St. Louis couple bearing burdens

Saturday, December 1, 2001

ST. LOUIS -- When it comes to bearing burdens, Don and Terry Rogers quietly -- and without intent or pretense -- make most sufferers look like lottery winners and most hardships like a walk in the park.

Don, 59, is a soft-spoken surveyor for the city of St. Louis and a Boy Scout leader. Terry, 52, is an animated social worker for an adoption agency. She was born blind. They had four children, all boys.

The couple have served as foster parents to 32 children. They have four golden retrievers, because they sometimes couldn't say "no" when a child wanted a puppy for Christmas.

Three years ago, they adopted a Romanian baby, Janetta, who had severe birth defects and whose legs have been amputated.

If Don and Terry seem too good to be true, throw in the heart-crushing fact that two of their sons -- Matthew and Jeffrey -- were killed in a car crash almost exactly five years ago.

How does one handle such sadness? What philosophy alleviates that grief, offers hope?

"I believe in God's promises," Terry said. "I don't see how people deal with things like this if they don't believe in heaven."

Five years ago, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, the family attended a service at their church, Concordia Lutheran Church in Kirkwood. The parents and their youngest son, Tim, now 14, were in one car; Matt, then 16, drove himself and his brother, Jeff, 12, in another. A fourth son, David, now 24, was working.

Matt and Jeff were ahead of their parents as they all returned to their home in southwest St. Louis.

But the boys didn't make it. After driving around, retracing their path, Don came upon a wreck. The boys' car had slid off the road and struck a tree. Both were dead at the scene.

If ever there was a time when Terry wanted to give up on life, it was in the next two months. With her eldest away at school and the youngest off to school in the morning, "I just wanted to go back to bed, pull the covers up and sleep."

Add resiliency to the list of the Rogerses' qualities. They decided to donate tissues from Matt and Jeff, and their heart valves and corneas have been used successfully.

Regular girl, but no legs

There is something jarring about a tiny pair of sneakers, highlighted in pink with "Dragon Tales" cartoons and Velcro straps, that are connected to artificial legs.

And before one can even feel bad about the hand dealt to Janetta Lynn Rogers, Terry pipes in, "She's just a regular 3-year-old, who happens to not have legs."

Several years after losing their sons, the Rogerses talked about adopting an older child. While talking to a co-worker, Terry found out about a Romanian baby with birth defects. The child was born in Bucharest, but her parents left her at the maternity ward because they knew they couldn't afford her care.

"My friend asked if I'd pray for someone to adopt this little girl," Terry said. "Then for three nights in a row, I had a dream of a crying baby. So I asked about her and we then we looked at a picture of her."

Terry said Janetta knows she has "two brothers here and two brothers in heaven. She's our daughter, not our adopted daughter."

She also knows her mother is blind. Terry's voice cracked with emotion when she told of a recent incident.

"I told her that if I could, I'd give her my legs. Then she said if she could, she'd give me her eyes.

"That wasn't exactly the message I was trying to get across," Terry said, chuckling. "So I told her that God made us all the way he made us. And now she needs to use her eyes to tell me about all the beautiful things she sees."

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