If I believed in coincidence, I would say it was by pure coincidence that I am writing this post. Too bad I don’t believe in coincidence. However, I do know I was meant to be writing this exact article! Season one, episode number one of The Gladney Center for Adoption‘s reFRAMEd podcast is on reframing grief. You would probably be shocked if I told you that we just had the first death in our family during our son’s first five years of life. Just a few weeks ago, our grandma, our son’s great-grandma, passed away peacefully in her home. It is with perfect timing that I write to you about reframing grief.
Grief is defined as the response to loss, particularly the loss of someone or something that has died. However, as described in the video, grief doesn’t only occur during deaths. Grief can occur in many other situations. Specifically, grief can come from moving, a change in jobs, school, churches, homes, or also in the form of adoption. This was great for me to hear as I know I have experienced grief in many different ways.
For instance, a few years ago, we had a failed adoption happen. I could write an entire post simply on that. Nevertheless, for the sake of this article, I am going to focus on the grief that I went through. Someone told me what while we were going through the failed adoption, we might experience the same five steps of grief as if someone had died. For those who do not know what the five-steps of grief are, they are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
When we lost our chance to adopt that little baby girl, I suffered a loss like no other. Looking back, I am not sure if I was most devastated by the loss of the baby girl or the loss of what I thought our life was going to look like. We already had one adopted son, and I thought our life was going to consist of having two adopted children—one boy and one girl. It seemed perfect in my eyes. However, our life didn’t consist of that; instead, it was faced with the loss of a baby girl and the life we dreamed we would have.
You better believe I embraced all five stages of grief during the course of probably the next year. I kept thinking this wasn’t happening to me. It didn’t happen to me. She would change her mind again. I was in complete denial. And when I was done with that. I was mad. No, I was extremely angry. We already waited almost six years for our son. Why did we have to go through this too? I was mad at the biological mom. I was mad at myself for letting myself believe we could have the dream of having one boy and one girl. I was mad at anyone who would listen. We got rid of the new minivan we bought because we thought we were going to have two kids. I didn’t want the constant reminder of what I had lost. Of course, we just bought it a few months prior. But I was bargaining with anything that made it feel like I had some sort of control over the situation. Of course, we cleaned out our house. All of our baby girl clothes, reminders of the baby girl we didn’t have left our house. We gave it to a friend who was also having a baby girl. Yup, another constant reminder of what we didn’t have.
That’s when the semi-depression hit. I have always been a pretty upbeat person. I have a very outgoing personality. However, that went away for a little while. It was a daily balance. I still had a child at home I needed to care for. He was only 2 and a half when it happened, so he didn’t really understand the concept of having a baby sister or the fact he wasn’t now going to have a baby sister.
I couldn’t “sit” in this depression forever, but I did allow myself to sit it in for a while. I needed it to heal. Of course, these actions and emotions didn’t only happen once. They happened over and over again and not always in the same order. I was grieving. I was hurt. I was lost. I needed to find my way to the top again. I am glad to say three years later I can talk about it now and know it happened for a reason. I wouldn’t be able to talk about it like I do now back then, but it was definitely a grief I didn’t see coming.
Most of the time, I thought of grief as relating to the death of someone. I didn’t think it could be related to anything else. Just like this video indicated, it can be related to many things, including adoption. No matter how happy the adoption is, adoption is the loss of a child’s biological family. We have a very open relationship with our son’s biological family, and we have had this relationship since his biological mom was pregnant with him. You would think he wouldn’t have any issues then related to adoption. He was placed with us from the hospital, never living with a different family or a different house. He should be fine, right?
Wrong. He still is and has suffered a tremendous loss. While we will do everything in our power to make sure he is reassured that he was meant to be living in our house and having us as his parents, he will still fight the “loss” in his life. He too will go through the five stages of grief throughout his life. It is inevitable. We just have to recognize that he is going to need help we most likely will not be able to provide for him. In fact, we have already talked about this as he is starting to figure out his identity in life. This is when we have to know that it is okay to have a difficult season. I needed that reminder. I also needed to know that it was okay for our son not to be okay all the time too. We needed to recognize that he was going to have bad days; it isn’t our fault, and it is okay to get professional help.
