Triston and Cathy take a walk in their front yard. To protect Triston’s identity, we are not revealing his face or his family’s surname.

A Big Heart for Triston | Fall 2014 Spotlight | Emotional scars left by abuse do not discourage this family from adopting.

As a therapist and mother of two young daughters, Cathy had to wear her emotional armor to work when she counseled abused and neglected children in the social services system. It’s hard not to get involved, but professional distance was a must.

Then came Triston, a 6-year-old, in 2008. There was something special about him—a connection, like he could be kin to her—and Cathy felt herself growing attached.

Triston had been removed from his home earlier that year, along with an older brother and a younger sister. Their father was abusive and cruel, and violence had left a mark on Triston. He began seeing Cathy for therapy and went through several foster care placements before he came one day to her office crying. He was moving again, he told her, and he realized that he wasn’t going to live with his brother, as he’d hoped. “He was beside himself with pain,” Cathy says. “He came to me and he said, ‘Do you have a dad?’ And I said, ‘Well, honey, of course I have a dad.’ And he said, ‘No, I mean one for me—at your house.’ ”

Triston’s question struck a nerve. Cathy knew she couldn’t adopt Triston while she was his therapist, but she prayed about it anyway and eventually posed the question to his social worker.

Could she?

The answer, as she suspected, was no, and Triston moved on to his next foster home while his brother and a sister went on to their adoptive families. In 2010, he got another therapist whose office was closer by his new home, and Cathy lost touch. “But his social worker knew I had a heart for Triston,” she says. “I had a really big heart for him.”

Two years later, Cathy got an unexpected phone call. It was from Triston’s guardian ad litem, and this time she had a question for Cathy: Are you still interested in Triston? By then, he was in his sixth placement—a group home for children with extreme behaviors. Triston

Cathy had never gotten over Triston, and she went back to discuss the possibility of adopting him with her husband, Lyle, and daughters Jessica and Nicole. Because of his trauma history, Triston wouldn’t be easy to live with, she told them, but she believed in their capacity to love him and to make room for a brother who needed them. She warned there would be no backing out once they made a commitment. “We’ve got to go into this like we birthed him,” she said. “We cannot give him up because I would never be able to live with myself.”

The family agreed that Triston should join them and, at the recommendation of social services, Cathy and Lyle became licensed foster parents through Methodist Home for Children. Triston came to live with them in November 2012.

But the excitement of having a new family member was short-lived. Triston was restless, unsettled and sometimes aggressive toward the girls, especially Jessica. Cathy worried that she was putting her family at risk by keeping him in their home, but she knew he had few other options. “It’s going to be tough for us to survive with Triston,” she told them. “But Triston won’t survive at all without us.”

The turning point came in late April 2013, when Triston fell into an unrelenting despair and had to be hospitalized 130 miles from home. The family was at an impasse over whether to bring him back. Cathy and Nicole couldn’t imagine closing their door on him, but Jessica and Lyle were tired and wanted to return to the easier ebb of life without him.

Cathy invited Jessica one Sunday to come with her to visit Triston in the hospital. They were on their way down when a nurse called to report that Triston had been inadvertently overdosed on a sedative—and they arrived later to find him unconscious. For four hours they waited at his bedside, and Jessica realized then that Triston really had nobody else. There was nobody else to hold his hand, ask questions or hope for him to open his eyes. “As horrible as that was, it was the dawning for Jess,” Cathy says. “When we drove home, she broke down and she said, ‘You know, Mom, he really is going to die without you.’ Because there wasn’t anyone else there.” Triston

The episode also taught Triston a few things about his new family: These people would be different. They would come back for him. They would not abandon him in the hospital as others had done before.

The family adopted Triston six months later, on Oct. 31, 2013. He’s 12 now, attending a small private school and doing well academically for the first time in his life. He loves sports, especially football and running, and he gets along with his sisters, Jessica, 15, and Nicole, 12.

“Lyle and the kids are the real heroes in this story,” Cathy says today. “They are amazing. They’re the ones who had to adjust, and I think the whole family has grown a lot. We’re all glad we stuck it out.”