Each of our children and grandchildren are a special gift. We love them for who they are, and taught them about faith and life. Each of them transforms us beyond our understanding.
Parenthood is an unfolding of realities that break down stereotypes and assumptions. A young parent’s statement: “My kids will NEVER do that!” may slowly or suddenly change to “I love and value them as they are.” We may wish things were different, but unconditional love places equal value on each family member.
Our daughter Tanya once wrote, “Out of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” She taught us that people born with FASD, suffer from Schizo-Affective Disorder and substance abuse have much to contribute to society. She lived through homelessness, prison, unimaginable trauma and indignities. She was seen by most as a “throw away.” Unconditional love could not remove the pain or heal the wounds, but love, caring and compassion were always needed. To us she was a precious gift from God.
With all her difficulties, she described life this way: “I was adopted by Laura and Larry Rorem at 8 months old. Their goal was give a child love and a home, teach about God, and give them values. I was raised by Laura and Larry Rorem. What I learned is — forgiveness, respect, kindness and God are ALL ABOUT LOVE.”
She was deeply aware of God’s grace and unconditional love. During painful times, she sought a faith community seeking unconditional love and acceptance. Each congregation I served wrapped their arms of love around her and us. Prince of Peace in Michigan was there for her and us when we received her first mental illness diagnosis. The same was true during our 17 years at Shepherd of the Valley in Juneau. Upon retirement, Resurrection Lutheran accepted her and us with open arms. When homeless in Anchorage, she found her way to Central Lutheran. In spite of frequent psychotic breaks, faith gave Tanya the foundation to face challenges and obstacles that her “no fault” disabilities placed before her.
Tanya illustrated and wrote about her experiences with mental illness. As a person of faith she stood up to many people who told her, “If you had more faith, you would not have these problems.” Knowing this was wrong, she once wrote: “Why do I believe in God? For Strength! If I only needed faith, I would be lost. God is in my soul and gives me strength. His gift is unconditional love. That’s what is special. I did not work for it. I received it. My faith is strong, so am I. God’s gift is free.”
The last two years of Tanya’s life was a struggle with terminal cancer. We had insightful conversations about death. She welcomed death, but was scared and wanted our presence on her long journey to her final breath. Unlike sudden death, cancer allows dying to be a deeply spiritual relationship experience that is purposeful, meaningful, and sacred for the one dying and their caregivers.
Tanya’s “living and growing” in our presence is over. Her “Good Friday” life of struggle ended with us at her side “letting her go” into the loving arms of Jesus, her grandparents and aunt. Her physical presence ended on Feb. 23, but she lives on as a major influence on how we understand and value all people. She died during Lent, but we chose to celebrate her life in the season of Resurrection on April 21 at 1:30 p.m. at Resurrection Lutheran.
We were privileged to be part of her journey. Her “Good Friday” life on the margins of society was one of hope in the promises of the Resurrection.
Tanya taught us to better understand the “the least of these.” She taught us to put ourselves in their footsteps with compassion — to enter into their pain and become empathetic, breaking down the “we/them” barriers and becoming “us.” She taught us to be understanding, compassionate, empathetic and passionate advocates. This is her legacy.
As Jesus instructed, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:40.
• Pastor Larry Rorem is a retired Evangelical Lutheran Church in America pastor living in Juneau. Laura Rorem is a member of the JAMHI Health and Wellness Board. Both are advocates for people with FASD and their families. “Living & Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders