Tag Archives: grief

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.

You’re *still* crying? What happened??

(I started writing this post a month ago, the last week of November.  I still wanted to post it though, b/c my Grandma deserves to be remembered here on my blog. – AO)

Yeah, still crying.  Or not.  It’s been a tough two weeks.  My grandma passed away about 10 days ago.  We’ve had the visitation and the funeral already.  Thank you cards are on their way out, and the potato salad leftovers are almost gone.  Now begins the real work – life without Grandma.

It should be easy.  Grandma’s been in care facilities for the last ten years or so.  She’s sort of been…away from home, from me, and it seemed like she was always there…down the road.  Maybe that’s why it doesn’t feel real yet that she’s gone.  Even this Thursday, when our family gathers to eat and laugh, it won’t seem real.  She hasn’t been able to travel for our holiday celebrations for a year or so, so her presence won’t be missed like it might have been.  Let me start over though.  And tell you about my grandma.  Her life and story are worth sharing because she’s had such an influence on my life, and it’s my blog, so there!

Grandma was born in rural Iowa in her parents’ home.  The family doctor who delivered her put her on the scale.  When the needle went as far as it could go, at 13 pounds, he said, “That’s enough.  No baby should have to weigh more than that.”  Classic!  She spent the next 5-7 years playing outside with her older brothers and younger sister when she came long.  One day, at her country school, Grandma was on the end of a Crack-the-Whip line.  Well, they whipped, and she cracked.  She broke a collarbone, poor thing!  Shortly after that year, her family moved to the town where she’d get married, have children, and spend her retirement years with her true love.

I forget the exact timeline, but Grandma once told me that she was a synchronized swimmer.  One of these days I’m gonna do some research into that to see if I can find a photo…I think this must have been while she still lived at home…?

Again, I’m estimating here, but probably in 1945 she met my Grandpa at a historic location in our town.  They loved dancing together and spending time with their friends.  It didn’t take them long to decide that they wanted to spend their lives together.  They married in July 1946 and started their family pretty soon after that.  My uncle was born the next year, and five years later my Mom came along.  My aunt came three years later and the little brother finished out the family nine years after that.  So my grandpa drove a bakery bread truck for the local bakery for 40 years.  For the kids’ birthdays, they’d get a yellow cake with chocolate frosting from the bakery.  At some point, they quit making those cakes, so Grandma continued the tradition on her own.  Mom remembers a seven layer yellow cake with chocolate frosting for several years’ birthdays.  Sounds amazing!  My uncle remembers that cookies were *always* in the freezer or on the kitchen counter.

All signs and stories point to Grandma loving her life as a mother.  But Mom says that once in awhile Grandma would get an “itch” to work outside the home.  She and her sister took classes at the local beauty school.  They learned to do hair and other things.  Grandma never took the test, but Mom’s younger brother definitely took the brunt of Grandma’s practicing haircuts.  After my uncle graduated high school, my grandparents started traveling a bit.  They went to Hawaii with Grandpa’s sisters and their spouses.  They spent some time on a tour of European countries and took lots of photos…that we found last week.  Us kids started coming along starting in the late 1970s and Grandma loved being a grandma!

One of my favorite memories of my time with Grandma was when she’d pick me up from Friday morning kindergarten and take me to lunch at Arby’s.  We got vanilla shakes.  We’d cruise in her red Honda and listen to Kenny Rogers.  I’ll remember so many cute things about her.  She always had tissues, Tic Tacs, and a pick in her purse.  I’ll never forget how she put her lipstick on.  Or how she put her socks on.  That she always looked nice.  Always had her hair and makeup done.  How she smelled.  How tasty her cookies were.  How delicious her potato salad was, and how almost no one can duplicate it.  She was exactly the kind of grandma everyone deserves.  And she influenced my mom to be the best kind of mom for me.  I said at her service that if nothing else, teaching my mom how to be an amazing mom is enough for me to love her forever.  I’m so very thankful for all the vacations, day trips, and sitting around watching tv moments I had with my grandma.

Why are you crying, Angela?

Dear Tickles,

I love you, baby.  I’m so sorry this happened to you.  And I’m sorry to make the decision that I did.  I hope you forgive me.  I couldn’t be guaranteed you’d get better, and I didn’t want you to suffer through a winter outside.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the last three months outside.  I think you did.  I watched you from my bedroom window, curled up in the grass, watching the birds.  Your tail twitching.  Those birds could have been toast if you’d have wanted to chase them!  And that mouse I found near my car this summer – that was you, wasn’t it?  Silly girl.  You were the BEST mouser ever!  We’ll never forget the night that you caught the mouse in the kitchen.  Mom and Dad were making supper, and you were super focused on one of the cupboards.  Somehow you got hold of the mouse, then Dad scooped it up, then he dropped it, then you caught it, then he caught it, and dropped it again!  He should have let you take care of it.  haha

I remember the day you came to us.  Someone found you wandering around their neighborhood in town.  We said you could come here and live outside.  So you came here.  And we found out that you were declawed in the front.  No outsiding for you.  Plus, I loved you instantly and wasn’t gonna let you out of my sight.  So we fattened you up a little.  But you just kept getting fatter.  When it looked like you’d swallowed a ball, we decided you must be preggers!  Silly goose!  Stupid owners though – didn’t spay you when they declawed you.  Anyway, you had two beautiful little munchkins.  And we gave them to a friend.  And then we spayed you.

