Some stories are harder to tell than others. This one is both heartwarming and tragic.

For those that don’t know, my wife Ana and I are foster parents. One year ago we got a call about two little girls aged one and two. The Department Of Family Services was on the phone asking if we wanted to take them in and gave us a quick run-down of their story. It was both disgusting and heart-wrenching. We said yes and within a matter of hours we drove up to the curb at terminal one of Las Vegas’s McCarren Airport and loaded two terrified, confused and precious little souls into our SUV and headed home.

It was dark out. And it was cold. The smallest one said nothing. The older one did her best to make light two-year-old conversation but her simple words were laced with insecurity and fear. We did our best to sound reassuring or as reassuring as you can be for two toddlers being hauled off into the night to God knows where and to what by two rank strangers. We would become their fourth mommy and daddy.

We got them home, settled into bed, and that began what would become a seven-month odyssey arranging for them to leave.

There was a foster family, it had been their first, and they wanted the girls back. I’ll spare you the grim details but essentially it took seven months for two government agencies to complete a couple of days worth of paper shuffling to have the girls returned to what we all thought would be their forever family.

Kids hope for the best but they also accept it far too easily when adults are done with them and they have to pack up their things and leave again whether they want to or not. They don’t understand law, or department policies so they quickly learn that adults don’t care about what they want or need. They learn to believe that they don’t matter.

The day came and Ana packed their earthly belongings in one suitcase, that’s because the budget didn’t allow for more than one, and we took them to the airport. It was the hardest thing Ana had ever done.

I posted a picture on Facebook of the girls the day they left. They wanted to wear their princess dresses so Ana got them all dolled up. Cady pretended to be excited, but we could tell she was scared and confused. Emma was just quiet and shuffled along beside her big sister. They looked so cute holding hands with their new daddy as they walked together toward airport security. We were sad, felt horrible for them, and we cried. But these people were their foster family once, before the girls had been taken away to live a horrendous year with an uncle, and it was a miracle for them to be reunited. We found our peace in the belief that we had done a good thing by bringing them back together so they could be a forever family.

That was the last we saw or heard of them.

Jesse took it really hard. He cried a lot. He and Emma, the youngest, were inseparable. They did everything together from the moment they woke until the moment they went to bed each day. After they left he would ask about her every time he saw an airplane. That first week was the hardest. The day after they left we had been out keeping him busy all day. As we started driving home he asked me to play the song “Let It Go” from the Frozen movie soundtrack. When it played he started to cry. It was a painful, inconsolable, broken heart kind of cry and every ounce of emotion his little heart could hold came gushing out of his tiny body. When the song ended, he asked me to play it again and he wept inconsolably all over again. He cried until he was exhausted and couldn’t cry any more. That was their song and they used to sing it at the top of their lungs every time we got in the van and drove anywhere. He was so despondent, so sad and he missed her so painfully much. We had to lock the girl’s bedroom because he would go in there looking for her. He didn’t understand why she was gone and we had no way to explain it to him. That was last October.

He stopped sleeping through the night the day they left. He would wake up crying. Ana and I took turns sleeping on his bedroom floor just so he could get some rest. He would stick his hand through the railing of his crib for us to hold. If we let go he would wake up. When he did we held him. Sometimes he cried, other times he just hung on for dear life. So we held him, sang to him, rocked him and laid there holding his hand, and as he slept we hurt so deeply for him.

One day in late February Ana called me and asked if I was sitting down.

Only the worst things go through your mind when you hear those words. Jesse’s case had taken an unexpected turn and if I could tell the story here, you wouldn’t believe it. My first thought was that they were coming to take Jesse away and I feared he would be absolutely devastated.

But it wasn’t that.

Ana had gotten a call from Family Services. Things “didn’t work out” with the former foster parents and we were asked if we wanted the girls back. It would be permanent this time they said. We could adopt them after a short waiting period and then as soon as it could be arranged.

Ana asked me what I thought. It was an immediate yes. She felt the exact same way.

Ana flew to Minnesota to bring them home. She met them as the girls were unceremoniously dropped off at the curb. Cady had lots of questions that a three-year-old should never know to ask. Emma was quiet. Ana explained that they were coming home with her and that our home would be their forever home this time and that they would never have to leave us again. Cady smiled. Emma smiled. And soon they settled in over snacks and just enjoyed being little girls getting loved on by their mommy.

When they landed in Las Vegas Jesse and I met them at baggage claim. It was the most wonderful pandemonium. Jesse ran to Ana’s arms in between the girls and hugged them with all the un-bridled energy an ecstatic two-year-old could muster. He kept screaming their names, they were screaming his, and they all started to run around in circles screaming and laughing.

Some people looked annoyed. I just wished they could have known the story. They were missing out on something truly wonderful. There was an older couple though, and recognizing the feature differences in our children, she asked if they were foster kids or if they were they adopted. She then explained that they had been foster parents years before and sensed this must be an important reunion. Ana shared what she could and as she did the tears started to flow. Others nearby didn’t hear the story but began to catch on to what was happening and how special it was. Smiles started to blossom all around as the kids ran and laughed and hugged and tackled each other then got up and ran some more.

Three precious little souls that have lived a combined 8 years of life yet have seen and felt far more than any child should ever have to; showed an airport filled with weary travelers, jaded gamblers, hustlers, players and those hoping to leave their secrets in Sin City, what unabashed love looks like. It was incredibly beautiful, honest, and pure.

And we let them express it with everything they had.

Note: Since they are foster children their faces have to be blurred and their full stories can’t be told. I apologize.

If you like you can read the article: The Day They Left