About Our Guest Blogger Fr. Daren Zehnle is a native of Quincy, Illinois, and a priest of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, presently assigned to studies in canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
After my father died…
After my father died just before my eighth birthday, my younger brother and I went to live with our father’s sister and her family (our mother died almost two years later). Our aunt and uncle received legal guardianship over us, but did not formally adopt us. Nonetheless, the experience of having legal guardians is surely similar to that of having adoptive parents.
An important conversation
Very soon after we moved into our new home, my aunt sat down with me for an important – though brief – conversation that I remember distinctly. (I presume she had a similar conversation with my brother.) I cannot be certain if I remember her words exactly, but what she said to me left a lasting impression and can serve as good guidance for parents in a similar situation.
- Be Honest
First, my aunt told me that she and her husband could not take the place of my parents; moreover, and most importantly, they would not try to take their places. Her frank admission was a subtle, though unmistakable, way of telling a seven-year-old boy that his parents were important, loved, and irreplaceable. What was more, my parents would not be forgotten and that meant I could talk about them and share memories of them if I wanted to do so, not only at that moment, in the days, months, and years ahead.
- Be Welcoming
Second, my aunt went on to tell me that my brother and I would be loved as their own children and counted as part of their family in all things. Though I think I implicitly knew this, it was important for me to hear her say it because it made our reception into the family more concrete. By making us feel welcomed, we did not feel as we were weekend guests (which we sometimes were previously) who simply overstayed the weekend.
- Be Flexible
Third, my aunt told me that I was welcome to continue calling her and her husband Aunt Mary and Uncle Bob, or I was free to call them Mom and Dad, as I wished and felt comfortable doing. This gave me a certain sense of independence and even control at a time when everything seemed to be falling apart.
By being honest, welcoming, and flexible with me, my aunt helped to smooth my transition into a family, a family to whom I was already related and whom I already knew. Even so, such a transition was not easy and her approach helped to ease a hurting heart by affirming the love I bore for my parents.