On Nov. 12, I paid a visit to Becky Weichhand, a friend and colleague battling a terrible sort of cancer.
It was a rainy night in Washington, D.C. I alighted from my rideshare and ran up Becky’s steps, trying to avoid getting wet. On the porch, I met a woman who ushered me in and promptly disappeared.
“Becky,” I called.
“Over here,” she called back.
I walked toward her voice, past a Christmas tree decorated too early, and found Becky, wan on a recliner with pillows propping up her up. Becky and I first met in 2010 when she was the policy director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, and I had just launched Fostering Media Connections as a project of that incredible organization.
For nearly a decade since, Becky and I most often found ourselves in those heightened, frantic kind of child welfare policy moments so important to the clutch of us who care, know and do this work every day. Our interactions very rarely veered off the task at hand. In our pursuit of what we thought was best for children, our mortality was hardly a consideration.
But this night, as the rain pattered outside, and I looked at Becky’s home – meticulously arranged to battle cancer – nothing was frantic, but all was heightened. We quickly fell on the subject of God. Becky, devout, explained the mystery of God and Jesus to me. Me, agnostic and unknowing, felt a yearning to understand where she found the bravery to fight her battle with a smile, unbreakable dignity. I told her so, and she started to pray.
She sat in that reclining chair, and spoke to God of the “season” she was facing. Of the strength she needed him to give her, of the acceptance she had of the trial she was in. Becky prayed for me – that I would find an ease in communicating with God. And I looked at her, and I heard the rain coming down, and I knew that this was a moment to hold on to. Some kind of magic happened – I felt the room grow brighter and a warmth inside me.
Before I left she explained the Christmas tree. She said that she had invited all the people who were truly helping her to decorate it on Halloween. The number of guests stood at 75, she said.
On Nov. 26, Becky passed away.
Becky, of course, was the executive director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI). She had earned that high and noble position because of her character and work ethic. She loved CCAI, and toiled to make sure its two marquee programs were huge successes.
After CCAI’s longtime leader Kathleen Strottman left the organization, Becky made sure the Foster Youth Internship Program maintained its status and grew to reach more youth and have greater impact. That program has allowed scores of former foster youth to work as Capitol Hill interns, indelibly changing their career trajectories and the laws that rule their brothers’ and sisters’ lives.
She also continued and strengthened the Angels in Adoption Program, which calls on Members of Congress to nominate constituents who have gone above and beyond to find permanent homes for children who need them. The Angels gala every fall is like the Academy Awards of adoption and federal child welfare policy, and since 2014, Becky has been its leading lady.
On the email string announcing Becky’s passing for CCAI’s advisory board, of which I am honored to be a member, Lindsay Ellenbogen wrote that Becky was a “true Angel in Adoption.”
Yes, she was. Yes, she is.
Becky, we love you. Thank you for the gift of your presence and prayers only weeks ago. While 75 people may have been there to help you decorate that tree, there are thousands more of us who will miss you dearly, and stay eternally grateful to have known you.
A memorial will take place Nov. 30 in Washington, D.C., with a separate celebration planned in December in her hometown of Saint Joseph, Michigan. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that people make donations to CCAI.