Pain of Losing a Little Brother

It was 1986 and one week before my high school graduation.  I was in the midst of studying for my final exams when a police officer knocked on the door.   He began talking and I immediately went into a fog.  All I remember him saying was that my brother had been in a serious accident on I-95 and we needed to get to the hospital quickly.  I don’t remember much about how I got there or who I was with, but the next thing I know is we are standing in the emergency room hearing an officer re-tell a story.  He said something about the brakes failing, and it “looked like someone had tried to repair them but just put them back on without  repairing the brakes”.  He told us that whomever my brother bought the the car from probably knew the condition of the brakes  (my brother had bought the car a week prior to the accident for $80.00).  The officer continued to tell the story about  heavy traffic coming onto the highway and how my brother hit the brakes quickly and jerked the car sideways right into the path of an oncoming 10-wheel Mack truck carrying ice.  My brother was broadsided and thrown from the car.  He landed on the road where the truck then pushed the car over him.  He was in a coma and the prognosis wasn’t good.  That was May 27th, 1986.


I remember that I needed to study and pass my exams to graduate high school.  I remember being on autopilot and doing what I needed to do in the midst of the distractions, tears and fear. Somehow, I passed the exams and returned to the hospital each day.  The second day, when I arrived to the ICU waiting room, I walked up on a conversation where the doctor was in the midst of telling my family that if “the next test showed another decrease in brain activity they’d need to pull the plug”.  I screamed, “NO! You can’t do that!”  I was so upset and flew into a panic…It was all so surreal. My mom turned to me and abruptly told me to get it together and I had no right to act that way because he was “her son”.  I don’t know why, but that conversation changed me forever.  For some reason at that moment, I felt like she was forbidding me to feel for him or that she was minimizing my feelings and grief.  How was I supposed to shut down my emotions and compassion for my brother who I’d been through so much with and dearly wanted to know better?

I have memories of my brother–but very few good ones.   You see, I didn’t lose my brother in 1986…I lost him many, many times prior to that.   Our lives began separating as early as I can remember.


When he was six and I was eight I remember playing in our yard with trucks (imagining I was driving away forever).  My trip would always be cut short when one of us seemed to be called into the house for something we’d done wrong – he more than me. I remember “escaping” on the sidewalk as I’d make play noises while driving my little orange, metal pickup truck away from the pain going on inside the trailer.  I didn’t want to hear his screams , yet I didn’t want to “drive” too far away in case Jeff needed me when he came back outside to play–IF he was allowed to come back outside.  When he did, he always returned to me so angry and hyperventilating.  He would try to tell me how much he hated me, hated our step-father, hated this place and how he just wanted to leave.  I would sit there numb under our trailer and listen in silence trying not to take on his pain – oh how difficult this was.  I think this was the beginning of our loss — perhaps it’s how I started to protect myself from something bigger than me.  I couldn’t protect him from the monster inside the trailer that continued to mistreat both of us!

Not long afterward we went to live with a family from the church. (You can read more about our story here.)  We stayed together in the first home, but it was during the second home where he was sent to live with a different family.  I lost him again…although for a short while. I missed my little brother, and he was the only human connection I had from home.  About seven months later we went to live in a group children’s home where we spent the next four years of our life.  While in the home, we were separated and lived different lives. He lived on the boys side and I on the girls side.  We didn’t see each other except at meals (and sat at different tables) or on the bus on the way to school.  Thinking back on it now, I really don’t remember having any “sibling time”.  I think this was the true beginning of when I lost my brother.  I am saddened at the lack of memories I have with him during this time.  I mainly remember hearing about times when he was in trouble or causing mischief.


His mischief caused him to leave the group home earlier than I did.  He left in February, and I “lost” him again. By the time I went home six months later, I felt like I didn’t know my brother at all.  Once we returned home, we began fighting and experiencing jealousy of each other. I can remember he would often scream at me at the top of his lungs, “I hate you, Patty!”.  I would scream right back at him just to get even.  I’m sure all this was the surmounting anger we’d both suppressed over the years as a result of the abuse, going into care and losing our parents , dealing with feelings of abandonment and having no real family/life skills to teach us how to treat each other.  We never got any closer…our relationship was permanently scarred.

