Tag Archives: EMDR

What happens when a(n adoptive) parent dies?

It sucks. That’s what happens.

Dad’s accident occurred at his work. Much of that day is seared in my mind. Each month after the accident and after his passing, I would get super anxious near and on those dates. I kept thinking, it’s been two months since that date. It’s been five months since that date. After a year, I finally quit marking the month.

I often relived the phone call that changed my life. I felt like revisiting the trauma was the closest I could get to him being here still. That’s terrifying and so sad. My foundation had been totally shattered. All the things I thought I could count on in life suddenly felt like a crumbled house of cards. Nothing felt stable. I remember wanting to keep my mom and Brother in a room with me. Where I could see them. And NO ONE was allowed to be on a ladder. (Dad fell from a tall agricultural tank.)

A few things really helped me through the first year. A few weeks after Dad passed, I found out that the local hospice center was hosting a grief group one night a week for seven weeks. I signed up. I was pretty nervous driving to the meeting place that first night, but I’ve gotten much braver in the past 10 years. I knew it was what I needed. We got a binder with handouts for journaling, quotes, and articles to read. We discussed our loved ones and processed grief out loud together. It was a safe place to cry and do the hard work of grieving, away from my family for whom I was trying to be strong(ish). I was also (oddly) blessed to have a couple close friends who had suffered similar grief in their lives. My one friend and I would call or text each other for support on days that were particularly hard or triggering. I called her my grief buddy, not a very poetic term, but descriptive nonetheless. We still check in now and then.

That first year…I never felt like I wanted to die exactly, it’s just that I didn’t want to live. I wanted to hop off the ride for awhile. Just go away, no one expecting anything from me. I just wanted to sleep. And wake up to either my dad back, safe and sound, or to the absence of the pain. So I found a therapist close to my hometown. He was qualified to do EMDR, of which I’m a huge fan. He helped me a lot. I started to come out of the fog.

I plan to do several more posts about my grief journey. Being a pretty emotional adoptee, grieving for Dad got complicated…

So, what happened to you since we last heard from you, Angela?

First, if you are new here, I encourage you to click on the menu or questions across the top, below the floral photo. It’s a start. You may also click through the Archives to read through past posts and catch yourself up with my story…

….Yeah, I took a break from the blog. It’s been a journey to say the very least…Allow me to expand on this for a few posts…

Until late 2014, I would say my story was pretty charmed for an adoptee in reunion. My (adoptive) family supported my birth family reunion. My birth mother was loving and eager to build a relationship. My extended birth family was welcoming and open. Then, the bottom of my world fell out. My dad suffered lethal injuries in a workplace accident. We spent a week at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, hoping for good news, monitoring Dad’s oxygen levels, watching his swelling go down enough to recognize his face again… We knew the brain swelling was the reason he hadn’t woken up to tease us or gripe about his exposed feet (he ALWAYS wore socks) or sing along (badly) with his favorite singer-songwriters. When the world-class neurologists told us their findings and his prognosis, we knew what his choice would be. We took him off life-support and said our final goodbyes only seven hours later. My daddy was gone. Everything had changed.

I tried to maintain my relationship with my birthmother for the next 18 months…We had been doing weekly Skype calls, in Spanish. But after Dad died, I could barely think in English, let alone Spanish. It took several months to decide that I needed to just email with her. At least then I could use (and correct) Google Translate instead of relying on my own frazzled and grief-stricken mind to do the interpreting.

And then at some point, I just couldn’t do it anymore. It was something she said…I’m sure she was trying to empathize and relate to me, encourage me that I would find joy again after Dad’s death, but that’s not what I wanted to hear from her. Every time I saw her name in my inbox, I’d start to panic. My Boyfriend (at the time, now Fiance) could always tell that I was more anxious when she would email. I was in a fragile place and aaaaall the emotions of losing Dad and not receiving what I needed from her put me over the edge. I had to ask her to not contact me until I contacted her. I had to just pause it.

I have said for the past four years, “If I told 16-year-old me that I quit talking to our birthmother, she would cry and say WHAT?!?!” I also know that my 16-year-old self wouldn’t believe me that Dad dies when we’re 30…Would I really have been nicer to him as a teen if I had known? Damn, I sure hope so.

