsibility for the children being taken into Care really fall on her shoulders alone?

I read her report, I know that she didn’t have the best start to life herself. It seems that you failed her – failed to teach her what a parental role fully is, failed to instil the virtues and the sense of responsibility required. Maybe even failed to teach her love.

You failed her and in turn did you not then fail our sons and their siblings too?

Where were you when she was clearly struggling? Where were you when your grand children were hungry, dirty or left alone?

Where were you when social services stepped in?

She was little more than a child when she first became a mother, even if you had experienced similar failings in your upbringing, you would have had maturity and one would hope wisdom – surely you knew better.

I know that you lived locally, I’m pretty sure that you must have been aware of how bad things were getting and how your grandchildren were suffering.

Am I now fully pointing the finger of blame at you?

No and I apologise if it feels like that is so. Your daughter was an adult, she was married and had 5 children – she was responsible for herself and her family.

And maybe you did try, maybe you did step in and got pushed away, but nothing I have seen or heard suggests that was so.

So this is not about blame – after all what can blame possibly achieve? It’s just about recognition.

Recognition that the picture is in fact a much bigger one than many people see and recognition for your daughter who is simply not the ‘demon’ mother many now make her out to be and that maybe it is convenient for even you to buy into.

It may all have been beyond her ability, beyond her comprehension, and I guess she has paid the ultimate price for that and I’m sure she suffers every day.

However, I do wonder if you do too?

Good Grief

‘Bereavement is the price of love. Because love will end with death.’

I’ve been listening to a whole day – yes a whole day – about loss and grief on Danish national radio. In late November Danish Radio chose to focus on loss and grief across all their platforms. Amazing project. Moving project. Heart breaking programmes.

During the day, I listened to stories of people who have lost a loved one. Researchers, experts in all sorts of fields, priests, friend and those left behind. I listened to literature and music. All of which focussed on loss, grief and sorrow. I have since been revisiting some of the programmes on playback.

A couple of months later I am still struck by just how much the emotional landscape of loss and grief resembles some of the strong emotions associated with adoption. I have lost friends and family members. Just yesterday I lost a childhood friend to breast cancer. A beautiful bubbly warm woman, who leaves behind two daughters and her husband. As well as her family. And her friends. She took a part of my teens with her. Secrets only she and I knew. And now I can’t share them with anyone. It reminds me how lonely and private loss is. There’s isn’t much you can do with it, except acknowledge it. It can’t really be shared. But you can be there. I like the English phrase ‘I’m sorry for your loss.’

In our western world we are appallingly bad in dealing and talking about death, loss and grief. In any form, but death in particular. It’s nothing to do with us. Until it is. And it will happen to us all. That much is certain.

Many people who have lost a loved one say that those who have not, do not have the imagination to understand what such a loss might mean. It is simply impossible. That rings true to me. It is not the loss of a job or a divorce. Those pale in comparison to true bereavement. This was a point made again and again on the day on the ether in Danish. I understand that. And yet, it grates with me, because grief in all its shades is real. I don’t like to diminish that.

Loss has hit me. It is hitting me. Sometimes it hits very hard. But it is true I have never lost a really close loved one. Losing my child is simply unthinkable. Or my husband.

The loss(es) of adoption has been compared with the death of a loved one. I know I’m not the first to make that comparison. The same has been said of adoption breakdown. It’s the irrevocability of the situation that calls for the comparison. As in you will never see your loved one again. All ties to the original family severed. This fact is at the heart of the criticism of adoption. Reasonably so. In my opinion.

Our children have experienced loss that for most of us I think is beyond our capacity to understand. ‘Bereavement is the price of love.’ Love in adoption is a complex concept. Despite everything, there is love between the children and their first parents. However complex, tainted and contradictionary. However hard adopters may find it to feel any warmth towards the birth parents, the love is there in some form for our children. In bereavement there is no place for that love to go, the object is gone. So we suffer alone. Bereavement is love without a home.

The deep sense of sorrow that comes with bereavement is life long. If we have not experienced it ourselves we will still need to relate to the fact that our children have. They won’t just get over it. Or snap out of it. And love won’t just heal that wound. It will go a long way, but this is different. Fundamentally.

A few years ago I saw the extraordinary film made by Amanda Boorman of the Open Nest. About her daugther. In it there is a scene where her daughter meets her first mother again. After years of separation. On seeing her the daughter lets out a sound that still rings in my ears when I think about it. A cry, a scream, of joy, and lot of visceral pain.

Bereavement is in all its simplicity life-changing. It will follow you your whole life long. It can destroy you, or it can be the making of you. Or both.

Current grief research speaks about grief as waves, as water. Like you’re standing on a beach, at the edge of the water. The soles of your feet indenting the sand. Some waves will come in and nibble at your feet before they retreat. Others may unsteady you and then retreat. And some may sweep you off your feet. You will literally need to find you feet again.