I left home at 16 and left him behind — another loss.   Our relationship was scarred and I was saddened.  It hurt.  The “little mommy” inside me, the little girl that wanted to heal his pain was hated and I couldn’t help him. We never had a chance to heal that pain and that loss is still very real to me today.

On May 30, 1986, our family gathered around Jeff’s bed and told him goodbye. As the doctors feared, the percentage of brain activity had diminished so much that it was time to let him go. It was a moment I will never forget.  His body was lifeless, but it felt like he could just open his eyes and smile at us.  Since his chest was moving and the monitor showed a heart beat, he had to be alive.  He had to wake up so we could have more time to make up and be okay with each other.  I wanted my brother back.  It wasn’t meant to be…once they turned off the machines, it was a matter of minutes until there was silence — he stopped breathing immediately and his heart stopped a minute or so later.  The final loss…so final!  WOW!  What a moment — a moment ingrained in my memory.  My little brother slipped into eternity forever.  I know I’ll see him again on the other side and I can’t wait to give him a big hug and make up for lost time.  Oh how I’ve missed him.  I am so very thankful that the last time I saw him we had a sweet exchange.  Life is short…we never know if that moment will be the last impression we get with each other.

I’ve grieved and healed a lot since then and often wish my brother was here to share some of the good times with me. I’ve since learned that I’m not an only child and I have another older brother and four older sisters on my father’s side.  Although there are many miles between us, we try hard to keep in touch, but those relationships are a work in progress.  (Another blog post for a different day.)

Life is so much different now and there are so many blessings, but I often wish he was here to share in them.  I often hear siblings fighting and hear people talking about how much they can’t stand each other.  I just hope they don’t have to experience a loss as deep as this to know just how much they are missing.

My you rest in peace Jeffrey Lee Gunnels.  You are missed.

Have you ever lost a sibling?  Do you have an amazing sibling relationship?  Please feel free to share and celebrate here with us.


Foster Families Needed

Have you ever wondered if you have what it takes to become a foster parent?   As National Foster Care Month comes to an end, there is still a huge need for foster parents.  See if you “qualify” as a foster family.

  • Do you have a willing and loving heart for helping a child in need?
  • Do you have skills and abilities that help you to understand what children need to overcome trauma, grow through it and develop strength and faith to endure?
  • Do you feel that God is calling you to use the home he gave you, the gifts he’s bequeathed you and the talents he’s developed in you for the benefit of these wounded children?
  • Do you find yourself with extra time…perhaps you don’t already have children or you will soon have an empty-nest?
  • Do you have past experience as a foster child or foster family?
  • Do you have a desire for a bigger family and are considering adoption or fostering?
  • Do you have a desire to serve God and make a difference in someone’s life?

If you have any of these qualities you may very well make a great foster parent.  Whether you realize it or not, foster families are heroes.  Foster families are selfless people.  Foster families are in great need.

If you’ve even had a random thought as to whether you’d be able to foster, I’d encourage you to consider looking into it.

My husband and I were foster parents for about five years and had six beautiful girls come through our home.  We still “share” time with one of those sweet little girls and she calls us “mommy and daddy”.  We’ve had the privilege of adopting another little guy we fostered while his mother was going through cancer treatments.  Another one of our young ladies still considers our house her “home” when she returns from college.  There have been many blessings with these children and our time as foster parents was a meaningful experience.

There are so many children out there that just need to feel loved, accepted and welcomed.  If you have the patience, time and willingness to do the research for opening your home, go for it.  It’s truly worth it.

Have you ever considered being a foster parent?  Are you a current foster parent?  What can you offer to someone that’s considering this role?

after-care services need to be a priority!

Here’s some insight from another fellow foster care survivor. This post gives merit to the belief that the youth who age out of the foster care system should be a priority.

Foster Kid Phoenix

I was lucky. I was born in, and made dependent of, a county that has a contract with a really, really good wraparound program for emancipated foster youth. For the past 5 years, I have received therapy from a very kind clinician, been supported in finding housing, and given access to respectful psychiatrists who listened to my concerns and were always happy to let me try coming off meds. I have a full team of adults who genuinely care for me and my future. It feels more like a family, not at all like the faceless case-shuffling I experienced in foster care. I have been able to heal so much from their support – there is still stress involving money, education, and my trauma, but having a stable support system has allowed me to grow and learn about myself and the world.

