Contemplating Death

Yesterday, I was stung on my little finger by a Red Wasp. Whether we simply collided or it came after me as I passed by the wooden post that has become nest – through a knot-hole opening into a large hollow space, I do not know. It happened so fast, I never saw it. I only felt the hot iron pain. All I could do was put a couple of ice cubes on it at the time where I was.

It brought back memories of the time when my adoptive maternal grandmother gifted me with a trip to England with her. We were going to attend a 4 week long summer session at the University of Cambridge and it was a lifetime experience that I do not regret. That morning I was stung on my middle finger also by a wasp I never saw. There was no time to do anything about it, even if we would have had some remedy.

My hand became painfully swollen over the time it took to make the transatlantic journey. My grandmother pretended not to notice my suffering and I knew better than to make a issue of it. In my dorm, not even having washcloths and towels yet, I used my socks to make compresses and by dinner time it was bearable. Last night I reflected on how it must have been for my mother growing up with such an emotionally cold woman. I do know that when she died, lots of appreciative comments about her mother came my mom’s way and simple reminders of her perfume on her clothing were bittersweet for my mother. My mom yearned for a reunion with her birth mother but she had died several years before my mom’s effort, which came months before the state of Tennessee changed its own perspectives to allow the adoptees or their descendants to have the adoption files related to the scandalous Georgia Tann. I now have that file that would have brought my mom so much peace. In my own spiritual perspective, I believe she was reunited with her birth mother after death and now knows even more than I do.

In my all things adoption group this morning I read –

I was surprised at how many adoptees truly loved their adoptive moms and were devastated when they died. Is it strange to not seem to feel much of anything? Some days I think I might be sad and then I realize it might just be residual feelings from long ago. I’m so confused and feel so cold.

A soothing comment followed – Know that your feelings, whatever they are, are valid.

The next comment was this – My adoptive mother and I were not close. I loved her, but didn’t much like her.

One honest adoptee admitted – My adoptive mom was an awful person. I only felt relief when she died. Yet another wrote – I won’t grieve, I have no relationship with my adoptive mom or adoptive dad, as cold as it sounds ill feel like a weight will be lifted from my shoulders when they pass. They still think they haven’t done anything wrong and blame me for everything

I could appreciate this perspective – I think how people grieve and process loss depends on their relationship with that person, whether it’s adoptive family, biological family, friend, coworker. If you’re close to someone and love them, you might feel sadness, a sense of loss, emotional pain. If you weren’t close to them, you might not feel much at all. None of these feelings are bad, they’re just a reflection of your relationship to that person. Not missing or grieving someone doesn’t make you any less of a person with emotions.

The original commenter went on to share – It’s sad because I could never connect with her. She had bipolar disorder and always asked me why couldn’t I just love her. She tried to live her life over through me and it seemed to suck the very soul out of me. It’s hard to love someone when it’s only one sided. It’s like we are baby dolls meant to fulfill all their dreams instead of human beings with our own destiny, personality, and dreams to explore.

Another wise perspective was this – I think every relationship is unique and one should always honor whatever they feel, or don’t feel when dealing with death. Try not to compare your experience with loss to others. This also, grieving is different for everyone, and the way you grieve (or seemingly don’t) is valid.

There is this sad story – The last few months of my moms life were difficult. She was difficult (in general). Our relationship was difficult. I had to step in and took over care the last 4 days of moms life. She had a rapid health decline. I didn’t know for sure I was adopted at that point. And I never got that moment. My adoptive mom was a broken person. The Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents book helped me see that this year. I’ve been able to see her different and with a kindness that wasn’t there before. We had a hard relationship. And it’s helped me reach some of the grief that I’ve had shoved down inside.

And yet another sad story – My adoptive mom is still alive but I feel absolutely numb towards her. I think it’s the abuse and bullying and constant threat of sending me away as a child. I had one moment once where I felt for her, it was some random moment by myself that made me realize that perhaps underneath the hurt, I did care for her, but I am unable to feel it because of how much she has hurt me.

Another perspective – As adoptees, we have *all* lost our mother, during our formative years. So when my adoptive mother died, I felt that pain of losing a mother again. My adoptive siblings don’t quite understand why I reacted so strongly (and they also don’t realize how deeply her death impacted me, because I never really showed my grief in front of them). They are all her biological children, and also much older than me. So while we all lost our mother, I was losing *another* mother. As adoptees, we have difficult relationships with our adoptive parents, and however you felt is completely understandable.

