Be it in a delivery room at a hospital or an adoption agency’s office, meeting your child for the very first time is one of the single most emotionally powerful experiences any human being can have. In a delivery room, it is rare for anyone other than immediate family members and medical professionals to witness the intensely personal moment when a parent and child first meet. But with adoptions there are usually other people, sometimes complete strangers, present to witness the life-changing event as it unfolds.

Travis Naughton

Lisa Foard and her husband James were complete strangers to Bethany and me when we met in Beijing, China on Halloween of 2008. We climbed the Great Wall and toured the Forbidden City together before flying south to Guangxi Province, where our children were waiting for their new parents.

A couple days later, the four of us anxiously sat in a room together in a government office building in the city of Nanning, impatiently waiting to meet our children for the first time. Lisa and James were every bit as nervous as Bethany and I were, though considering all that they had endured to arrive at this moment, I thought they seemed remarkably composed. They were in China to adopt a five year-old girl who they would name Avery. But Avery would not be their first child. The Foards’ had another daughter named Tessa, a precious girl who Avery would eventually call sister, who died shortly after birth—long before the Foards had ever considered adoption.

For Bethany and I to be in the same room as these grieving, yet still hopeful, parents who would be filling the gaping holes in their hearts with the love of a new daughter, it seemed like an incredible intrusion upon their lives. Yet they drew comfort from our being there with them, just as we did while we waited to meet our two year-old Truman. Bethany and I had not experienced the tragedy of losing a child, but we had struggled, too, on our path toward building a family. After trying for years, we finally came to terms with the fact that we were unable to conceive another child. Adoption would be the only way to give our son Alex the sibling he (and we) had always wanted.

I will never forget the morning of November 3, 2008. I vividly recall watching an adorable, pig-tailed girl walking hesitantly into a room full of strangers and meeting her new mama and baba for the very first time. The emotions were so powerful that little Avery began to cry. Lisa and James reassured the overwhelmed child and within moments, I watched with my own eyes as they melded into a family. It was a miraculous sight.

A few minutes later, a frightened Truman was being placed in my arms. As he cried out for his foster mama, he peed all over me. We laughed. We cried. We posed for pictures. We signed papers. And Lisa and James and Avery were there with us—and for us—the entire time. The bonds forged between our two families that day will last forever.

Over the years, we have kept in touch with the Foards through phones and Facebook. Just a few weeks ago, Lisa texted me and sent some recent photos of a gorgeous, thirteen year-old Avery. Avery and our daughter Tiana (whom we adopted in China in 2011) are the same age. Lisa said, “Don’t you feel sorry for everyone else? Our children are the most beautiful kids in the world.” I had to agree.

Sadly, Lisa and James divorced a few years ago. The loss of a child and a marriage brought Lisa even closer to Avery, who had experienced unbelievable loss herself, having never known her biological family. As a result, the mother and daughter became as close as any two people could possibly be.

Last week, just shy of her 50th birthday, Lisa Anne (Smith) Foard passed away unexpectedly in her sleep. Avery, the girl who loved Lisa and depended on her more than anyone else on earth, discovered her mother’s lifeless body the next morning. That thought will haunt me for the rest of my days.

The Smith-Foards, who became a part of the Naughton family over eight years ago, have suffered truly unfathomable tragedies. Their loss is our loss. Their pain is our pain. My heart breaks for all of them, but especially sweet Avery—the girl who calls Bethany and me her aunt and uncle. Precious Avery, if you are reading this, please know that we all love you very much and are here for you if you ever need anything.

And Lisa, wherever you are, remember that I love you, too, my dear friend. Please give Tessa a big hug from her Uncle Travis.