I know that not everyone gets this…

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An Adoptive Parent’s Perspective

This post comes from a mom (who wishes to remain anonymous) who chose to adopt an older child out of the Foster Care System.  I think it’s important that we celebrate those who give a home, a voice and loving environment to the precious children in Foster Care.   She shares a very personal journey in her own words:

Deciding to adopt after learning of and accepting our infertility just seemed like the right thing to do. We wanted a family but didn’t know how we would achieve that but we were open to ideas. We researched all types of adoption—domestic, foreign, an older child, an infant, etc. Our road seemed to lead us to our local area’s foster-to-adopt program—so we registered for a class being held in our area. It was many weeks of education, awareness, discussions, etc. At the end, we decided to pursue with the intention of adopting our child—whoever that would be.

Our daughter is now a young adult, she was a preteen when she came into our home and family. Our lives were forever changed by this smiling little girl who desperately wanted and needed to be loved but didn’t know how to accept that, who struggled to live with a family she didn’t know and didn’t have feelings for, and still had so many conflicting feelings for her birth family and their situation—which was complicated. For us, it was a dream come true; for her, it was an answer to a little girl’s prayer. But, the realities of those sweet dreams and prayers were soon replaced by the realities of a very hurt child and very naïve parents. We were all struggling–we read books, we consulted therapists and friends, we worked hard but nothing prepared us for the path we were to walk and we continue to walk. Prayer became a way to survive because we were struggling terribly. This wasn’t just some random goal, it was our child’s life, it was our family—we had to succeed, we had to pursue, we had to overcome–it was our child—she was/is ours and we, as her parents, vowed not to give up on her, no matter how difficult. There are those who don’t have the conviction to make it work but I don’t judge them—they make their decisions for themselves and unless we walk in their shoes, we cannot judge others’ actions.

I believe in God. I believe He walks with us through this life here on earth. I believe He carries us when we’re weary. I believe He hears my prayers—each and every one of them—and He answers them, each of them, in His own perfect way. I believe that God has lead us to be the family we are today. Are we perfect?  Absolutely not. Have we made mistakes?  Plenty of them. But, we just keep trying and keep going. Without our daughter, we may not have these realizations. Having these struggles in our life has made us all the people we are today. This may not be the walk for everyone but it has been ours and we just keep moving. We are a family. A family that smiles, cries, laughs, and hurts together. How one’s family came together is different for many people but we just keep walking the path together, seeing where the path leads and dealing with all we find along the way. Adoption has brought us together and God has made us a family. I thank Him for my family, for my struggles, and for my life.


Getting Involved In Foster Care

Perhaps being a foster parent is not for you.  There are many, many other ways to help if fostering does not fit your family’s needs.  With it being National Foster Care Month, it’s a great time to find a way to be supportive to a child or agency in the foster care system.  If you’ve always wondered what it would be like to work with Foster Children, this is an easy way to get your foot in the door and experience this field first-hand.

Recently, I contacted the Children’s Home Society here in Palm Beach County and found that there are lots and lots of agencies under their umbrella.  I’m excited because I will be doing some group classes and graduation coaching with some young adults aging out of the foster care system.  The young girls in this facility are either teens in the system that are pregnant or have a child or they are homeless and pregnant or have a child.  Most of these girls do not have a direction or any idea of what awaits them upon leaving this facility.  I look forward to using my life-coaching, teaching and education background to help coach and empower these young girls as they begin to plan for life with their child on the “outside”.

Check out this agency at ( .  Be sure to watch the video, too.) If this one doesn’t fit find a similar agency in your area to get involved with the foster care crisis now.

When I met with the program director, she mentioned she has many ideas where volunteers may come and help.  She wishes she had someone to come in and teach these girls “mom” skills and fun “mom/child” things that these girls were most likely not taught in their childhood.  The program director mentioned simple ways her volunteers may help.

I’ve added a list here that include some of her ideas along with a few other ones I’ve found on two different agency websites.  I’m sure there are many, many more avenues, and it’s definitely possible to find a place to fit in and find something to enjoy.

