Saturday, March 3, 2012

Love is a Risky Business

Love is a risky business. If you’ve ever opened your heart to another person, chances are you’ve been hurt. I know this, and yet I knowingly take the risk again and again. I’ve had friends and family chide me for it- saying I’m reckless, saying I have to protect myself. But I don’t want to protect myself from love.

And now, once again, I’m nursing a broken heart.

This is how it happened.

In the Fall of 2009, Troy and I had just gotten back from celebrating our 20th anniversary in Jamaica, our daughter Cristen was beginning her promising career in the music industry, our son Taylor was thriving in college, and Evan was busy learning the countries of the world. Everything in our lives was going as planned. We were peaceful and happy, our proverbial ducks lined up in a row. Ha.

One night that September, with tears in his eyes, Taylor said he had something to tell me. I already knew. His girlfriend was pregnant. It’s one thing to have your college-attending son deliver this news, quite another when the girl is a Japanese exchange student, who speaks little English, is here on a temporary visa and, by the way, had just lost her student housing and had nowhere to go.

So we took the risk…we opened our hearts, our lives and our home to a little pregnant, scared, crying, puking Japanese girl who hid from us in Taylor’s room all day.

On Valentine’s Day of 2010, with only three weeks to plan, I threw a wedding for my son and new daughter-in-law Aya. Over time, I built a bond with Aya. I took her to doctor’s appointments and talked her through her fears of birth and parenting. I introduced her to comfort foods- she loved my homemade macaroni and cheese and especially my brownies. She made us sushi and udon noodles and Kim-chi dinners. We introduced her to Thanksgiving and American Christmas traditions, which she happily embraced. We did art projects together. We lived peacefully together and awaited the baby’s birth.

Ayumu Cameron Dexter came into our lives on June 1st, 2010, changing our world forever. Once again, I was rocking a baby to sleep on my shoulder, carrying a little one around the house on my hip. Ayumu called me ‘Baba”. Aya and Taylor nicknamed him Baba-boy, because he was so attached to me.

In the mornings I would hear his little footsteps running across the hardwood floor, my bedroom door would fly open and he’d pounce. He loved to jump on my bed, count to three, then dive bomb on top of me. In the kitchen, he would push me away from my cooking and stand on his tippy-toes, arms stretched upward to be held. I’d pick him up and his whole body would relax into me, his head nestled into the curve of my neck. I would carry him around on my hip as I did chores or had phone meetings. He watched as I sat with my friends around the dining table, telling stories and laughing, and then would climb up on a dining room chair and tell loud animated stories in jibberish, emulating us,  cracking himself up. God I loved that.
He and Evan would chase each other through the house squealing with laughter. He loved to climb into bed with Evan as I read him bedtime stories. He loved to use our cats and dog as pillows. It would make me smile to see him asleep on Taylor’s chest, or playing guitar with Ojisan (Troy).

I loved when Aya would sit on my bed with me and talk until late in the night. I loved that every time she bought Ayumu a new outfit she would run into my room to show me. I loved doing arts and crafts with her, and taking her for knitting lessons and jewelry making lessons.

This house was full with chaos and music and two women cooking in the kitchen and dogs and cats and lots and lots of love. I was so happy. I thought we all were happy.

And then, just before Thanksgiving, Aya told me her Grandmother was having heart surgery, and that she’d be taking Ayumu to Japan to visit. I was fine with that, until she told me they’d be gone three months and would miss Christmas with us. But I understood her reasons, and had to adjust.

In January, Aya wrote to tell me she didn’t want to come back. She was happy being home with her mom and Grandmother - happy to be back where everyone spoke her language, where she could fully express herself. Her mother and grandmother had fallen in love with Ayumu. She had health insurance there, and public transportation. Free schooling, free childcare. She felt free there. Even though she loved Taylor and all of us, the pull of home was stronger.

Taylor flew to Japan for three weeks in February to see his son and try to work things out with Aya. The three of them had pre-purchased tickets to return on Feb 9th.

I had been counting the days until February 9th, and so had Evan. He ran into my room one Saturday morning, “Mommy! Only six more days until Ayumu comes home!”
That’s when I had to break the news to him, the news I had been carrying heavy in my heart. Aya and Ayumu were not coming home.

She says she needs more time. She says she might be back this year. Maybe she’ll come back to Taylor and they’ll get their own place, maybe she’ll just visit. She doesn’t know.

Taylor is absolutely committed to raising his son, and told her so. But what if she never comes back? How do you arrange joint custody across the world when a round trip flight is $1500 per person?

