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Saturday, 28 November 2020
Accepting That Grief Can Last A Lifetime Print
Paula, an adult Korean adoptee and adoptive parent, shares her “reflections, observations and musings” in an insightful blog entitled, Heart Mind and Seoul. She has graciously allowed us to share this entry, one that all adoptive parents should read.

Accepting That Grief Can Last A Lifetime

Often I fear that too many of us - both in the adoption community and in society at large - see grieving as it relates to an adoptee's loss as a one-time occurrence. In fact I know some who view their children's grieving as an isolated incident that begins upon their child's arrival into their families and whose pattern of grief is somehow expected to adhere to time-inflicted parameters. So many times I read and hear about grieving portrayed as an "event" or prolonged series of episodes that is thought to have an end date, as if there is a finite conclusion that caps off the compulsory nights of crying, or days of our children refusing to establish solid eye contact or weeks where our child may seem reserved, upset or unusually withdrawn.

And when the crying ceases in the midnight hours, when our once reticent children become deliriously engaged in endless games of peek-a-boo and when they start to go running into the arms of mommy and daddy with reckless abandon, the said grieving is believed to have run it's course. And we breathe a sigh of relief that our sons and daughters have successfully overcome the transition, regardless of how traumatic, and that the grieving component of our children's history has thereby officially concluded. Forever.

I know for some, just seeing the combination of words "grieving and adoption" conjures up an image that is just too distressing and too daunting to acknowledge or accept as anything beyond a one time event. Grieving as it relates to adoption is viewed by many in society as some sort of malady, and one that some parents feel ill-equipped to handle as an ongoing affair, versus what I believe to be a highly natural, perfectly normal, most healthy and sometimes necessary emotion that could very well possibly weave itself throughout their child's life, potentially sparked by random and unexpected triggers.

When I was a child, I don't know how much information my parents had about identifying, accepting and even encouraging the grieving process in me, their daughter who was adopted. I feel they were light years ahead on so many issues pertaining to adoption, especially transracial adoption, but I don't remember having any candid conversations about grieving. Perhaps they didn't have the knowledge or the words about what it meant for an adoptee to mourn and grieve at various points of her life, for her entire life, and as a result, the knowledge and the words eluded me as well.

I absolutely do not see grieving as a one shot deal that miraculously ends once a child has, by all outward appearances, "adjusted" into his or her own new surroundings. I believe in the science and the research that asserts that as infants, any traumatic experience becomes stored into our bodies, and that our body's ability to remember, feel and grieve that trauma spans an entire lifetime. And please tell me, what is possibly more traumatizing to a baby than being separated from his or her mother? Why are adoptees not given the space, the permission, the compassion and the opportunity to process this grief as it emerges in different points throughout our life?

How is it that society can honestly believe that a child wouldn't grieve and mourn the loss of his or her mother and father for any less than what constitutes a lifetime? Tell an everyday Joe that your child, adopted at 6 months old, grieved for a few weeks or even a few months after they came home and Joe will understand. Tell him that your child has been grieving at different points of his or her life for several years across a broad spectrum of intensities, and Joe will undoubtedly question or even categorize your child as being an aberration ala "What? You mean to tell me that your child hasn't gotten over it YET?!"

Adoption trauma and loss as a result from being separated from our parents is not something I believe that we as adoptees ever forget. Even if our minds do not remember, scientific evidence repeatedly supports and affirms that our bodies indeed do.

As an adoptive parent, I want our son to feel safe in expressing any and all feelings he may have, including grief. I don't want him to fear feeling ungrateful for grieving the loss of his parents, his ancestry, his language or his country. More importantly, I want to be able to recognize, validate and be able to provide him with the words to help him process his grief, even if it comes at the most unexpected of times. Especially when it comes at the most unexpected of times.

There are so many messages sent by society that get internalized by us adoptees. One is the notion that if we're happy, lively, and attached little kids that we've successfully overcome the loss of our parents. And if there is no more loss, people are mistakenly led to believe that there isn't any need or reason for us to ever grieve our first parent's absence. This unknowingly suppresses, discourages and even shames an adoptee for experiencing feelings and emotions that at times can be sad, painful, and full of sorrow.

If we as parents were to lose a child today, no one would ever expect us to wholly recover from such a traumatic event. No reasonable or rational person would deny us the chance to fully grieve and properly mourn such a tremendous loss and they would allow us to do so for an indefinite amount of time. And they would most assuredly be able to understand how specific dates, holidays, family occasions or other celebratory or even random events could certainly trigger more pronounced grieving and elicit a heightened sense of loss and mourning for our beloved child. And even if we had other children, most people would not judge us, call us ungrateful, angry or bitter simply because we rightfully mourn and grieve the loss of the child who is no longer with us.

If we can openly embrace a parent's natural reaction to grieve and mourn the loss of his or her child for weeks, months and even years to come, perhaps we could and should extend the same compassion, the same allowances and the same respect for the children who have lost not only their mother and father, but their entire world as they knew it, felt it, breathed it and lived it.

Thank You....
Written by Denise on 2007-06-12 10:16:34
I totally agree with you, and believe that this idea of "getting over it" is a pathology of our society. 
When my mom died I didn't even start to feel my grief for over a year...I was in shock...And I remember how confused people who had not had a similar experience were that I would experience grief cyclically...on her birthday, or other special days. 
I think most people are just in denial. 
And the traumas, like separation from the birth family, that are pre-verbal, are even harder to process...people think little kids don't remember, but half-remembered, preverbal losses are probably even harder to process. 
Thanks again for your essay! 
Written by Maria on 2007-10-12 15:07:14
Thank you. As a parent of an adoptee I wholeheartedly agree and support her grief that will in many ways be lifelong. 
Thank you for helping us understand.

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