Funeral Anxiety

Today’s story (not my own) –

I’m an adoptee who didn’t find out I was adopted until I was 24…I turned 40 in May (major trauma obviously, but that’s for another time). I’ve met my birth mother, maternal grandmother, birth father, and a couple (not all) of my siblings. Novel made short, my birth grandma died last Thursday. Her celebration of life is set for next Friday and I am struggling really fucking hard as to what to do.

Yes, I knew (?) and loved her. I THINK I want to be there. But I also don’t want to be the proverbial long lost child/grandchild/sibling who comes waltzing in. I have so much guilt, I’ve carried it since I first met my birth mom (another long story). It’s such a tricky relationship, on all sides, and I hate this. I wish more than anything I had someone to just tell me what to do; to hop on that flight and do this, or to stay home as I am so sick and conflicted already that it wouldn’t be well for my mental health. My birth mother has always made me feel horribly guilty. My adopted mother does the same. So I just kind of keep all of the moms at arms length for the sake of my mental health. My Granny was different. I only saw her a literal handful of times, but she was strong and kind and she validated me. Now that she’s gone, I don’t know what I want anymore.

It’s just weird. It’s a weird place. Being adopted is weird period, and I mostly despise it.

One response from another adoptee – I wouldn’t want to miss it and regret it. Family events are hard for me because biological family is all gathering, and it is a painful reminder of all the family events I was not a part of. You aren’t obligated to stay. If you feel it’s too much to handle, you could leave at any time. I’d check into nearby coffee shops/diner/regular shops that are in walking distance in case I needed an early escape. I didn’t know my maternal grandma for long but I did spend her last moments with her in the hospital. I am glad I did.

Someone else suggested exit strategies – Opps-forgot my sweater in the car. (5 min break). Tylenol is in the car too. How forgetful. Sigh. Need some caffeine to stop this headache. (Walk to coffee shop, 20 min break) Oh no, I cleared the day but work really needs me to resolve an issue. Can we catch up in a couple of hours over dinner? Also, if it would be helpful, bring a support person who can just listen to you (and serve as a buffer if you need one).

Another adoptee points out that funerals are for the living. Do what’s going to bring YOU peace and screw what anyone else thinks. Don’t overcomplicate your decision with the intricacies of your relationships with your birth family. Either you want to be there for YOU or you don’t. I hope you find peace in whatever decision you make.

Another asked – Would you regret it if you stayed home? Would you later look back and think you should’ve gone? Go with the option that leaves you little to no regret. You deserve to be there, this is your family and I’m sure you’re very wanted. The original poster answered – I’m truly not sure if I would regret it. She’s already been cremated, so I could always go on my own time, alone, and save myself some chaos. It’s just a tricky relationship with my birth mother …odd at best. I’m putting it very nicely, too.  I don’t like feeling manipulated.  It’s been rocky, and then some.

No Choice

There are so many ways adoptees experience a life that they had no choice in. Beginning with their adoption, especially if they were too young to have a say, which the majority are consummated when the child is too young to be given a say.

There are also situations where a mother gave up one or more children when she was young. She then subsequently remarried and had more children in that stable union. So it was in a story I was reading today.

The adoptee in this story had a no-contact failed reunion and was re-rejected in her attempt by her birth mother. The two children relinquished found each other in adulthood. While the father who knew about the surrendered children had died, their children had not been told about these half-siblings.

This adoptee became aware of her genetic, biological family thanks to DNA matching. The extended family she discovered have proven to be lovely, considerate, sensitive and good people. However, the subsequent children who were birthed by this woman’s original mother, who are all adults and have known about these two other children for a couple of years now, don’t acknowledge them or treat them as anything other than shameful embarrassments and inconveniences, a response modeled by their mother.

The mother contracted cancer and subsequently died of the complications. Before she died, she sent this woman a birthday card, accompanied by a handwritten letter expressly stating that she should not to come to her mother’s funeral. It was hurtful for her to say that she “only wanted people who loved her there.”

She never gave these two relinquished children a chance to love her and piling on their wounds, rejected them again as adults. In fact, they didn’t even know she was dying. When this woman died, none of her subsequent children told them anything about the arrangements. So neither of these two attended her funeral but at the last minute did send a wreath. They hoped to be at the least mentioned at her funeral, or in her eulogy or at her cremation but the purposeful silence continued.

Finally, the day after her funeral, her oldest son set up a What’sApp group with him, her brother and this woman and so, there was a video call. He was very matter of fact and explained about her death. He asked if they had any questions. Mostly the call was simply made to justify how he was carrying out their mother’s wishes. These wishes were extensive – excluding them from knowing anything about her deterioration, prognosis, hospitalization, palliative care, imminent death nor were they to be told about her dying or the funeral arrangements. This son admitted that he did think she was wrong to demand that,

This story takes place in Ireland and they have a “month’s memory mass.” Her name will be called out in her church as a mark of respect at her recent passing. It’s a tradition for family to attend at this mass that takes place four weeks after the passing of a loved one. She writes that her brother has to work but her husband will be there to be supportive. She says – “I have as much right to be there as any of them. Being banned from her funeral doesn’t mean I can’t go to this mass in her church. I need to be there to show they haven’t broken me and to have some closure. I also feel it would be a show of defiance to them for ostracizing us so blatantly.”