But back to the adoption part…. After I stopped talking to my birthmother, I was nervous for awhile that she would try to contact me. When my birthday came around, I half wanted her to reach out and half wanted her to stay away. Was I disappointed when my birthday came and went and she didn’t reach out? Yes. Was I also relieved? Yes. Honestly, the timing is fuzzy at this point. I can’t remember when I finally decided that I needed help. I sought out a therapist in my state to help me deal with the grief of losing Dad. We realized through EMDR and inner child work and LOTS of tears (me, not the therapist!) that Dad’s death and the resulting grief brought up a lot of unprocessed grief of losing my birthmother as a newborn. What, you say? You were surrendered so young, how could you possibly have known that she was missing? Wasn’t your adoptive family enough? You weren’t even in your birthcountry long enough to learn the language? The answers are yes, no, and yeah, I know, but here’s the thing: We’re not the blank slates adoption agencies, in the 1980s in particular, claimed we were. None of us are really. More on this science in a future post, I’m sure.

Since I’ve ended our contact, I’ve thought a lot about my future and my birthmother’s place in it. Sometimes I miss her. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever talk to her again. Sometimes I think maybe her role in my life is done. She gave me some answers about my past, but the real questions, the ones that keep me seeing a therapist, remain. She can’t help me with those questions. That’s my work to do.

What’s up, Buttercup?

My mom says that to me all the time.  Mostly when she calls me to say hello.  The phrase may have come from my grandpa, not sure.

I’m writing to say that I haven’t forgotten about my blog.  My next post is about something very important to me, and I feel like I need to get it right.  This may be the only time it gets written down for real, and I want to make sure I get everything in there.  I’ve considered compiling all my posts and expanding on them to create a book someday.  A memoir I guess.  We shall see.

Aside from working on that post, I’ve been visiting friends and family, working odd jobs around my hometown, and trying to figure out what the hell to do with my life.  At the very least, I’m feeling better about my “friend situation.”  Someone wise once said that friends are the family you choose….or something like that.  I agree.  Friends I’ve met through an adoption connection are some of the best I’ve ever had.  I’m super thankful to the Universe that these people have come into my life.  I’ve always wanted sisters, and through my adoptee friends, I finally have a few 🙂  I’ve got a fantastic brother already, but I’ve even managed to add a few brothers to my family too.  At least that part of my life is getting better!

I continue to struggle with the job search though.  Last night I watched the Dustin Hoffman episode of the Actors Studio on youtube.  One of the last things Mr. Hoffman says to the students is what a shame it is that we’re pressured to know what we want to do with our lives while we’re in our 20s.  “It’s a question mark decade….if you’re waiting for the job,  you will die.”  Okay, two things then.

1. Apparently I need to give myself a damn break.  It sounds silly, what with my year of volunteer service on a Native reservation, a Masters degree, and having traveled to 5.5 countries since 2004 (two of those countries twice!), but I feel like I’ve failed in the last five years.  I’m not where I thought I would be and I’m definitely not doing anything I consider important.  Shit.  Last year I did quite a bit of therapy, EMDR therapy – look it up, I recommend it for adoptees – and I did make some progress with releasing my regret and accepting where I am.  But I’m definitely not at peace yet.  So Dustin says to chill out.  SO much easier said than done.

2.  Don’t wait.  Maybe he means I should try to take little steps every day toward something, anything, and the Universe will meet me in the middle.  Or maybe he means I have to create the whole thing myself.  That seems a bit  unlikely.  I don’t live in a vacuum.  So steps every day it is then.  Damn.

This might not sound related to anything I’ve been writing here, but I promise it is.  Someday if/when I have a daughter, I’m going to do my very very best to instill a gigantic sense of self-worth in her.  I want her to be able to tell me why she’s good.  What she can do.  What she likes.  What she doesn’t like.  What she wants/needs to work at.  I’ve probably spent the last five years underestimating how awesome I am.  And I don’t mean for that to sound boastful.  But for most of my life, I’ve wondered what the hell I’m good at, if I’m really good at anything, and why the hell no one else can see me.  But no one else could see me because I didn’t see me.  I AM awesome.  I am smart.  I can solve problems.  I think in global terms, how decisions affect lots of people.  Systems.  Networks.  I’m generally a nice person.  I make friends fast.  I care about people, hot damn do I care about people!  I want other people to succeed…  Okay, Ang, now go write some of those damn coverletters.  You’re on a roll….