  • Scrapbooking
  • Leading a “Mom & Me” class
  • Crafting
  • Teaching Sewing/Quilting
  • (Repairing/Constructing)/Handyman
  • Tutoring
  • Mentoring
  • Assisting with administrative work
  • Fundraising
  • Making Meals/Teaching Cooking
  • Teaching Life-Skills Classes
  • Organizing/playing/hanging with kids on “Sports Day”
  • Offering professional support for your area of expertise
  • Cleaning Services
  • Marketing/Public Relations/Development
  • Writing grants
  • IT Support
  • Relief House Parents
  • Driving
  • Coordinating Special Events
  • Gardening
  • Repairing Automobiles
  • Babysitting
  • Respite foster home
  • Fostering
  • Guardian Ad-Li tum

Most  agencies are individually run by a program director and there are a lot that are privately run by churches.  Depending on the needs of the home, there are so many ways to help these kids  experience things they may have missed out on since being in foster care.

Go ahead, I challenge you…take the leap and find a place to volunteer.  Remember, if one organization doesn’t seem to “fit” your family, then try another one.  This is also a great way to model giving and sharing with your own children.

Do you volunteer somewhere in the Foster Care System?
Do you have other ideas for serving in this area?
If you decide to get involved and serve,
please feel free to check back and share your experience.


Life After Foster Care

I was 13 when I left the very conservative Christian children’s home where I was safely living for four and a half years. We lived by strict rules and I felt very naive as I entered ninth grade at a public high school.  For any rising ninth grader, it’s already nerve-wracking enough worrying about fitting in, finding friends and looking good, but for me, I was coming from a place where we didn’t wear pants, didn’t listen to popular music or watch the hip shows.   I had been secluded and was SO out of the “know”.  I KNEW I was different.  I was nervous in my own skin, I was insecure about my secret home-life  and wanted desperately to seem normal — to just start over with a fresh start.

During the last six years of my life, I’d been grounded with a great faith in Christ…although I think this is where I learned how “legalistic” religion can be at times.  When I returned home I was abruptly told my mother was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and I’d now be studying the faith, too.  YIKES!  Instantly, I  became more confused about religion, I questioned my faith, I questioned what I had learned for the six years.  All of it felt very weird to me, and I was bombarded with more “legal” rules of religion.  We weren’t allowed to celebrate holidays, no blood transfusions — thankfully I’ve never been faced with that!  I learned we couldn’t associate with the “worldly”, so I wasn’t allowed to “hang” with kids at school and as a result had no friends.   I was told I couldn’t go to college for fear of “falling away”.  They believe that Christ didn’t die on a cross–he died on a stake.  My favorite rule was that we weren’t allowed to celebrate birthdays because there are only three mentioned in the Bible and at all of the parties there was a murder.  I still don’t understand that one.  Anyway..I learned about these and many other of their “interpretations”.  Nonetheless, it never felt right to me.

From then on I didn’t trust anyone about religion, but one thing I did gather and still believe today about the Jehovah’s Witnesses is that they believe Christ is the Messiah/our Savior, they believe he died and rose again, they believe there will be a second coming and a judgement day.  They do believe that some Christians will go to heaven.  Anyway, these are just some of the interpretations I learned between the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the the “average” Christian denomination.  Don’t we all have our quirks and crazy interpretations?  I know I don’t have all the answers.  In essence, I think they have the basic underlying truths of Christianity.  I only talk about that because it was an integral picture into what our home-life looked like.  My mom was studying and my step-father was not, which put another weird twist on it all. For the first few months, it all felt like things might be “normal” until…

It was New Years Eve of 1981 and the sexual abuse started over again, my brother was always “in trouble” and the abuse was abundant again. Here we go with the secrets again.  I tried to go to school and be “normal”.  At home, I was doing what I had to do what I had to do to be the “perfect” child and not rock the boat.  When I was 15, my parents said they didn’t have enough money to make ends meet.  My brother and I both were “homeschooled” – we really quit school and went to work full time to give our money to the family.  I didn’t like school only because I wasn’t allowed to associate with any of the kids and I felt out of place, so I *thought* this would be a good idea.  Afterall, I already felt “grown up” why not go out into the world and work to prove I’m responsible.