I totally agree with her and support this decision !!

You Might Be Adopted If

Believe it or not, it happens . . .  a person can live decades and not know that they were adopted.  Some stories . . .

You are at your Dad’s funeral, when two of his sisters corner you. They want you to return an heirloom that came to you from your grandma, “so it can  stay in the family.”  Huh ?

Your uncle’s wife wants your Mom’s mother’s and sisters’ jewelry for her daughter because “she’s actually a family member.”  Wow.

A sister tells you to return a picture of her grandma because the woman wasn’t your “real” grandma.  Ouch.

They leave your name off the obituary.  Or at your grandfather’s funeral your grandmother’s 3 sons (who he adopted) are asked to sit behind the other family members because “they aren’t his real kids.”

One woman at the age of 48 reveals, “I was at my uncle’s funeral when my cousin’s husband wandered up to me and said, ‘I’ve been wanting to meet you, because we’re both adopted.’ It was a huge shock – how could it not be ? On the other hand, I had an instant explanation as to why I’d always felt like a square peg in a round hole, when it came to my family.  I once said to my mother, ‘I’ve always felt like I was found on a doorstep.’ She got terribly upset.  I later learned that she had confided in my cousin’s husband because he’s a minister. She had assumed he’d keep it a secret.”

And maybe not funny but I actually thought my dad (who was adopted) had been left on the doorstep of the Salvation Army by a Mexican woman because his mother’s name was Dolores and he was adopted in El Paso TX.  Oh, the stories we make up when we don’t know the truth.  It really isn’t right.

Another woman at the age of 36, right in the middle of a divorce with her house being repossessed, was going back to a university for advanced education and so, she was asked to bring in her birth certificate.  Under pressure, her mom gave her a piece of paper and she took this to the university office. The administrator looked at her and said, “This isn’t your birth certificate.” The shocked expression on her face must have said it all.  The administrator explained, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but it’s your adoption certificate.”  The woman says, “I felt sick. My whole life had been a lie.”

One man found out he was adopted at the age of 60 when this happened –

“My wife and I were in a local garden center when I spotted the daughter of my mom’s next-door neighbor. She was with a little girl, who she introduced as one of her three grandchildren. The other two, she explained, were adopted from Vietnam. She turned to the girl and said, ‘This man was adopted too.’  My wife and I looked around to see who she was talking about. She felt awful – she thought I knew. It turned out she still remembered going in the taxi with her mom and my mom to pick up a five-month-old baby – me – from the Salvation Army all those years ago.”

Okay, just one more for today.

This man was 39 when he found out.  He tells the story this way –

“The thing I remember most about the day I found out that my mother didn’t give birth to me, was this feeling of standing with my back to the edge of a cliff because everything behind me – everything I’d known to be true – felt as if it was a lie and I literally didn’t know who I was.”

“It even made me question the right to have my father’s war medals. As the eldest of five children, I’d been in possession of them. I took them out of the drawer by my bed that night and felt it was wrong for me to have them, because he wasn’t my real dad.”  (My dad has his adoptive father’s war medals too.  When my dad died, I gave them to his biological daughter, who we considered our aunt.)

Continuing this man’s story, “I don’t think my parents ever intended to tell me. My mother says it’s because I was a sensitive child and they didn’t want to upset me. When I asked her why she still didn’t tell me in adulthood, she said she gave my father, who had died when I was 21, a deathbed promise to keep the secret. I think the real reason was a fear that I would abandon her in favor of my birth family. Even when my mother did finally tell me I was adopted, the first thing she asked me was never to make contact with my birth mother.”

Secrets have an inconvenient way of outing themselves as these stories prove.  Don’t do it.  Don’t pretend a lie because the one you are lying too will be hurt more by the deception than by the honest truth.

When A Parent Dies

When a parent dies, children can end up with strangers – either in foster care or through adoption.  At one time as my husband and I were rewriting our trust documents, having learned about the realities of a foster care system that sends a young person out the door with no resources at the age of 18, we made provisions to lower the age at which our children could access the financial accounts we had created for them.  Originally, we were more concerned about immature mismanagement of the funds.  From this new awareness, we realized those funds might be critical to our children’s survival, if they lost us.

Losing a parent at any age can be life changing but losing a parent while still in childhood robs the child of important supports going forward.  Death is absolute, so no well-meaning person can change that reality.  If there is no other person – another parent, grandparent or extended family willing to step in – then child welfare and the courts step in.

Even for a young child, closure is necessary, even if understanding is lacking.   Death is an important and natural part of life. Whenever possible, there should be an opportunity to be with someone in death, who has meant something to you in life. It is true, it can be a traumatic shock the first time one sees a dead person but it is also instructive. The intimacy of “saying goodbye” before a burial can help heal a young person’s loss, all the way into adulthood.

Even adult adopted children can be very wounded by being deprived of experiencing the death of their loved one.  When my mom tried to get her adoption file from the state of Tennessee in the 1990s, she was rejected (she was a Georgia Tann adoptee).  More devastating than the rejection was learning that her mother had already died and that door to connect with her forever closed.

Never deny a child this opportunity.  Think about it – who wouldn’t go to their parent’s funeral, regardless of age?  The reality is that it will hurt.  That is death.  Every child (adopted, in foster care or otherwise) deserves a chance to say goodbye.