Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Grieving (so far...)

It hurts to write this post.  It hurts because my daughter hurts and it's a pain I cannot take away.  It's a pain she is going to have to reconcile herself to for life.

There is just no way to get around it: adoption is rooted in loss.  A child has lost the opportunity to grow up with their biological family and through that loss may have also lost a homeland, a culture, a language, and too many other things to count.  The reason that there is a need for adoption is because the world is broken.  Adoption gives a child a second family, but it doesn't negate the first.

This past summer we marked a very important and tragic day in Avé's short life.  I wrote her a letter on the anniversary of this day- a letter I will not share in full b/c it's just for her.  I will tell you, though, that in that letter I let her know one very important fact about herself and her life:

Her first family LOVED her.

No- her first family ADORED her.

How do I know this?  Because of who she is.  You only learn how to be in a family by being in a family.  And you only learn how to give and receive love by giving and receiving love.  My daughter is a girl who KNOWS how to be ADORED.  And that tells me that her first family gave her such a gift- they gave her all of their hearts.

I'm still not really sure how to talk about Avé's past online in a way that shares her story in a way that can connect me with others who are dealing with the same things, and in a way that might help others on their journey- but at the same time still respects her privacy.  It's a delicate balance.  So, I'm not going to tell you everything, and if you know us in "real" life, I'm asking you to kindly NOT share with others what I may have already told you about her life or what you may read on this blog.  Think of it this way: SHE does not fully comprehend her whole story yet.  So it's unfair that others in our circle of acquaintance know more than she does.

But I do want to share some things we have been going through.  I'll do my best to walk that delicate line.  I have decided that I am comfortable sharing the info I am going to write about today because Avé has shared or has asked me to share things along these lines with others.  And if she's comfortable with it, then I am too.

We talk a lot about her first family.  We call them by name- Papa Debiso and Mama Meselesh.  She does not remember her first mother- Mama Meselesh died when Av was still a little baby. But we talk about her to build memories of her.  I am able to tell her that she looks like Mama Meselesh.  I am able to tell her that she is silly and funny like Mama Meselesh.  I am able to tell her that she likes music just like both of her first parents.  We are blessed to be able to know these things.  They will be a treasure to her.

But just because I know she doesn't really remember her first mother doesn't mean she isn't grieving her loss.  Toward the end of summer she experienced a lot of grief.  She asked a lot of questions over and over and over.  "Why Mama Meselesh die?"  I answered her questions truthfully and openly as I could.  A couple of times she would be playing with a little friend and then come to me and say, "Mommy- tell her about Mama Meselesh die."  And so I would... often to the shock of the little friend's parent!   But I saw this as a good sign- she wanted her friends to know this important fact about her.  One day we were driving in the car- just the two of us- and she just burst into tears and said, "Mommy!  Me no want Mama Meselesh die!!!"  I pulled the car over, unbuckled her seat belt and put her on my lap and we both just cried and cried and cried.  I told her that I wish Mama Meselesh hadn't died either.  And I mean it.  I wish she could still be with her first family- surrounded by their love and the culture she was born into.  It's not fair... it just really is NOT fair...

We had several episodes like this and sometimes they take her hours to get over.  All I know to do is to hold her and cry with her and then get out Karen Purvis' book and see what else I need to be doing to help her through her grief.

I don't always handle it well.

At one point she started saying things like, "Me no like this house. Me like Ethiopia house."  and I would just say, "Yes- Ethiopia houses are very nice, aren't they?"  One night we were having Mexican food and she picked up a tortilla and said, "Me no like this America injera.  You injera no yummy.  Ethiopia injera yummy."  We all stifled a giggle and then just agreed, "Yes, Ethiopia injera is better than this 'injera'."

But then one night she said, "Me no like you to be my Mommy.  Me want Mama Meselesh be my Mommy."

And I was STUNNED by the pain that went through my heart.

I responded by putting her on my lap and holding her close and saying, "Yes, I'm sorry that Mama Meselesh can't be your mommy too.  I know you miss her so much."  and she started crying onto my shoulder and I started crying into her hair... but this time my tears were partly selfish tears.  I was crying- at least partly- for myself.  I was crying at how ashamed I felt about my poor reaction in my heart, and I was crying because, well, dammit!  It hurts to feel rejected!  I know she wasn't really rejecting me... I know that.  And I'm not telling you this b/c I'm proud of it.  I'm just telling you this b/c it's the truth.  Immature- maybe.  But still the truth.