Not long after working on my own, at age 16, I finagled my way out of the house and moved out (another story for another day).  I felt it was an escape.  I didn’t get along with my mom because of the religion, my step-father was still abusing me and I knew if I could get out it may feel “fresh”.  Off I went, to rent a room from someone. My mentor got wind that I had moved out and immediately contacted me and helped me get back into school.  Soon, I found myself riding my bike to school, working full time, going to school full time and studying in my spare time.  I still didn’t feel normal.  I was estranged from my family after the “elders” of the witnesses came to my home and “disassociated” me from the Witnesses.  Now, my mom was forbidden to speak with me.  I was all alone, no family and no real friends.

Many children that age out of the foster care find themselves in this very same situation.  They are thrown into the big world right out of a foster home that no longer received funding for them. They are told they need to survive.  Many times, there are no benefits or assistance to help them transition, and if they do receive help, it’s temporary.  Any young adult going to college or the work world needs motivation, encouragement, love and empowerment from family and friends.  If anything, they need a home, family, or place to return for holiday, when life gets tough.

Here’s how one girl explains her story of emancipation: ”

The day I graduated from high school my foster mom told me, “You’ve been
emancipated. You can’t live here anymore.” My social worker showed up—I
was still in my little graduation dress and heels, my flowers, my cap on. My
social worker had never talked with me. [She just] told me, “I’ve called around
and found a shelter for you. You have a bed for four months.”
—Karen D., San Francisco

This is just one of many stories.  I was fortunate that I had God on my side – although I had turned my back on organized religion since I was so confused, he was ever-present and protecting me.  I was resilient.  I had the will to succeed in my heart.  I had had many great role models and examples of what a “normal home” *might* look like and I wanted it.  I had drive, I had passion.  I was “clingy” and shared my story frequently.  I think that helped others know what I was going through and willing to help me and invite me in on holidays.  I’ve made some special and compassionate friends over the years.  I was fortunate that I was blessed with a personality that has a “go-get-it” attitude attached.  I lived the saying, “Where there is a will, there is a way” and found ways to apply it at all cost.  I graduated at the top of my high school class, received scholarships to college and made my way.  No, it wasn’t easy…there were lots of troubles, dark lonely paths where I dabbled.  Somehow, I never lost sight of my goal and I finished.  Many of these foster kids haven’t been given the gift of great mentors, the gift of drive and tenacity or the ability to focus intently on a goal.  Those are the ones that need others to be intuitive and reach out to help them.  They need mentors.  They need us to come along side them and let them know there is good in this world.  They need someone to love unconditionally.

I hope as I share my story and the stories of others that you find a way to reach out in your local area and help someone in need.  I hope you can find a sweet spot where you can help the ‘least of these’.  They are God’s children; they are society’s children!

Until next time:
Matthew 25:40 …Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.


My Foster Homes and Group Homes

I really don’t remember when “they” came to get me.  I really don’t remember the first time we slept there. So many memories are just “hiding” in my mind, but I imagine I was thinking something like, “Where were we going?  Why were we going to live somewhere else?  What would happen to my toys?”  It’s almost as if I just woke up one day and lived somewhere else.

First, I went to live with a family from the church.  They were nice enough, but I just knew we were outsiders–even with their kids and I knew we’d be moving on when they found a good family for us.  The next family for me was ‘scary’ – but I really don’t know why.  They were a couple without children.  I really didn’t like them and never really felt any love from or for them.  Looking back now, I think they wanted kids and taking us in was their hope for a family.  I just don’t think they knew how to be nurturing parents.  My brother was not a good “fit” for them, and they soon made sure he moved on.  He lived in about 9 homes in the next 7 months.  Somehow, I stayed put, and only saw him briefly at church when our paths would cross.  I saw the misery in his little eyes and I couldn’t do anything to protect him.  I missed my little brother–he was my only connection to home.  I lived with this family for about 7 months, and I settled into routine and did what I needed to do be invisible and not get in trouble.

The blessing that came out of living with this couple is that I met my life-time mentors (I’ll have to write a post about them one day…How God brought them to my life is amazing).   I met them because my foster mom took me to do ceramics, and she’d go with us.   She tells me now that she fell in love with me from the beginning.  I believe my foster mom was jealous of her because we clicked so well – she and I had a bond that I didn’t share with my foster mom.  I really enjoyed hanging out with them. They’d take us out on the boat and do special activities with us.  If I was a “bad girl” my foster mom would keep me from seeing them or from attending the outing where they’d be.  Later, I learned that they are the ones who discovered bruises on my legs from the beatings they were giving me.  It wasn’t long after that I was reunited with my brother when we went to live in a group children’s home.