Every morning I get up and pray. I have never prayed harder for anything in my life. I am calling on every angel I have, every ancestor in spirit. I have always believed that love could heal anything, yet Aya was surrounded with love in this home, and it wasn’t enough. How can that be? Is my theory about love wrong?

I worry about my son’s heart- so heavy a burden for someone so young. I worry about my husband who carries this grief so heavily. And my daughter Cristen, and Evan and all of my friends who took Ayumu and Aya into their families as their own. We are all hurting.

Ayumu’s high chair sits empty in my dining room. His toys are piled in the corner of the living room gathering dust. I can’t bear to look at them. My cupboards are bursting with Japanese foods and recipe books. Every time I open them I feel a kick in my gut. Troy and I have been living with this - this dull throbbing ache that has become part of our existence.

We talk about it late into the night. We might as well talk, since neither of us can sleep. Did we do the right thing opening our homes and hearts in that Fall of 2009?  We always knew this was a possibility. Were we foolish to risk getting hurt this way?

We came to the conclusion that even though we will never heal from this, we wouldn’t have done it any other way. Even though the grief is unbearable, I couldn’t imagine a world without Ayumu. No matter what happens, I am grateful to have had these two years raising him, and loving him.

I am hurt by Aya’s decision to stay, but I remember how hard it was to be twenty-two, to be young and lost. I know she is afraid and confused by her feelings. We all made impulsive decisions at that age. All I can do is to love her, and embrace her, and hope that the pull of her American family brings her back.

My precious angel
And I have to believe in my heart that somehow, some way, love will bring Ayumu back to us. The storm winds have been blowing hard in my life the past couple years, and yet, some beautiful blessings have come with them. I must learn to bend like the willow. If I become bitter and rigid, I will break. I want to believe in love, no matter how many times it hurts me. I want to let the cold harsh winds blow through me, bend me, change me. I want to believe.

Happier times:
Oji gives Ayumu a guitar lesson
Troy-san walks Aya down the aisle
Aya's birthday
Father-son tradition
Evan and "his baby", as he calls him.

Cristen and her nephew, sitting in the audience before one of Taylor's concerts

Stich makes a good pillow
Family time doing Christmas crafts
Christmas dinner 2010
Ayumu in his usual place, right on my hip.

Taylor and Aya's first dance.
My heart will not heal until we are together as a family again.


  1. Ugh...My heart goes out to you and your family. What a bittersweet tale of love and loss. It definitely is a complicated situation. Aya's desire to be home with her family is understandable. But it does cause such gutwrenching pain for you all. :( So sorry you all are going through this. You did the right thing, though. You did what a loving family would do. You're right about taking the risk to love. We could all lock our hearts away and never take a chance on love for fear of being hurt but, that's not living. I hope and pray that Aya and Ayumu comes back.

    1. Thank you so much Kelvin. Love is messy and complicated, isn't it? But when it's good, its definitely so worth it.
      Thank you for the prayers- that definitely helps. So much.

  2. Dearest Hollye, I am so very sorry to hear about this loss. I know how loving you both are, how giving and passionate you feel about love and live. I am hoping that she decides to come back, and I do believe in miracles, but sometimes people from other cultures have such a different way of experiencing life. I can understand that it must be hard for her, too. It sounds like you have done everything possible to bring her into your heart, home, and life. She is young and probably very confused, especially once she got back to what "normal" and "comfortable" felt like. But I am completely convinced that you can't, nor shouldn't, close your heart to love. I can't imagine you ever doing that. We will all have loss and grief throughout life, some much more than others. Yes, this is like a death. It will happen over and over, but that is just life. Love with abandon and passion! It's the only way. Yes, the pain is great, but you wouldn't want it any other way....NOT YOU. I am sure of that, as little as I know you. You have my sympathy, my prayers, my best wishes, and my loving compassion for your grief. <3 xoxo

    1. Thank you so much for your compassion, beautiful Cheryl. I guess you learned from the best, didn't you? Leave it to the girl who worked with Mother Theresa so come up with just the right words.

      Don't worry- I won't close my heart- no matter how much it hurts.

      Love you. xo

  3. Oh Hollye and Troy (and all of you), I am so very sorry to hear this. I had no idea. As a mom I can feel your pain, and the worry for the pain in your son's heart. You are all in my thoughts....I can only hope that she will, as you so eloquently say, feel the pull of her American family and be back in your loving home again.

