I’ve been thinking a lot about grief and loss this week. A lot. There has been a lot in my world this week to make me realize how common a theme grief and loss is. And I’m not just talking about grief and loss in adoption (don’t worry, we’ll get there) but realizing that grief and loss is everywhere can only help us 1) identify it in our own lives, 2) find the signs to identify it in our adopted children’s lives, and 3) therefore help our adopted children to identify it in their own lives so they can work through it when we’re not there.
For me, it started late last week when my mom was informed that she lost her job. Anyone who knows Norma knows that hard work is her middle name. For those of you who don't know her, everyone, meet Norma Hardwork DeSimone.
Norma has devoted 17 years, countless Saturdays, Sundays, and 60+ hour work weeks to her employer. And always with a smile, Christmas gifts for the 40 people who reported to her, and willingness to step in whenever necessary. And, as is common in the corporate world, she was thanked for that last Wednesday with a seemingly heartfelt thank you, a week to pack her junk, and an information packet about how to apply for unemployment. Today is her last day. And as of 4 p.m., Norma was still running around like a crazy woman, assigning work, answering emails and monitoring the phone queue. But in the middle of it, she did find time to commandeer a shred bin and tried to start going through her files and piles of paperwork. Files and piles that she tenderly cultivated, for 17 years, thoughtfully keeping everything important and always knowing just where everything was. And she realized yesterday that she could just dump them all in that shred bin and it really didn’t matter anymore. Because by Monday at 7:30 a.m., her cubicle will be occupied by someone else, her name will be off the switchboard, and her email address deleted from Outlook. And she will begin a new chapter of her life that quite frankly we all know will make her happier and more fulfilled than she has felt for the past 17 years, but don’t tell her that right now because she doesn’t want to hear it.
I know this to be true, because this happened to me in 2008. Horrible day = one of the best things that ever happened to me. But even though these past five years have been better than I could have ever imagined and the scope of my work is touching so many more than it would have if my career would have stayed status quo, I have been dealing with some severe grief and loss issues this week. Really? Because my mom lost her job and I feel super fulfilled in work, somehow I’ve been holding back the tears this week because of something that happened five years ago that has made things better for me? That’s messed up when you break it down like that. Except its not. Its human nature.
Its called grief and loss.
So something that happened in my past (despite the fact that I’m better for it) has cropped up for me and slapped me in the face because something else has happened to someone else. These are the kinds of things we have to get better about identifying in our adopted children and hopefully teaching them to identify within their own minds and hearts as they get older.
Simply stated, grief and loss is a lifelong thing we all have to deal with. But for an adopted person, it’s so much more. I don’t care if you bring this child home from the hospital and you have the most open relationship with the birth mom and she comes to dinner every Tuesday night and never misses an event in your child’s life. This child will still have to deal with grief and loss just like a child adopted from China at the age of 10 will. It’s no more or less likely to happen in each of these children. So that’s why we have to be aware of these issues and cut our kids some slack when they start to struggle at various points in their lives. There are the obvious triggers: baby showers, family tree projects, stupid comments from people. But then theres the ones that are not so obvious.
An adult adoptee told me once about the struggle she had in preparing for building her family. She was in her late 20’s and happily married and the obvious choice was for she and her husband to have a biological child. Much to her surprise, grief and loss (and a lot of guilt) slapped her hard in the face when the sweet girl recalled that if her parents never adopted her, her life would have been drastically different. And then she felt like it was her duty to pay it forward, so to speak, and to adopt rather than have a biological child. But she didn’t really want to adopt. In fact, she really wanted to have a biological child and for the first time in her life, have a blood connection to another human being known to her. But she struggled with this and was quite surprised that this cropped up 28 years into her pretty happy and good life. She worked through it and she has a couple of beautiful, and biological children today. And now she’s almost 40 and I’m certain this isn’t the last of this grief and loss nonsense she deals with.
Let’s start to talk with and prepare our adopted children for these things to come up. It’s only going to help them. I know it’s not going to be pleasant. Honestly, I’m not that jazzed about it. It’s a lot easier for me to dish it out to you all than think about how I’m going to implement this in my family with my own child. Our girl seems pretty ok right now. She appears to be in a safe place, in a good foster home where she’s been for the past 5 years, and right now, she might not know that there are even options to possibly help improve her vision. But we’re going to head over there, pull her out of that, all under the auspices that we’re going to make it “better” for her. You tell me thats not going to yield a lifetime of grief and loss issues.
Then, to further illustrate this point, a good friend of mine posted an amazing blog entry about grief and loss in her own child. And it was good. Really good. I hope you’ll read it. And her kiddo is going to be ok, and Norma is going to be ok, and Yiyi is probably going to be ok, but its sure going to help if we’re all more aware.