Double Portrait, Lucian Freud
I'm a step-parent adoptee along with being a mother who lost a child to adoption. I know about dealing with grief. I've been living with the grief of losing my daughter for the last 32 years. It was a grief that had to be hidden and swallowed on a daily basis. I had to pretend that I had 2 children instead of 3. I had to pretend that everything was just peachy with my family even though becoming pregnant while single was the ultimate perceived shame upon my family and my daughter's adoption was the result of that shame.
What Karen's post reminded me of were the times when I was a little girl and my parents would find me crying for what they thought was no reason. I heard these stories for years, stories about me as a little child, sitting in front of the tv just crying. They told me they would ask... "why are you crying?" The joke was when I would say... "I don't know". They thought that was funny. They thought it was funny that a small child of 4 or 5 years old who was sitting there crying her eyes out, didn't know why she was crying. I've often wondered if the crying had something to do with the loss of my father even though from the stories I heard, there wasn't much to lose. Who knows. I just can't imagine having one of my children crying like that and not being concerned about the cause. Apparently I was suffering from some sort of upset but couldn't verbalize it. Did I somehow know that my father didn't want anything to do with me, even though he was gone when I was a baby? Was that affecting me or was it just something happening in the house that day that bothered me. From what I understand it wasn't an isolated incident. I guess I cried a lot as a kid. What I want to know is... why.
I learned a lot about my adoption experience of grief by going through a completely different type of grief process. I was extraordinarily close to my grandmother. In her last decade she lived very close to me and I saw her nearly every day. Her last weeks were spent in a nearby nursing home and I would sit with her for hours. We talked about everything under the sun including the fact that she would be leaving us soon. We cried a lot, we held each other's hands, the grieving had begun. She grieved with me about her leaving. When she died I was sitting on one side of her bed holding her hand while my mother held her other hand. The rest of the family was gathered around the room. As she took her last breath I felt peace. Of course I cried through the following days of dealing with the funeral and all that entails but I also laughed. We all had many good stories to tell about our lives with her. Of course I still miss her but now I can look back and think of her with fondness and love.
Losing my daughter and losing my grandmother were both devastating to me but there was a difference. I was allowed to openly grieve one loss but not the other. Although the people in my family cry easily, my pregnancy and shame meant that there could be no grieving about adoption. How could I grieve for her if no one is supposed to have known about her? As far as the loss of my father, how could I grieve something that I was too young to recognize or understand? For that matter, how could I grieve something that no one else even considered to be a loss for me at all?
What I do know from these grief experiences is, whether it's hidden or unrecognized, grief has to come out at some point. It has to be dealt with eventually. In the loss of my grandmother, the grief was hard but eventually there was peace because the pain was allowed to happen. When it's allowed it's easier to move through it. In the loss of my daughter the grief would explode out of me every year around her birthday. I could only swallow so much during the course of the year before it would spill over and her birthday was the catalyst. I then thought that reuniting with her would end the pain but what I found was, in meeting her, there was another layer of grief to come to the surface - it was the realization of all that I missed in her childhood and the anger at what was done to both of us. When I saw the photos of her growing up it hit me like a ton of bricks.
Everyone's process is different and we all need to do these things in our own way. For me, going through one type of grief gave me a much better understanding of the other kind, the kind that had to be hidden. In thinking about how I handle life situations, it's good to realize that maybe it's the grief that has to be dealt with and it's not that I'm somehow defective.