Many speak of grief as a transformative force of nature. And how healing it can be to accept and integrate loss. Many take lost ones along with them – or rather us – for the rest of our lives. We internalising the person(s). Many speak of how the dead or gone become a muse. I have two such muses. I speak with them often. And I hear adoptive parents talking about how their children talk to their families.
Again the role of a muse rings true to me.

Grief is not an illness although it is often treated as such. As something to be endured until you come out on the other side. Healthy and strong, as you were before you lost. But it will not be as it was before.

Because: No…. sorrow wont leave you. Sorrow will catch you up if you try to outrun it.

Grief needs space when it rears it’s ugly powerful head with regular interval. Space and acceptance are the saving graces when it comes to periods of intensive grief. Feed and nurture it like a plant. So it will take up the space that it should. Not too much and not too little. But just the right amount. The respectful amount.

I love the notion of the presence of the dead. Or those who are no more. They won’t leave. And they are welcome. They are here.

Espen Kjær, the journalist and bereft dad who was a driving force behind this day on the Danish Radio, relayed something a wise man told him after he tried to make sense of the loss of his son: The impression he left in you is like hand print on your heart. It will be as fresh now as it was the first time you laid eyes on him.How is that any different from the imprint our children’s parents and perhaps siblings left on their children?

It is a HUGE problem when the world around don’t acknowledge grief. People now are scared of it. Grief could be contagious you know. Many (most?) shy away from the bereaved because we in our culture have lost our way of connecting with it. Oddly enough the Victorians seem to have gotten one or two things right about bereavement. The black clothing for full mourning, and mauve for half mourning. Locket with hair of the deceased. Beautifully ornately arranged. Works of art. The Victorians had strict codex for when to wear what, for all the world to see. I wish we had something similar. A uniform of loss. And many more rituals stretching out from the life lived into a life with those who live no more.

We the adoptive parents are the squeezed generation. Often older parents ourselves our own parents are ailing. I know many adoptive parents who have lost their own parents. Even just in the last 12 months. I know many bereft adoptive parents.

When we do not speak of the dead and gone, when we gloss over it or remark that surely it must be over by now. Or how well someone is handling their grief – i.e. how little they bother us with it- it feels like silencing their presence, and it is like losing them all over again, as Kjær put it.

Two out of three bereaved feel let down by those around. People are scared of grief. And of people who are bereft. Perhaps because it touches on our own mortality. And grief. And pain.

As adoptive families we live with bereavement whether we like to admit it or not. Our children live it every day. So how can we as parent support them? Can we recognise it from another angle? From their height?
The words from the day on Danish Radio for the bereaved still sit with me. It asks questions of me.

How well do you understand your child’s loss?

This question humbles me.

The Worst Babysitter


My partner and I don’t go out together leaving our sons very often at all, in fact over the five years they have been with us I doubt that it has even been as often as ten times. We have been out individually with friends while the other stayed and looked after the boys on a number of occasions, but even so it’s a rarity that they don’t have both of us to kiss them good night and tuck them up in bed. It is an important part of the day and we know that both the boys get such a lot from the routine of showering, us drying them (still at 10 and 11 they seem to love the nurturing and intimacy that being cocooned up in a big warm, fluffy bath towel and wrapped in our arms brings) and settling down with a book before they go off to sleep.

Not going out is not any kind of sacrifice, we are older parents who are more than contented with what family life has brought and we never feel that we are missing out in any way – in fact quite the opposite, I think we relish the laziness of quiet nights in and the opportunity to recover from our busy days.

However, when we do leave the boys we of course need to have a reliable babysitter and until quite recently we were very fortunate to have a young neighbour who was more than willing to sit for us. The boys really like her and were comfortable being left with her and we loved the fact that we not only got a lovely and very responsible young lady, but in addition we were reassured that her mother (a very accomplished parent) was just 4 doors away.

Of course even with this level of confidence and knowing that the boys would be fine, the first couple of times we left them we had our phones out on a lap and in ‘vibrate mode’ for the whole evening, in fact I had to stop my partner from texting the sitter every few minutes asking if things were OK (it was probably every hour or so, but it felt so much more).

All was good until our wonderful neighbour had the audacity to selfishly go off to university. Fortunately the next time we were going out a good friend hearing of our predicament offered to sit the boys, they were excited as they have a great relationship with this friend already – so everybody was happy.

We left the usual instructions of the bedtime routine and said that as it was a weekend they could stay up a little later until 8.30 or ‘maybe even 9.00’ as a special treat. Four years into being a family we were far more relaxed than in the early days and barely gave thought to the situation at home and just got on with enjoying our night out, on our return we quietly entered the house and as we took off shoes and coats, fussed the dog and grabbed something to drink we were both a little confused that the sound coming from the TV was in fact – children’s TV. It was 11.30 at night and as neither of us had any idea that children’s TV was even on that late in the day we were somewhat thrown, I am of an age when children’s TV went off at 5.45 (Magic Roundabout) and it’s never on much later now for our boys.

Assuming our friend had been exhausted by the boys and had just fallen asleep the moment they went to bed without even changing channels, we quietly made our way into the Reception room.