And you became my best friend.  I went off to college but missed you everyday.  When I came home for a year after graduation, you slept at my feet almost every night.  Sometimes you’d follow me around the house, and sometimes you’d hole up in a closet somewhere.  And when I lived on the rez for a year, you were there for me.  You didn’t care if I’d been humiliated by my boss, or if one of the elders who was taking wacko medication made lewd comments at me, or if I’d actually had a good and productive day – when I got home, you expected kibbles and snuggles.  You didn’t judge me when I cried of loneliness.  In fact you often jumped on my bed and laid on my tummy.  You made me laugh with your nightly “zooms” – that five minutes of whipping all over the apartment like a maniac, just before bedtime.  And remember that night I didn’t feel good and rolled my back on a tennis ball on the floor, and you came up behind me and BIT my head!  And drew BLOOD!!!  Little shit.  I constantly had to wipe off the counter b/c I gave up on trying to keep your fours on the floor.  You could be such a troublemaker!  You really could bite ya know that?  Damn.  I’m scarred for life!  haha  But I know I wouldn’t have survived that year without you.  Coming home to you every night was the best part of my day.

You were one of the sweetest cats I’ve ever had.  You could snuggle with the best of them.  You had a knack for knowing when I needed a snuggle.  I loved when you’d go through phases of sleeping on my head.  As fun as it was to wake up choking on fur, I loved loved loved when you slept with me.  I loved when you’d crawl under the covers and sleep under my bent knees.  Your purr soothed me so many times.  And your fur was so fluffy and soft.  A few times I woke up to you stretched out, snuggled up to my side, so I put my arm around you.  I loved those moments when you’d be sitting on the edge of a table or counter, and I’d stand in front of you.  I’d start scratching behind your ears and you’d lean in and put your forehead on my tummy.  Those are the moments I knew you loved me.

Then came the Indiana Years.  School was tough sometimes, but you were always there to lift my spirits.  And then came along the Kitten.  I couldn’t blame you when you hissed and fretted over her arrival.  She was definitely gonna make our household dynamic change.  You kinda went from my baby to my friend.  It was a change we all had to adjust to – but we made it.  You soon took her in and gave her a place in your heart.  I thought you might.  I thought your mama instinct would kick in.  You’re a sweetie.  And boy did she looooove you!  haha  She followed you around and played with you as much as you’d let her!  I distinctly remember her taking a flying leap off the coffee table onto your back.  I laughed so hard!  You were such a good sport that first year.

And last year in Milwaukee, you were a trooper for traveling with me up there.  You and Tortie kept me company.  And I’m so grateful for that.  For your love.  Cats are finicky.  And you were SUCH a cat!  Your tail gave me an immediate read on your mood.  You’d whip it around when you were irritated.  It curled when you were in a good mood, up for play.  I swear you’d wrap it around my leg when you brushed past me.  Ya know that’s how you got your name?  Brother decided to call you Tickles because he thought it tickled when you rubbed up against his legs.  I wasn’t so convinced.  I thought it was a silly name.  But it turns out to have fit you perfectly.  And so the nicknames ensued – Tickles Bickles, T Bickles, TB, Miss Kitty, Silly Pants, Tickles Pants, Pants, Miss Puss, etc.  Shoot, the Pants name even extended to my friends.  Daniel Pants, Dani Pants, Amanda Pants….and my grad school boyfriend just/still called me Pants.

You’ve been SUCH a huge part of my life for the past 13 years.  I can’t thank you enough for letting me be your human.  You’re my best friend.  I’ll love you forever.  And I’ll tell all my future kitties about the standard you set for friendship.  It’s hard for me to trust people sometimes, I think that’s why we connected so well.  I always thought we were partners in crime.

