A tale of two orphans — Casey and “Joseph” — results in very different paths

Flickr.com/Javier Kohen

Flickr.com/Javier Kohen

Our first image of Casey in April 1991 came through another American couple who were in the process of adopting a two-year old boy named Joseph (not his real name). He lived in the same orphanage as Casey did in Mrągowo, Poland. They snapped a couple of pictures of her while they received Joseph, pictures that we’ll cherish forever. We kept in touch over the years, sending Christmas cards and photos of our children as they grew from infancy to toddlerhood to middle school and high school.

We led different lives.

They lived in a rural area, were very conservative and devoutly religious. We lived in a famously liberal, affluent suburb outside of a world-class city. We were active in our local Episcopal church, but our connection was more social than spiritual.

Every Christmas I’d share their cards and photos with Casey, re-explaining the nature of our connection. But as she reached her teen years, she reacted as most teens would – superficially. She poked fun at Joseph’s ears (poor kid did have elephant ears that stuck out) and sniffed at his involvement in church groups, scouts and his aspiration to become an auto mechanic. He was certainly not marriage material for Casey Brooks.

After Casey’s suicide, I tracked down Joseph’s father online; we’d lost touch. I wanted to break the tragic news to them but also wanted to know how Joseph was doing, especially in light of my discovery of attachment disorder. He was older than Casey when he was adopted from that orphanage. Surely there was emotional residue from his longer time there. I needed to understand more about Joseph’s life narrative since I knew so little about Casey’s. I emailed Joseph’s father hoping I’d get a reply, but “teen suicide” is a toxic subject and most parents slam the door shut.

Joseph’s father did write me back. His response was both illuminating and unsatisfying.

They had one biological son but wanted another child and couldn’t conceive a second time. Joseph was the product of a neighborhood affair, and spent much of his first year at home in a rocking cradle. His birth father was legally blind and couldn’t care for him, so he and Joseph’s birth mother agreed to give Joseph up for adoption so that he could have a chance for a better life. He had been in the orphanage in Mrągowo for less than 6 months before he was adopted and, according to his adoptive father, bonded to his adoptive mother “amazingly fast.”

His life since then had been pretty normal, much like Casey’s. He adored his older brother and his dog, loved NASCAR and entered a training program in auto mechanics at the age of 22. His father admitted that Joseph had some learning disabilities and issues with his eyesight, but nothing like that rages and outbursts we’d seen in Casey.

This left with me with a multitude of questions.

  • Was his father being truthful with me?
  • Were they in denial as I had once been?
  • Did they even tell Joseph about Casey’s suicide for fear of freaking him out?
  • Was the fact that Joseph had been at home for his first year rather than institutionalized a deciding factor (as adoption experts assert)?
  • Was Joseph’s “older brother” a critical source of security for him? Should we have given Casey a sibling? Was her dog Igor not enough?
  • Were Joseph’s parents simply better parents than we were? Were we just complete failures?
  • Should we have been more conservative and devout?

Would any of this have made a difference in whether Casey lived or died? Why would two children from similar circumstances go down such different life and death paths?

These are the kinds of questions a grieving father grinds through every day for the rest of his life.

4 responses

  1. Great post. I was checking constantly this blog and I am impressed!
    Extremely useful info specifically the last part :
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  2. Hi Annie – I do believe that attachment disorder had to be somewhere at the root cause of her downfall. But what triggered such a permanent and irreversible solution? Suicide is so often impulsive, and those urges are hidden from view. So no one sees it coming.

  3. Oh, yes….I know. I know about the questions. Every day, all the time, it is “if only”, or “what if I had just….” relating to my son’s suicide this past fall. Ilya, adopted from Russia had many challenges. Though fewer, I’d though, than his biological sister who is working through them valiantly.

    But, shortly after my son Ilya’s suicide, the daughter of my colleague killed herself. Brigit was not an orphan, always loved, and dearly cherished….she grew up surrounded by many friends (my older daughter being her best friend for years), no school problems, no health problems, no emotional problems, Brigit grew up with a family of lively, loving siblings, wholesome activities – church choir, girls club, dance classes. She was a happy girl, but in one moment something got the better of her. It was so unexpected that her parents and even her friends asked the police to check for foul play.

    There are so many variables. We want to know – What Caused This? And we never will know.

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