Yes indeed our sitter was asleep – rather amusingly on his back clutching a half full glass of wine to his chest. Far more surprising though was that he was flanked by our sons, wide eyed and with beaming smiles as we entered the room they turned and said –

‘We love J being out babysitter he lets us stay up really late and look he brought us treats too’. As I surveyed the coffee table I was somewhat perturbed to see empty coke cans, crisp packets and empty chocolate and biscuit wrappers.

The excited conversation woke our friend and as he sat up (still clutching his wine glass), he smiled a rather cheeky smile and said ‘the boys have been fantastic, I figured they deserved a few treats’.

There was a time when we would have been really upset, we would have felt betrayed and let down by our friend, but we have relaxed as we have eased into our role as parents and consequently we immediately saw the amusement in the situation – and indeed the sheer joy in the boys faces.

Of course now the boys want J to babysit every time and we have been more than happy whenever he is available to arrange that and strangely enough even without any pressure from us, he now makes sure that they are tucked up at a sensible time and not full of sugar.

He hasn’t acknowledged it, but we think he realised just how much easier that is for him, which is indeed something we learnt very early on.

Finding Me a Family.

Not me; I have one. Rather some reflections on the series on Channel 4 that ran before Christmas and on a recent blog in the context of us receiving our first contact letter from one of our child’s siblings, because ultimately it might turn out to be “Finding My Family” for them, in the fullness of time.
Firstly, how utterly heartbreaking it all was. Even though there was little exposure of the circumstances under which the children came to be looked-after, why they were removed from their birth-parents, we who have adopted and therefore have had access to case files know how much more heart-break there is above and beyond children being in foster care and looking for a forever family.
When we read our child’s case file, since they were removed from their birth mother the moment they were born, most of the file was a harrowing account of birth mother’s life from early childhood and how, to all intents and purposes, she never really had a chance from the get-go. That was hard to read; it truly personalised the context in which our child came to be with us and made me angry in many ways that the vulnerable child that was our child’s birth mother wasn’t protected and supported – we felt that if that had happened, she would not have gone on to have had five children removed from her care. And that the utterly gorgeous person who is our child would not have the heartbreak in her life that will now inevitably come when she is older and able to fully understand why she was removed from her birth-mother’s care. How much better for her never to have known us and therefore never to have that in her future? That’s an actual question, not a statement.
Secondly, the siblings bit. There was a little family of four siblings in the programme, looking for a forever family. The programme told us that if no adoptive family were forthcoming in the immediate future, the four would be split into two or even adopted separately. How utterly heart-breaking was that thought? Of course what we did not see or have explained in the programme is that sometimes the eldest of the siblings do not experience a childhood at all in those situations being instead the surrogate parents, even at that young age, and the ramifications that might have for their development. But it seems counter-intuitive to split up siblings.
In our child’s case, the siblings (some full, some half – that’s a genetic and somewhat cold view of the world in my view, but that’s another story) were all born before and removed from their birth-mother’s care. Our child is the youngest of the group (as far as we know at the time of writing) and therefore never knew them, even intuitively or unconsciously. For five years we battled to find out where they were, to get contact in place – and it was a battle, believe me, one that we almost relished fighting on behalf of our child – and for five years we heard nothing from any of their families, despite sending letter and photos and saying how much we were longing to hear from them on behalf of our child. We were upset and disappointed and sometimes furious, to be honest.
And then wholly unexpectedly, a letter and some photographs landed on our mat this week. Be careful what you wish, or battle, for. Because unexpectedly for me at least, it triggered highly conflicting emotions. I thought I would feel joy that finally it had happened, that we had been answered after all that time, happy that our stories, photos and pleas had not just disappeared unresolved into the ether.
But would it have been easier to explain years later how hard we tried, unsuccessfully, we tried sweetheart we really did – look at all the letters we wrote for you; now let’s just carry on being us three, shall we? Now that’s not even a rose-tinted, unrealistic and frankly stupid option. Now there’s a sister out there, who looks a bit like you, see, an older sister that you’ve often said you wanted. I’m full of fear for our child and for our cosy family. But also full of hope. But also full of anxiety. And joy. And panic. And happiness. And trepidation. And optimism. And dread.
But I look at what might happen to those 4 children from the programme and how indescribably painful the separation would be. And how they might grow up with a longing the source of which especially the smallest ones may not even understand or be able to articulate. And with a guilt for the eldest that she couldn’t keep her brothers and sisters together, even though it was never in her power. And I think we’re lucky in many ways; we only have to try to explain and manage the getting to know you process and hopefully an introduction to perhaps a life-long bond. It may not go the way we would like, we may bodge the explanation, they may not bond at all, they may never want to meet. All sorts of things could go wrong and we will feel responsible if they do, no doubt. But also we could be responsible for facilitating a wonderful new relationship for our child, one that will outlast us. Here’s hoping.
And here’s hoping those 4 lovely children find each other together for the rest of their lives.