But what this told me is that while she deals with everything so well on the outside, there is a very deep inside where she hides her true feelings.  And it's going to be our job as her second family to help her dig those feelings out and help her deal with them.  It scared me a little bit.  It let me know that she may be the kind of person who holds everything in- and I don't think that's healthy.  Because the grief is there.  Some people deal with it head-on and let their anger and sadness all hang out.  And others bury it deep.  But it WILL come out- if we don't deal with it in healthy ways we will be dealing with it in unhealthy ways at some point.

And really?  I'm not too sure how to do that.  I can love her and help her to talk about and process things... but I do think at some point we are going to need to seek some professional help in encouraging her to deal with her grief in a healthy manner.  I'll do the very, very best I can... but I know it won't be enough.


Lyndsay said...

Thank you! for sharing. We are a couple months away (I hope) from bringing home our 3 yr. old from ET. I have been thinking about this a lot lately. It sounds like you are handling it beautifully. I LOVE Karyn Purvis. :)

Sohailah said...

I will tell you you are giving her so very much. As one who knows nothing, and has always been fully loved by her family, you are giving her so very much. My first memories in life are the story about "How We Got Sohailah" - the accounting that my mom had written in my baby book - that is truly my earliest memory - sitting in her lap on the little love seat in our living room and having her read it to me. Poor woman - God only knows how many times I asked her to read it to me. Must have been a lot, because when I read it as an adult, I realized I had much of it memorized.

The heart/head connection is so difficult for all of us.

I am so proud of you - your patience, your love, your honesty.

And although it's 'not fair' - had I not been adopted, had I HAD the chance to live with my natural parents - where would I be now? It MAY have been fine, but more than likely not. I try to remember the tapestry that God is weaving - the knots on the underside weaving such a beautiful only God-able front side picture.

Kimberlie said...

It is not fair. Rejection does hurt. It's OK to cry about that because it's a normal, human reaction. Frankly, there are days when I wonder if we shouldn't be starting a trust fund for my kids' therapy when they grow up because this parenting gig is hard and I screw up a lot.

What you are doing is right - be open to her feelings, acknowledge her feelings, and share your abundant love with her. Doesn't it just s*ck that children so young and innocent have to deal with such hard, hard, things?

Big hugs!

Jamey... said...

This is a beautiful post. It sounds to me like you are doing a wonderful job responding to her. I'm totally impressed.

Sylvia said...

This post was so very moving and real. I can't enter in to what you share but very many people are praying for Ave and I know that "every time we pray, something happens". You are so obviously the best family who could possibly care for her for her biological parents.

Bonnie Nieuwstraten said...

Oh, your post SO resonated with me. We brought our 4 year old daughter home from Ethiopia in January, and the grieving process for her has been so much more complicated than I thought. I compare it to sneaker waves at the beach...you're just having a good time and then - boom! Suddenly this freezing cold waves knocks you down. The other day we were happily cooking and she said, "Mom, I changed my mind. I want to go back. My Ethiopian mom misses me." Oh, I did not know how to process that with her because I did not know how to process it myself. I'm glad that I found your blog! I will enjoy following your journey!

Jocelyn said...

We are going through this too and yes, it is sooo hard to watch. I know that our girls will get through this and so will we. I also know that because you and I DON'T negate their first family will be a huge reason for this. I don't understand why or how any adoptive parent could. I heard somewhere that if a mother can love two children, then a child can love two mothers...and I agree 100%. We just finished Shelato's life book this week and she is so excited for this. I really think this is going to help her heal...I really do. Hugs to you!

Leslie said...

You really touched me with this post. We do know our boys have been LOVED...AND LOVED WELL. They were clearly adored. It has been so hard for me to understand why I get to be their mom when their mother didn't get to finish. It is so unfair. It really is a struggle to understand it all and not keep asking "why?".

Anonymous said...

I cried like a baby reading this post!!! I LOVE your daughter! Such strength at such a young age! That killed my heart how you pulled the car over to comfort her! You are a great mommy!! I adopted a baby boy at 5 months from Ethiopia. He was abandoned and I have a heavy heart when I think how I will EVER tell him!! I'm sure his mom LOVED him dearly, but these kids go through so much!! We really can only love them unconditionally....


JenRene Owens said...

Gayla thanks for being so transparent. It's sharing the realness that normalizes it for many of us and gives uo hopes of whatto expect. Thanks. I will look into the book you mentioned it looks like i better start getting ready. Thanks, Jennifer

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