Community Magazine

From Our Family, To Yours

By Amanda Bruce @RecoveryisCake

edbriceTo our dear, beautiful friends:

We find ourselves at the end of another rich, full, and heartbreaking year.  Brutiful, if you will.  And as we don’t tend to play by the rules, we share with you our unconventional holiday letter.

We started off the year with acceptance of the unacceptable; that between our genetics, and our bank account, we would never again have a second biological child. The acceptance for this is not linear, and it goes in waves.  Most of the time, it is a passing truth that we can shrug off.  We can be grateful for our other blessings.  But when Fiona asks time and time again for a sibling, it breaks our hearts.  Amanda has come back from a couple of runs crying, and John deals with it quietly to shield Amanda from having to take care of him.

The beautiful thing about acceptance, however, is that it makes room for other things. We decided to adopt a child.  However, throughout this year, we learned what many other families who have been through this process learn:  one does not just “adopt a child”. One goes through years of waiting and screening that brings up your own traumas.  Amanda was asked by our DCF adoption worker to go to multiple courts to produce records that her brother had incurred 20 years earlier – all minor offenses due to his mental health issues.  The system is broken – and because of this – she found herself openly crying in front of a court clerk in Lowell one June day, because the court clerk told her “you and your husband’s communication must be bad because he told me you were coming in yesterday so I can’t give you anything.”

We continue to fight for what is so easily given to others, but hope that the fight will lessen.  We were given the green light to go ahead and take adoption classes in 2019.  There are still many steps to endure, and we do not feel joyous just yet.

Individually, we continue to be a family who examines ourselves.  John continues to find connection and understanding in his Alanon meetings, and is the model of a fully integrated man as he still sees his therapist of 14 or so years.  He is the heart and the joy of our house, providing our family with laughter, scrumptious Sunday dinners, and a surrogate sibling for Fiona for the time being.  He one-ups his confectionary masterpieces each year at Fiona’s birthdays; for her sixth birthday, he produced a stand-up haunted “Vampirina” house.   He enjoys his relationship with his family in the South, who remind him of HIS heart and soul, his late Nana Amabile.  We were fortunate enough to visit them in Florida this year.  They are a delight to be around.

Amanda celebrated her ninth year of sobriety in July, and continued to be active in the “Resistance”, attending the “Families Belong Together” march with Fiona.  She is proud of herself this year for navigating some difficult social situations that involved Fiona and herself.  Many people say she is very much like her late father, but she is happy to report she left these complicated social situations with new friends, instead of alienating others like her father sometimes did.  She persists as a sober mother in a society that values “Mommy juice”, and is relentless in her determination to communicate and model a life of authenticity, feminist principles, and low stigma towards mental health, because she genuinely believes in these things.  As the year comes to a close, she is thinking about returning to therapy, as her stress levels have been increasingly high at her job as a co-owner of a mental health counseling business.

Fiona is a kind, mischievous, funny, spirited, perfectionist, smart 6-year-old, who has taken soccer, basketball, KidStrong, theater, and summer camp this year.  She tends to be quiet when first meeting people or encountering situations; we continue to observe how others can perceive this as maladaptive.  However, we know she is a “watcher” just like her Mama, and opens up if she knows you’re comfortable with yourself.  She continues to persist through her fears and doubts. She is aware that she cannot achieve what some other kids can athletically; she talks it through, cries it out with us, and tries again.  We think that’s badass.  Also, after her mother has repeatedly told her at the bus stop to “make at least three mistakes every day”, Fiona has started to say independently, (grinning) “Perfect is bad.”  She will turn 7 on January 4th.

Her Nana, our mother, Donna, suffered another TIA this year, just before her birthday.  However, the doctors at the rehabilitation center said they “never saw a stronger woman”, and she returned to her regular business after a couple of weeks.  She continues to show up for our family as Fiona’s caretaker after school; she completes homework with her, drives her locally, and puts her to bed when John and Amanda need a night out.  She navigates co-existing with a strong-willed daughter – a daughter whose emotional needs have intersected with her family of origin’s.   She enjoys seeing her high school friends of 50-something years; they still gather in the summer in Maine every year.

Amanda’s brother, Victor, continues to live with Bipolar Disorder at the age of 51.  He faithfully attends his therapy and psychiatrist appointments, and helps out around the house, raking and shoveling when he can.  We are grateful for this, as he has not always done this well.  He enjoys keeping up on politics, and always has a movie to talk about that he has watched.  But perhaps the greatest gift of all is that he was willing to meet with the DCF worker who is taking on our adoption case.  Much to Amanda’s fury, the DCF worker grilled him about his past.  However, Vic met this with humility, stating simply, “I think Fiona really wants a sibling.”

And we continue to miss Amanda’s father and Donna’s husband, Ed, who passed away in November 2014.  Fiona continues to talk about him as if he is an active family member, and puts flowers and trinkets from parades on his memorial garden in our back yard.

As the year draws to a close, we hope for you a new year filled with authenticity and connection to others.  We hope that you feel you never have to hide a thing.  We hope you feel you don’t have to post the highlight reel.  We hope you know we’ll never judge you.  We hope you know as long as you’re leading with love, no one can bring you down.


The Bruce-Ryan Family

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