Wednesday, June 17, 2009


It's been interesting to see how everyone is grieving Joshua. Well, actually, it's been horribly heartbreaking, but also interesting, in a way.

In the family I've been helping out with, we have very mixed reactions:

"Rosa," the mother, is being extremely strong for her kids. She hasn't had an easy life and hasn't been around for a lot of the raising of the kids, so they are - understandably - rebelling against her. She's doing a pretty good job staying consistent and enforcing rules, which is hard to do when you have a son who's bigger than you screaming in your face. My friend and I have been trying to help however we can - encouraging her to keep her authority, mostly, because she is the adult in the house and the kids will eventually learn that. Rosa likes the new place a lot but is worried about money (there's probably funds through August 31, then she's back to trying to find a place on just a few hundred a month - not easy).

"Jorge," or as well call him, "the big one," (he's tall and skinny, with a recent growth spurt), is just plain angry. He wants to kill the person who killed his friends. He talks a lot about what he's going to do even though he won't do it. "I'm gonna go and get me a gun..." "I'm gonna leave and not come back..." I'm not too worried about the running away because, as a friend pointed out, if he was going to run away, he'd run away and not text me three times in one day saying that he's leaving. He doesn't want to do anything. Free summer camp? No. Camping? No. Working for money? No. Going to Waterworld? No. All things that he wanted to do at one point. Probably right now you could offer him a trip to anywhere in the world, with a million dollars thrown in and he'd say no just to be contrary.

This kid also talks a lot. Not like a chatterbox conversationalist, but like lists of what he's going to do that's inappropriate/calculated to set people off. He's always been a little like this but it used to be that I could hand him food and make a joke about putting food in his mouth to have some quiet and he'd think it was funny. Now it's all violent and angry. And his answer to most things is just "Oh, well."

He's also really mad at us because we have talked to his girlfriend's mom (at the request of Rosa) to set boundaries for when she can come over (she was basically living at their house and driving their mother crazy). Also, for the first time in his life, there are consequences for his behavior and that makes him furious. He keeps asking us (although only in text messages, interestingly) to get out of his life and never come back. If Warren and I didn't have such a strong foundation of a relationship with him, I would probably give up and assume there's no hope. But I think somewhere deep inside him, he knows how much we both love him and hopes that we won't take him up on his demands to leave.

And no, he doesn't need counseling, even if he did see his friend murdered, because "I ain't retarded." Sigh.

"Luis," who we call "the little one," although I suspect he will end up taller than his brother, which would give him great satisfaction, is also angry. He's still young enough (almost eleven) that he has his little kid clingy moments. In the swimming pool, he wants to climb all over grown-ups like they're jungle gyms. I let him spend the night at my house one night as a reward and he loved it and played in the sleeping bag. He loves working the stick shift in my car. He can be really really sweet and loving.

Then he has his off days. Which are more and more often lately. On his off days, he's a monster. I hate to call a kid a monster, but I really can't think of a better word. He throws things, kicks things, screams in his baby sister's face, and is mean to everyone. Whenever anyone tries to talk, he yells "NO!" no matter if they're talking to him or not. He'll get quiet when everyone else is quiet and the minute anyone talks, he yells again. Sometimes it isn't words, it's just yelling. He laughs hysterically if someone trips and says he wishes they fell. He says he's going to do mean things to his three month old sister. He kind of howls. He threatens to go back to his grandma's house (where we think the gang members are waiting for them). He screams that he doesn't care. Oh, and he's not going to counseling either. (Although if his big brother would, I'm sure he would in a minute).

However, both of these kids have apologized sincerely (and I know them) to me within the last week. Granted, it was only about three minutes each, but I think there is something there. Regardless, no one is giving up on them - we've known them too long and love them too much.

As for me, I'm still waiting for it to hit me that one of our kids died. Ever since I started at that school and saw the area, I've been worried about when a kid I knew would be killed. This is the one. I didn't know him super well, but I spent time with him the week before he died. He messed around and got in trouble and didn't do school well, but he was smart and funny and loved his family fiercely. And another kid killed him and I don't even know why. But I'm still not really feeling anything. I don't know if it's still shock or if it's the fact that I've been so busy with the other kids or what, but I would have expected to feel more sadness by now.


Dennis said...

Your commitment to the family, in light of these challenges, is a beautiful thing. Thank you!

Jessica said...

Wow. Well, that's pretty clearly clinical depression.

So here are few more things to try, other than the adrenaline rush of competing against a mythical kid...(clever!)

(1) Depression happens when people think that negative things persist and positive things are transient. Instead of focusing on getting him to do something, just keep repeating to him that eventually he will feel better. If you can remind him of things that he enjoyed from time to time, that's good too.

Remember you're not trying to cheer him up, just get him to get the belief that he will some day in the future be genuinely happy, feel happiness.

THEN, after say two weeks pass, remark that he seems quite a bit calmer and happier, though you know he's still angry and sad. But wow, can he tell how much better he's feeling? It's so obvious to you. (Whether or not that's true, btw, it works.) Again: not that he IS happy, but he's happier and less angry. Enlist as many people as possible who you think won't tip their hand at all.

(2) Similarly, you have to get rid of the idea that anger/negative is persistent. So when he is acting angry, you can say something like "Wow when people die folks sure are angry for a while!" or other things that validate the anger while reinforcing that it will GO AWAY. Soon. And then reinforce it at intervals if you do see progress - not that he's "cured" or will never feel anger again, but point out that your assertion that he's going to feel better is being borne out.

As for the addictive behavior with the girlfriend, that's a little beyond me, but it does sound like he's trying to deal with his anxieties that way so you should probably find him a transition object, possibly with the help of the girlfriend. Just think about it as classic separation anxiety and you'll be on the right track.

As for getting him to actually do something constructive - probably too early for "help kids like you" types of things, but you could also try "you know, losing all interest in anything fun is a depression, which means we have to take you to the doctor. If you don't don't want me to take you to the doctor, then you have to show me you're enjoying something. Fake it till you make it."

And this whole pushing you away is classic depression thing too. Basically with people who are depressed, just treat everything like "opposite day." He tells you to go away 3 times? Tell him you'll be right over. (And I'm guessing he's texting you because he can't control it - texting is immediate release.)

Anyway. Hang in there. This is tough. An understatement, I know.

Jessica said...

Oh yeah. Btw, you sound like you're in shock. I know you have a great support system yourself, but they should be prepared (as you should too) that at some point, however you normally grieve will suddenly kick in.

And take vitamins!! Even if you eat well. Your body is feeling the stress - shock is a stress response.