This week’s episode of This is Us, ep 13, got me thinking a whole lot about an aspect of adoption that I feel can be glazed over easily. I have wanted to dig into Kate’s story for a really long time. I find her fascinating. First of all, I love that she is a character that represents a large part of our nation. When is the last time we’ve had a main character who is female and obese? I can’t think of one. Kate is beautiful and brave and very relatable. I have loved her since day one, perhaps because I see myself in her character on many levels, and have been waiting for them to reveal her story a bit more. Just like Kate’s personality, the audience has had to be patient until it was the right time.

*** Spoiler Alert ***

So, how does Kate relate to adoption? I mean, other than the fact that her brother is adopted? Loss. Let’s talk about loss. As we learn from this episode, Kate experienced a great loss in her life. We don’t know the details yet, but we know that her father (and the heart throb of loyal This Is Us mom-fans all over) passes away. From what we can tell from the funeral flashback, this happens probably when the kids are teenagers. For Kate, who already struggles with self-esteem and general confidence…her rock is gone. It’s Jack who always lifts her up and makes her feel better. And all of a sudden, he’s gone. I presume, based on this all revealing itself while she was at her weight loss camp, that we will learn how her father’s death impacted, and maybe altered, her relationship with food.

There are so many different ways people deal with grief. But “dealing” with it doesn’t always mean it’s done in a healthy way. It doesn’t always mean that we are healing from the grief. Not long ago I wrote an article about how grief can help with healing, but if you don’t know how to cope, “dealing” with it looks more like stuffing it into a dark, empty space in your heart. That coping turns into bigger problems. Whether it’s overeating (or maybe not eating, promiscuity, lashing out in anger, sleeping) life can get out of balance and you can begin to feel more isolated than ever before.

But let us not forget that those tears of joy are there because there was pain before.

I don’t want to spend time on the unhealthy coping mechanisms people use to cope with pain and loss, but rather highlight the fact that there is a side to adoption that is always painful, no matter the joyous outcome. We know about the love and beauty of adoption. It’s what we hear most about. We see families joined together – the couple who has been waiting for years and finally has a baby placed in their arms. Or we hear about the older child who has been adopted from foster care and cries tears of joy with a new mom and dad. That makes us all feel good and it is good. Those experiences should be celebrated. But let us not forget that those tears of joy are there because there was pain before. Even if it’s an infant adoption…that child grows up knowing that there is another mother out there somewhere that, even out of love, decided to not raise that child. It is something that has to be worked through. For some it may be easier than others. But as adoptees grow up, they may become more and more aware of that loss. Even before they do, though, it is so important to understand that hole that is there – that really can never be filled by anyone other than that person. Adoptive mothers and fathers and siblings and friends can all try to fill that hole. Ultimately, however, no one can do that but the individual – and only when ready.

Adoption is full of love, just as Kate’s family is full of love. There is great danger when we neglect the loss that is a big part of that story, though. If Kate were to never face her loss and the results of that, I don’t think she’d ever be able to improve her health, something she’s been working on her entire adult life. Likewise, when we neglect the loss in adoption – birth mother’s loss, adoptee’s loss, adoptive parents’ loss – love can only take us so far. In fact, I think more love and healing can only come about when we do acknowledge and validate the entire experience.

I’m curious where Kate’s story will lead. But even if it doesn’t go where I hope it will, she’s already reminded me to be more open to my children, speak to them about their roots, ask them questions about how they feel about their adoption, and just love and listen more, and talk a whole lot less.

Did you catch last week’s episode? Check out the review for last week here.