How One Family in America Fulfilled A Dying Mother’s Wish in Ethiopia
On a fall afternoon, the Fried’s residence, which is adorned by both American and Ethiopian flags in front, is busy with last minute preparations. On this particular day the children are getting ready to go back to school. Their oldest son, Desalegne, a freshman in high school is missing and with good reason.
Desalegne, who couldn’t imagine playing on a real turf field with uniforms and cleats in Ethiopia, has just made the Junior Varsity team and is at practice. “Being part of that soccer team is a dream come true for my son,” says Randi. She describes being full of joy in seeing him take pleasure in soccer and being on the team but that joy is also combined with guilt. “My heart still aches when I think how much my kids have lost. My heart absolutely aches when I think of how much his mother and father would enjoy watching their son score a goal at practice. It should be them feeling the overwhelming joy and pride,” she explains. Nevertheless, Randi speaks of her family of seven as a gift, one they make the most of. “We trust that this is what was meant to be even if we don’t understand it. We look different than most families and we draw attention, I know, but we deeply respect and love each other,” she says. “We’re committed to doing what we need to do to give our kids the tools and skills they’ll need to go off into the world healthy, strong, wise, caring adults, to follow their dreams and build their families,” she adds.
Justin and Randi have been married for over ten years and live a rich life raising five children. Randi, who grew up in a large family, has always believed there is strength in numbers and adoption was something she and her husband always talked about. Although she states they have found “unexpected enrichment and joy” in deciding to adopt, she is quick to point out, “it’s not for everybody.” Justin and Randi, who have a biological son, Kyle, first adopted an American child born with Down syndrome, Chloe. After adopting Chloe, they decided to adopt children from Ethiopia.
On her Blog, Randi expressively writes that since adopting Ethiopian children, she and her husband, Justin, have discovered that they “…have habesha hearts!”
Rebka and Hana, biological sisters, were adopted by Justin and Randi. It took several months to process documents and obtain the right USCIS approval to bring their new daughters to America. “The first year adjusting to life with four kids in our family was very hard,” says Randi. Being orphaned after having lost both parents, the girls found it difficult to adjust to the American life. “The girls had very clear memories of their parents and they missed them terribly…they also missed Ethiopia and streets filled with familiar neighbors, smells, and sights,” she adds. Being away from what was so familiar to them at their young age kept them sobbing at night and so did being away from their big brother back in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
A Mother’s Dying Wish
While their mother wished her three children would somehow manage to remain together, Desalegne wasn’t placed with his sisters initially. “We knew from the paperwork that they had a much older brother but the details were sketchy,” says Randy. Justin and Randi met Desalegne in March 2006 when they saw the girls for the first time to bring them to America. That day, the social worker at Adoption Advocates International arranged for them to meet Desalegne, along with a couple of his mother’s friends, to give the girls a chance to say good bye.
Both Randi and Justin had imagined Desalegne to be in his twenties, but when he walked in the room they were surprised to find him to be “a broken-hearted 12-year-old boy who was still completely rattled from having lost everything in a matter of a few short years.”
After returning to America, the girls would send letters and photos to their big brother, and he would send letters back adding some drawings. While it was terrifying for Randi to think of adopting a non-English speaking teenage boy who experienced more trauma and loss in his short life than she could imagine in her nightmares, she knew what had to be done. “Slowly, our hearts and heads realized we were meant to stretch just a little bit more to add the fifth kid. I know it was my destiny to fulfill their mother’s dying wish that her three kids somehow stayed together and safe,” she says.
Randi fulfilled that wish and in January of this year, Desalegne arrived in America where he was welcomed warmly from his new family and reunited with his two sisters. It was an emotional reunion for everyone and soon that same feeling of guilt crept over Randi. She felt that it should have been their mother witnessing the joy of their reunion.
“I hoped she somehow would know in Heaven that I took very seriously her wish to have her three children together. I hope she felt a sense of relief and comfort now, but again… it all just seems so unfair that Justin and I are even necessary in their lives,” she says. While she wishes her three Ethiopian children were growing up in the loving arms of their birth parents, she understands that “…it wasn’t God’s will so we’re all trying to do the very best we can to make the next option work well for the kids and our whole family.”
Randi is deeply thankful for Adoption Advocates International who went above and beyond to help her and Justin track down Desalegne and help with his adoption as well as the girls’. “They work tirelessly to keep sibling groups together,” she adds.
Keeping Their Culture Alive
At Amanuel Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Randi and Justin are very active. They teach Amharic lessons, organize events and assist the community that has always been there for them. “We will always be thankful to our friends at Amanuel church for welcoming us,” says Randi. It was their friends at Amanuel who answered their calls at night when Desalegne’s heart was breaking open with grief when he finally had the “time and luxury” to reflect on his life.
Randi and her husband realize the importance of keeping Rebka, Hana and Desalegne connected to their Ethiopian culture but at the same time they don’t want to put any pressure on them. “We hope that all our kids will feel drawn to stay connected to Ethiopia,” says Randi.
Justin and Randi have learned as much Amharic as they could and have taught the girls how to greet their elders properly. An Ethiopian friend taught Randi how to make injera and wet, they celebrate Ethiopian holidays together as a family and they attend church almost every Sunday. “Justin has even fasted all 55 days before Fasika this year.”
The Fried’s enjoy teaching their children activities such as gymnastics and swimming and they enjoy taking family vacations. “We hope each of our children will someday welcome the opportunity or honor to figure out how they can enrich their own lives by extending a helping hand to others,” says Randi. “We’ve found unexpected enrichment and joy in doing so,” she adds.
When Randi and Justin attended Rebka’s back-to-school night recently, they had confirmation that they made the right choices. On Rebka’s desk at school sat a card titled All About Me, which includes Rebka’s favorite pet, food and aspirations, etc. Next to a line that read: My Proudest Moment Was, Rebka answered, “When my brother came from Ethiopia.”
Editor’s Note: Check out Randi’s Blog