Burying you last night was so hard.  I wanted to hold you again.  I swear the thought crossed my mind today – I could just dig you up and hold you one last time.  I won’t, b/c at this point it’s gross, not to mention a little crazy.  But I am going to miss you, Kitty.  I miss you already.  Just having you in the house the last two days, taking care of you.  Syringing water into your mouth.  Cleaning the blood off your paws.  Cutting away the fur that was matted.  Giving you a washcloth bath.  Listening to you purr was like music to my ears!  I want to believe that you knew I wasn’t going to hurt you, that I was trying to help you.  You’d lay back on your side and let me work.  As terrible as it was that you were injured, I’m glad that your last days were spent inside and being cared for.  I sobbed into your fur, I think I knew what was coming.  And when the vet told me what we’d have to do, just to see if you might heal, I made the difficult decision to let you go.  Maybe it was selfish on my part, but I just keep trying to remind myself that you’ve just spent the last three months in heaven on earth, playing in the grass.  That you’d been completely loved your whole life with me.  That I’d fed you well.  Kept you healthy.  Played with you.  Snuggled you.  Slipped you bits of banana…

You made me smile and laugh and cry sometimes.  My life will go on, and I’ll be fine.  But I’ll never forget you.  We buried you in the garden so maybe flowers or veggies would grow over your grave.  Something beautiful or delicious.  B/c you were beautiful.  My gorgeous girl.

I’ll love you forever and ever and ever and ever.

Angie

Ps.  Say hi to Tony in Kitty Heaven.  And if you get visiting hours with Doggy Heaven, say hi to Maddie.  Tell her I miss her.  Okay, love you.  See you in my dreams.

Tickles Bickles

Tickles Bickles

What do you wish you had the opportunity to read before your reunion?

Someone posted a link to this blog on a Facebook group I’m in and I checked it out.  Now, I don’t necessarily agree or disagree with the purpose of the blog in general, but I love the re-posted part of this entry.  I haven’t written much about my actual reunion yet, but Ms. Verishine manages to capture many of the words and feelings I would use.  I think the points she lays out are really useful to keep in mind when approaching a reunion relationship.

I’ll include the link to the original blog I lifted this from below.

Posted by Mirah Riben on Friday, March 22, 2013 on the blog called “Family Preservation      Advocate: The Blog of Advocate Publications”:

 

Reunification of Adoption-Separated Persons

When the media has asked me about reunion outcomes I always tell them that just like all other     interpersonal relationships, they run the gamut from great to awful and everything in between and many – as we all know – can go back and forth and back again.  Parent and adult child relationships are difficult as is, but add the baggage of feelings of rejection, guilt, feelings of betrayal, loss, shock, anger, feelings of abandonment….and you’ve got a powder-keg waiting to explode.

When adoptees or parents who have relinquished ask me about reunion I have often said: Expect nothing except to find the truth. Whatever you find, good, bad or indifferent will be your truth.  I also usually remind searchers that they are proceeding at their pace in their time and readiness, but the person they are finding and seeking to enter into a reunion with is totally unprepared and caught off-guard. They often need time to readjust to this new reality.

Recently, a Facebook conversation led to another point of view.  The views expressed by “Buck Wheat” as she is known online, were so thoughtful and insightful, so  important to share that I asked her to write a guest blog post. 

I hope it opens a healthy and helpful discussion.

Here it is:

Reunion and Expectations

by Charlene Verishine
I hear both moms and adoptees say to enter into reunion with no expectations. I believe this is misguided advice. I also believe it is impossible. I cannot count the number of times I have read or heard adoptees and moms say I had no expectations but it isn’t long before I hear them say what they found wasn’t what they expected! Remember, you are entering into      reunion because YOU believe you are ready. Expect that there may never be the perfect time for those you find and they may not be ready.
From my experience and research, here is what I believe we can reasonably expect.
We can expect to find a wounded soul. I know it seems obvious but it’s important to               remember because we need to be kind, gentle, and compassionate with the trauma survivor. We can expect that there may be some sort of self-medicating for the pain. Be it drugs       (prescription or illicit), alcohol, workaholics, or food. It’s natural for humans to self-medicate and we should not condemn or judge them for it.
We can expect that our “other” (I use the term ‘other’ when referring to adoptees or moms. It is for brevity and not intended to diminish anyone) may not be able to face their pain thus unable to acknowledge ours. It isn’t their fault! People are ready to face it at their own pace and we must respect that. Setting an example of facing our own is all we can really do. Tell anyone who isn’t ready that they might have ‘adoption issues’ and you’ll likely be met with rage. Haven’t we all seen someone scream ‘I’m NOT angry’ complete with the red face, vein pulsing in their forehead after you ask them why they are so angry? It is easy to believe they are being self absorbed, don’t care how we are affected, flawed for not being strong enough to see their own let alone our pain but it is simply fear. There is no value, comfort or healing in taking it personally because it isn’t.
We can expect that people don’t understand the difference between feelings, beliefs, and the truth. This certainly isn’t isolated to adoptoworld. Understanding the differences is      critical! By far, this is the most important thing I’ve learned in my journey. It made the          difference of feeling crushing pain and despair to understanding and compassion.  Feelings and beliefs fluctuate. The truth is constant. Feelings are happy, sad, angry, shame, etc.        Feelings are never wrong, they just are. We need to honor, and validate them. Beliefs are a different matter and it is healthy to question them, it isn’t disrespectful. I find myself          explaining these differences most often when talking with moms and adoptees about           rejection and abandonment. I am very careful to challenge beliefs, not feelings. I challenge those that say ‘I feel rejected. I feel abandoned’. I do that because those aren’t feelings, they are beliefs! I strongly believe that there is no rejection of people in reunion – ever. It is a         rejection of the pain, not us.
We can expect that trauma victims may not know what the truth is. Just because our other says something doesn’t make it true. You will be told their beliefs but they could be false and can’t be assumed the truth. This is counter-intuitive, I know. The brainwashing by society and the adoption industry affects us all at some time to some degree. I lied to myself and lived in denial to survive. The fog is very powerful. It wasn’t long ago that I would’ve said I had a choice, that I had no regrets. Those were my false beliefs and not the truth. As with everything with adoption, you can’t take anything at face value and must look deeper.  Does anyone out of the fog really believe the adoptee that says adoption had no affect on me? Do we believe the rape victim that says it was her fault?
We can expect that we, or our other, may unconsciously sabotage our reunion. This can       happen when we believe inherently (often unconsciously) that somehow we are unlovable, that we don’t deserve good things in our life, we can’t trust anyone. How can one not have a seed of the belief of being unlovable when the one who was supposed to love them the most left them? Moms tell themselves they are unlovable because what kind of person gets themselves in a position to lose a child to adoption? We may believe we aren’t worthy of a           relationship, that they are better off without us. Our misguided belief of ‘rejection’ may       terrify us and give us any reason to ditch our other. A get them before they get me defense mechanism. What can be most confusing is that a pullback can come when reunions are      going well. It’s the realization of all that we’ve lost and will never get back that can cause some to put the brakes on. Again, it’s the pain being rejected, not the person.
We can expect that reunion will bring grief to the surface. I didn’t start to grieve the loss of my son until after we met face to face. Grief can cause us to lash out at our other or anyone else. It is akin to having psychological sunburn. Things that would not normally hurt, the slightest touch can cause an extreme pain reaction. The grief can seem never ending. I found making a list helped. Putting it down on paper stopped it from being free-floating. It allowed me to give it the respect and acknowledgement it deserved. I don’t hold back the tears anymore. I hope that one day I’ll discover I don’t need to add to the list anymore.
We can expect that social graces we give and receive from those close to us may not apply in adoptoworld. For example, a friend would return your call or email in a day or two. We need to understand that our other may need time to process, may have an uncontrollable urge to prove that you aren’t that important. You see, we convince ourselves that it hurts less when we diminish the value and importance of our other. Another false belief because trying to    ignore our pain certainly doesn’t make it go away. We’d all be pain free if that actually worked!
We can expect that if setting healthy boundaries is hard for us it will be exponentially more difficult with our other. We all have the right to be treated with respect and dignity. It is      natural for adoption to cause ‘nuclear’ rage and it could be directed to our other instead of the adoption industry where it belongs. It isn’t fair or right but understandable. Moms need to have compassion and patience for their kids that vehemently exclaim that we had a choice; there wasn’t a gun to your head. Expect that the miniscule exception to the rule, the ‘dumpster babies’, women who just don’t want to parent, abortion will be referenced.
We can expect regression. Moms will often regress to the age when they lost their child. I’ve seen my son regress to the contemptuous teenager, raging toddler and then to the kind, contemplative adult in mere moments. I couldn’t believe the youthful energy I had upon     reunion. The downside was that some of the immature attitudes came through as well. The world was once again black and white and not the spectrum of gray that comes with           experience and maturity. This wasn’t constant but my younger ‘inner child’ would come through when triggered.  I’m grateful I was able to recognize that when my son said he never wanted to see or speak to me again it was his inner child coming through. If I took him at his word, face value, I would have left him alone and it could’ve been decades before we reconnected again, if ever. I followed the advice of a wise adoptee and continued to send my notes of loving and missing you every month or so. After over a year of silence, he has        responded. I know there will be mountains and valleys on our path but I will never give up hope!
We can expect that we can’t travel this journey alone. We need the support and compassion of those that are on the same journey and those that have travelled before us. It takes work to know something intellectually and to know it in our bones. I believe it is our responsibility to face our own pain. I believe we have a duty to learn about our other’s experience and pain, too. Above all, we cannot judge and condemn them for not facing their pain or healing on our schedule. We need to accept where they are. We can only change ourselves.

We can expect that our capacity for love, compassion, and empathy can carry us through.”