Thursday, February 25, 2016

When Love Isn't Enough: The Musser Family Tragedy - Part 5

I would like to begin this post with an apology.

When I wrote the original four part series back in the summer of 2014, I believed that the Musser family was made a series of poor choices that lead to Tommy's death by drowning.  I still believe that.

 I also believed that the family would stop adopting during the aftermath of Tommy's death and focus their efforts on caring for their remaining children.

I was so terribly wrong about that assumption.

Tommy died on July 31st, 2014.  He had been left alone in a bathtub with a few inches of water in it.  While he was alone, he flipped onto his back and kicked the faucet on to full flow.  This lead to his death.

The first few months of blog posts after Tommy's death are agonizing to read - but in that agony, his parents showed signs of understanding how being overextended, exhausted and stretched too thin lead to an accidental drowning. Susanna speaks of her grief that she will not be able to adopt more children with developmental difficulties.  

As I read those posts, my heart ached for Susanna and her family.  I know the guilt my parents lived with after my brother died - and yet Mom and Dad did everything correctly when David was ill.  When I told my Mom about Tommy's death, she said that Susanna and Joe were going to go through a form of hell that Mom couldn't wish on anyone because the level of pain and guilt was so horrific.

Through the fall of 2014 and winter of 2015, the Blessing of Verity site focused on finding homes for children from the same orphanage that Tommy and Katie came from.  To me, that seemed like a reasonable outreach for a grieving family, a way to stay connected to the son they lost.

In March 2015, there is a throw-away line at the end of a post,  "God, if this is what it means, I can’t do this job!".   By that point, I was dealing with my own Waterloo moment of repairing my marriage and taking stock of my graduate school program; I had completely stopped following the Musser family blog.  Even if I was following the blog, I would have thought she was talking about raising Verity and Katie while caring for her houseful of grieving children.

In April, another cryptic line appeared in the middle of a post.
"And then…
A request, an opportunity to help another adoptive family.  Work for me to do that I thought I could never do again.
And the “Yes,” immediately rose up within me.  “If You open this door for us, I want to walk through it.”

Well, the door must have opened.  In July, a post appeared explaining how the family had an opportunity to adopt become guardians of "J"  - a girl later identified as Josie.  The adoption of Josie had odd similarities to Tommy's adoption:

  • The Mussers are the "only" family that Josie's current family will accept.
  • A rigid timeline that requires Josie to move in around Christmas
  • A promise that the adoption won't happen if the modified bedroom and bathroom fall through.
My feelings are simple - who are the Mussers' trying to kid here?  If they said "No, we cannot adopt Josie", are we supposed to believe that her previous adoptive family would have simply given up on rehoming her?  Are we really supposed to believe that the Mussers' are the only human beings who can support a teenage girl who has moderate cerebral palsy?  The USA is NOT Romania; I suspect that Josie would have been placed in a foster home and likely have found adoptive parents at some point.  If they said "We cannot give her a home until the addition is finished", are we supposed to believe that Josie would end up on the street?  

The Mussers have tried to raise $50,000 for an addition to the house that includes an accessible bathroom and bedroom for Josie.  As of February 25th, 2016 at 4:00pm Eastern Time, they've raised $18,675.  Between donated materials, labor and a HELOC on their existing home, they've started building the addition for Josie as well as expanding their current home.  (Bluntly, it's about damn time.  They had a family of 14 living in 1,500 square feet.)

There have been some issues due to poor communication skills; Josie's room is being paid for by donations for Josie's room + donated labor and materials.  The rest of the addition is being paid for by the HELOC + donated labor and materials - but this wasn't terribly clear unless you read the funding page and the blog concurrently.  

All of this occurred in the year after Tommy died.

The summer passes.  Susanna decides to share a therapeutic assignment she was given where she refutes every argument that hurt her after Tommy dies across a series of blog posts. (As a person who has spent years in therapy, never post therapeutic assignments online.)  When I am angry, I want to fight her over those posts.  But the truth is, on some level, she knows which "lies" were truths spoken in love.  How can I tell?  Her only refutation to those is "This issue that lead to Tommy's death was really part of God's plan".  In other words, "I cannot refute this, so I blame God."

Josie's guardianship is transferred to them in November while she is in rehabilitation after needing foot surgery.  The house isn't finished at this point.  Katie celebrates her 4th year in the Musser family; she will likely need extensive care for the rest of her life.  After reading a post that takes the viewer through the new (unfinished) addition, I wonder if the adaptive rooms are needed more for Josie or Katie.  Josie has cerebral palsy and might have either a mild cognitive impairment or a learning disability, but she's quite mobile with her walker and wheelchair.  The Mussers are planning in case Josie cannot live independently, but unless I'm missing something, Josie seems like she'd be able live independently someday .  Katie will not live independently.

After the first week at home, the Mussers seem mildly surprised at how independent Josie is.  My teeth grind when I read that "Josie has cerebral palsy, but she can do so much for herself that to us it seems like she has superpowers.  We simply don’t see her in terms of her disability, and we have told her that." 


 I have to disagree with Susanna there; if they didn't see Josie as her disability, the first week wouldn't have been as full of "surprises" like Josie being able to dress herself, wrapping presents successfully and wanting to be able to hop on one foot.   (Josie, if you ever read this post, I hope you can hop on two feet and that you can hop on one foot. I want nothing more right now than to come to PA and work with you on jumping until you can bounce like a kangaroo!)

As of February 18th the addition isn't finished yet although they are close. This means Josie and several other family members have been "camping out" in the living room.

So, that's the update on the Mussers including their new children Josie and Nathaniel.  Oh, I didn't mention Nathaniel before?  Well, neither did Susanna on the blog.  She gave birth to a baby boy on January 7th, 2016 - two weeks after Josie moved in permanently.  The first mention of him was January 30th, 2016.

I feel sick.


  1. You are right about not publishing therapeutic homework/assignments online.

    1. It sounds like such a bad idea....

      Traditionally, I write my rare one by hand then destroy it so that no one can stumble upon it. People have a level of freedom in their minds that shouldn't be shared with unprepared other human beings.

  2. Wow. Just wow. I have two adopted children with few problems, both from former USSR, but the first year nearly sent me to the hospital. This lady is amazing--even if only half of what she writes is true. I'm always skeptical on blogs (I've written one for years, though my original is gone now). Wow. Lisa @