When An Adoptee Becomes A Mother

Adoption is a lifelong process, and becoming a parent adds a layer of complexity as it causes adoptees to revisit, or consider for the first time, the losses that go along with adoption.

This can be surprising for adoptees that were comfortable with their family situation for a couple of decades.  I do remember (since both of my parents were adopted) that we had no medical history at the doctor’s office but we knew there was an explanation – adoption.

Adoption can be a delicate subject. The spectrum of the adoptee experience is vast, and the conversation often feels dominated by adoptive parents who have deeply ingrained fears about losing their child or children.  This is why I focus more on the adoptee and the original parents who usually have a diminished voice in society.

Feelings and issues are bound to come up when adoptees become parents themselves. Questions arise about family and cultural histories, medical concerns and the role of identity in the parenting experience. An adoptee frequently wonders, “Who am I, really?”

One adoptee shared this – “If there was a part of me that yearned for something – a hole that was difficult to fill – I didn’t connect that with being adopted. I struggled with anxiety and trust, and that worsened as I grew into adulthood. But I was certain I wanted to have biological kids — to create them, to grow them, to birth them. I didn’t know why I needed that, or why I was lonely and struggled to trust others. I just knew I needed to fill this hole, to find this missing piece.”

I have felt this with each of my three biological children – it is an emotional response when I see my baby for the first time, feeling a definite bond to that child. It is a tidal wave, taller and more powerful than falling in love. When an adoptee experiences this it is much more – like they had missed something their entire life but didn’t realized what it was until that moment.  The adoptee may even wonder if their mother felt something like that for them.  Or if she didn’t.  What did that say about their worthiness to be loved ?  I wonder if my adoptee mother had these sudden realizations.  She is deceased now and I can’t ask her about it.

An adoptee may struggle with how their own original mother could carry them for nine months and then simply let them go – permanently.

For many adoptee moms, this grief is new, something they don’t understand until they become pregnant themselves. New ways of thinking about their adoption often heighten the myriad emotions experienced during pregnancy and birth.

All adoption is rooted in trauma. Being separated from your original family, and from the woman who you grew inside of, is trauma. The baby does miss that heartbeat, that smell, that undeniable bond. For an adoptee during a pregnancy, it may feel quite novel to realize they are about to meet their very first blood relative.  Adoptees often experience an added layer of appreciation and gratitude for as well as an added connection to their children.

 

Family That Isn’t

Ohana is a Hawaiian word which refers to a person’s extended family, which can include friends and other important social groups.  In the case of adoption, “family” is a complicated concept.  Growing up, because both of my parents were adoptees, I knew that my grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins – while perfect stand-ins for the real thing – were not actually related to me.

I was reading about one adoptee’s experience of having an older brother who was also adopted.  She says, “Even though we grew up in the same household with the same parents, I’ve always had difficulty thinking of him as my brother. He’s my family and I love him, but family is such a weird thing for adoptees. My brother and I are so different. So far apart in personality, thoughts, interests and goals. We didn’t have a single thing in common.”

And I reflected on my mom’s relationship with her brother who was also a Georgia Tann baby and I could see the truth of this.  They were never close as near as I could tell, though she did date one of his neighborhood friends in high school.  She once drove over this young man’s foot getting into the car when she knocked it out of park.  On a date with him, she met my dad at a party – and although she went to the party with this guy – she left with my dad.  It is hard to think of my mom as a teenager but I guess she was about as wild as the three daughters she later birthed.  LOL

Having learned who all 4 of my original grandparents were has totally changed who I think of as my “grandparents”.  Oh, I still appreciate the people who raised my parents and they were influential in my own life growing up.  I still love 2 of my “adoptive” aunts dearly, having become close to them all over again when my parents died.  And cousins are still in my life from those relationships.

However, I am keen now to slowly, without too much pressure, create these new relationships with an aunt and some cousins who represent most of my grandparents, though my paternal grandfather seems to have fathered no more children after my dad.  DNA and the matching sites – 23 and Me as well as Ancestry – make possible finding one’s relations that many states who still maintain sealed adoption records seek to block.  It is a new day and thanking all that is good that it is so.

No image can describe what of our fathers and mothers, our grandfathers and grandmothers, remains. ~ Rumi

And yet, it does matter that they are there within us always.