Holly Richardson: Love Comes with Pain, and Heartache, and Worry, and Sorrow — but It’s so Worth It

Courtesy | Holly Richardson Because of Angelia’s diagnosis of hydranencephaly — meaning she had fluid where most of her brain was supposed to be — and her prognosis of a very short life, the Richardson family made a conscious effort to treasure every moment they had with her.

Then, in 1995, I learned what anguish felt like when one of our daughters did die, Alexandra, a sweet little girl with Down Syndrome. I learned the deep, devastating grief of burying a child. I clearly remember the long, anguished nights wondering “Why me?!” and “If only,” the soul-crushing pain that leaves you breathless and drained.

In 2005, a second daughter passed away. Elizabeth was born with multiple disabilities and was given a life expectancy of one year. She died a few weeks after she turned 17. Once again, the slog through grief began and once again, the sun broke through the clouds as we made it through the hardest months of grieving.

In the early summer of 2007, my husband and I had a full house. In the middle of June, I got a forward of a forward of a forwarded email, desperately seeking a family for a little girl who had just been born.

This baby was missing most of her brain and would be severely disabled all of her short life – and she needed a family.

After a family council and a frank discussion of what it would mean, we all knew we wanted to be her family. When she was 9 days old, she came home from the hospital, straight into our hearts. Because of her diagnosis of hydranencephaly – meaning she had fluid where most of her brain was supposed to be – and her prognosis of a very short life, we made a conscious effort to treasure every moment we had with her.

We named her Angelia for the sweet angel that she was. She couldn’t sit up or roll over – or even hold her head up, but she could be held and loved and – so she was! That sweet baby was held almost every second she was awake. I typed many a blog post with her on my lap and when all the other kids were at school, the two of us would laugh and giggle and sing – and even twirl around the living room. And pink – there was lots and lots of pink – pink ruffles, pink bows, pink fingernails and pink toes.

I knew there would be a coming day of sorrow, but I did not guard my heart or hold back in loving her. In fact, I opened my heart as wide as I could. I poured myself into her. I cherished her. I adored her – and I wanted her to know it. She was blind and could never see my face, but she felt it every day as I held her close to me. I touched her and talked to her, held her and sang to her for hours – even though that’s not something I’m particularly talented in.

When she was 3 ½, she left us on a cold February morning, three days after I had been sworn into the Utah House of Representatives. My heart broke into a million pieces, as I knew it would.

It remains one of the hardest losses I have ever experienced. The tenderness lingered longer and the tears still come – and yet I have never, ever, regretted adopting our sweet Angelia. This weekend, we will celebrate her 10th birthday and the gifts she brought to our family.

Sometimes people say that Angelia was lucky to have us. My response is that we are the lucky ones. She brought so much joy to our home and taught us so much. We are forever changed by her.

So why would we voluntarily choose to adopt a child we knew would die?

Because love is worth the cost.

Holly Richardson is eternally grateful to Angelia’s first mom for letting her be born and for letting her be adopted. Our lives are forever changed by your act of love.

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