    1. Thank you Lori. Keep believing. Maybe if all of us believe enough, it will make a difference. xo

  4. Wow, I can feel your pain in your words. I really think she wool be back, she must miss all of you terribly as well. Life without love is not living. Just know this is only the first chapter of Ayumu's life. Your son will forever keep his link to his son. Love like that never ends. I'm truly sorry for the longing you all must feel right now.

    1. I hope you're right, Carol. I hope she will be back. Somewhere in my heart I believe Ayumu will come back to us. I don't know how, or when...but I believe.

  5. So sorry to hear about your loss. I hope fervently that Aya comes back at least to share with your family this adored baby. I cannot imagine what you are going through. And I do believe love is worth the risk....

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Thank you so much Emily. I believe love is worth the risk, too. Thank you for caring...

    3. Dear Holly, I have never tried to reply to a blog before, but I have just read your touching story. I lost 17 years of contact with my birth family, but 3 years ago we were reunited. Never give up, love will win through. Whatever else, you had that wonderful time. May Allah bless you and your family. Aya was lucky ever to have love like yours
      Kay MOrpurgo

  6. That gives me hope, Kay. I was separated from my father at three, and never found him again until I was 39, so I do know there is hope. I just hope and pray to be part of Ayumu's childhood. I do trust that somehow, some day, he will be pulled back to us. Thank you for reaching out to me. xo

  7. This is not a 'usual' blog post. This story gripped me hard today and I applaud your bravery, your courage in sharing it here. The weight you carry is enormous, I cannot even imagine the pain you have endured. Why is it that each of us think we have the monopoly on pain, until we read about another and realize theirs is so much greater? I hold you in my prayers Hollye and cherish the insight into your life and the lives of your loved ones. Your friend, Elizabeth.

  8. Elizabeth,
    I know that each of us has a rich and complicated story, and a cross to bear. I don't consider my pain any greater or more significant than anyone else's. I have two friends who have lost children. Nothing compares to that loss. And yet I have my grief, and you have yours. And I'm sure whatever pains you endure affect you just as deeply. At least we have hope.

    I share my story because every time I do, I learn how connected we all are. We are all human, experiencing joy, victories, disappointments and unbearable losses. The fact that we can hold each other's hands and bear witness through it makes it livable.

    I thank you for letting me share mine, and for reaching out to me in such a beautiful way. I feel blessed for that.

  9. Hollye, My heart go out to you, and the family, cause I know you, you took such wornderful care of The Little one an gave her MOM a place to call home . YOU did what I would do If I had to take someone in... I love you for That...xoxo


    1. Thank you darling Jack. You have always been there for my family. Love you.

  10. Oh, Hollye, this is brutal. I have always been able to feel your love for these people lift off the computer screen and fill me up! Here is my loving-est impression of this painful story: your boundless, bottomless, unconditional and accepting love is what gave Ayumu and Aya their most important start. Nothing will ever replace that. As his mother, Aya will always understand from a visceral level what that means and that she can come back anytime. This void that she feels right now is not one any of you can fill no matter how much you give her and how much she accepts it. This isn't a rejection of any of you: it is a journey of self-discovery. At least it sounds like she's in a loving environment over there, and so you know they are safe. That your family brought another precious being into the world and nurtured him and his mother will always be sacrosanct and divine. That you must feel this void in their absence is terrible. But the love is there still, vibrating across the ocean as if you were all touching each other. It's what you built and what nothing can tear down. So so so much love to all of you. xoxo Barbara

    1. Barb,
      Once again your beautiful soul is shining.
      You always say the most gorgeous things at just the right time. So true that love is what remains. Although he isn't with me, I start every morning imagining him in my arms, remembering what his laugh sounded like, the way his hair smelled when he was snuggled against me. I love him and hug him in my mind, and hope the love magnet is strong enough to pull him back to us.
      Love is what can never be taken. My love for him is everywhere in this house.
      Love you, too, Barb. xo

  11. So sorry to hear this Hollye. I hope it all works out and Aya does come back to her husband, Taylor and to her loving American family with baby Ayumu. I can't begin to imagine how sad this is for all of you.

  12. Hollye,
    Time and distance cannot conquer love.

    (Pretty smart huh?)

  13. please read "prospering power of love" by Catherine ponder. there is a section on angel writing and divine love writing that could help tremendously. it doesn't hurt to take a peek and open your heart to miracles.

    1. Thank you- I will check that out. I am open to any and all miracles. xo


I love hearing your point of view- thank you for taking the time to comment and be part of the conversation!