We first flew to Tampa, Florida and lived at the Faith Children’s Home (now called the Hope Children’s Home) there for about eight months until we were moved to Tallahassee, Florida as the first group of children to open a new home called, The Lighthouse Children’s Home.  Living in a group home was different.  Going there was bittersweet for me. I left a family behind that I didn’t care for too much and I was on a new adventure.  I got to have 5 other roommates (there were 3 rooms — a little, middle and big girls room).  I was in the “middle girls” room first.  I was only allowed to keep three stuffed animals on my bed.  Mysteriously, my toys all disappeared one day while I was at school.  I think that’s when I started crying.  I cried.  I cried a lot.  I was spanked for crying both at school and at home — they “gave me something to cry about” (I hate that line and won’t use it on my kids).  I was a fragile, wounded little girl.  I learned that crying was bad.  People made fun of me and it hurt.  I still cry a lot, but now it’s okay with me, and I don’t care what people think…I’m sensitive and that’s how God made me.  I own it.  It’s cleansing.

Living in a children’s home taught me many things.  I learned to love unconditionally — everyone is different.  Everyone”s situation is unique yet equal.   I learned to have a strong faith in Christ and to pray about everything and for everything (I even prayed for my first curling iron).  I learned that God answers prayer.  Both of these children’s homes STILL exist PURELY on FAITH!  I think that’s amazing.  They are debt free and have been able to do the work they do for children because of their donors, prayer partners and supporters.  I learned to be thankful for the little things.  I learned to be gracious and appreciative when given a gift — even if it wasn’t what I wanted.

I learned how to “sing”…okay, not well, but I learned the basics.  We were privileged enough to travel from church to church, sing and give our testimonies.  I was not one of the “bright shiny stars” but I loved it.  I found my love for performing.  I believe this gave me the courage to be a speaker and leader.

Recently, I was able to attend a reunion at the Hope Children’s Home in Tampa, Florida.  What an amazing visit we had as we walked the very same halls where we grew up.  It was heart-warming to see God’s work there is going strong and He is ever-present in his blessings.  Of course, it was very sad to see how many kids are living there now…seems the numbers have doubled.

Click here and listen to these kids sing about His blessings.

Click here and listen to these kids sing about His blessings.

I was moved to tears that day as I was reminded just how blessed I was to have been taught how to find the blessings in all I had.  I was a frightened little girl who had been removed from my family.  I was scared!  I cried a lot, and I didn’t understand my situation.  I knew that I had a roof over my head and I had a new family, the “Family of God”.  I was blessed.  They taught us well and to this day, I carry that faith and appreciation for the little things.

Reunion 2012

Reunion 2012

Looking back, I even learned from the not so good things.  Because so many children came and went during my 4 1/2 years there, I learned to let go easily.  It was always so difficult to have my “friend” leave me.  To this day, goodbyes are heart-wrenching.  Long-term or deep relationships are difficult for me.  I have so many friends, yet, somehow I stay guarded even when I try hard not to…still working on it, though.  The absence of family has taught me to be independent and sole-supporting.  I’ve missed having ‘familial’ connections, but I’ve learned to find family in those special people that have open their hearts and home to me over the years.  I’ve had some amazing holidays and celebrations with some warm and inviting families, many of which I’ve been jealous of because I missed out on the ‘warmth” of that family love they shared with each other.  I know I shouldn’t be “jealous”, but I own it…it’s just one of those things that I think every foster child goes through when it’s missing from their lives.  We become “society’s children” and find our family elsewhere, which is a blessing God affords us.

Even though I didn’t grow up in the “traditional” family setting, I turned out pretty well.  I had some amazing people that came through my life.  I was taught young to look for the positive in people and in life’s happenings.  That’s not an easy trait, but it’s one that has gotten me far in life.

Now, I’m privileged to work with other children that are affected by the system or are traumatized at an early age.  I pray I can be the same “light” in their life that many were in mine.