This is why I loved this video so much. There was so much to take away from it—from a parenting standpoint to an adoption standpoint to a personal standpoint. Grief is honestly such a hard topic to talk about, especially when it is death. But I loved that this video reminded us that it isn’t something that can be fixed. There is no magic recipe to make us feel better automatically. I loved the quote “something can’t be fixed; they can only be carried” by Megan Devine. It is such a true statement. Whether you are grieving the death of a loved one, a loss of a job, a move, a failed pregnancy, or a failed adoption, they all cause grief. Every single one of us is going to grieve differently. It is okay to give space to grieve.
I also loved that the video reminded us that we should talk about it. Even though these topics are hard to talk about, talking about them is essential. It is crucial in the adoption world, to be honest. Even though the conversation is hard and may make you uncomfortable while talking to your child, you need to tell the truth. If you skip out on part of the story or make it easier on your child, there is a chance your child is going to have to grieve the situation twice. Because no matter what, he eventually will find out the truth. Then, he will have to grieve the situation over again and will be grieving the fact that he didn’t get the truth the first time around.
I know I mentioned we have a very open relationship with our son’s birth family. We do, however, only with his biological mom. We do not know anything about his biological dad. As he continues to ask questions and understand where he came from, it is important for us to be honest with him and tell him what we do not know. Is it going to be easy? No. But it is extremely important for his future to know the truth now instead of lying to him now just so he can find out down the road it was a lie.
What I also loved about this video was the idea that you have to put your oxygen mask on first. (I don’t mean this in the literal translation as if you were on a plane.) I mean, you have to take care of yourself first and then your child. I know this is extremely hard. As a mom, I want to put the needs of my child first. It is a natural reaction most parents have. When we lost our grandma last month, I didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t know if I should let our son see us crying. I didn’t know if I had to be strong for the both of us.
As I indicated, this was the first death he was going to experience. I had no idea how to grieve in front of him. However, I had to put my oxygen mask on first. I let him see me cry. I let him know I was sad. I let him know it was okay to feel those things. We talked about death (not an easy topic to talk to a 5-year-old about). We talked about what the funeral would be like. We talked about how many of the people there are going to be sad and that it was okay for him to be sad too. One thing I want our son to know is that it is okay to cry—for a man to cry. It is okay to have emotions. And it is certainly okay to talk about them! I want him to know that there is no magic in grieving. Some will cry; some won’t. Some will show emotion; some won’t. There is no right way to grieve. And just as this video indicates, there is no timeline for grief. There may be a time down the road when he remembers a story about his grandma, and that will cause the grief to resurface.
I actually just saw a really great explanation of grief. It was a drawing of a box, and inside the box, there was a little rectangle box. That box represented grief. And then there was a circle inside the box. The circle is life, always moving around. Sometimes, the circle would hit the box, just like grief. And in the beginning, the ball is so big it is always hitting the grief rectangle. Sometimes, it hits you when you don’t expect it to. The drawing went on to explain the grief rectangle never goes away. The ball inside gets smaller so you are less likely to hit the grief rectangle, but it is still there, every so often, getting hit and igniting the grief. If you are anything like me, you have more than one of those grief boxes. And that is okay. It is okay to have those feelings, and it is nothing you should ever feel guilty about.
In fact, as this video indicates, a great idea to practice during grief is gratitude. We have so much to be thankful for, even during the difficult days. Some ideas were to write “thank you” notes to those that have helped you along the way, no matter how big or small their deed was. It is a great way to get the thankfulness on to paper, and then sending it will make you feel better about it too. There is great joy in knowing you are sending someone something in the mail that could brighten his or her day just as much as that person brightened yours. It is also a good idea to write in a journal. Write your feelings. Getting them down on paper can help you feel lighter from the pain.
In short, I urge you to watch this video and keep in mind that grief is caused by several things, not just the death of a loved one. I also urge you to keep in mind some of the practices in this video and article when you are faced with a loss, or your child is dealing with grief over something. Also, remember grief looks different on everyone. Don’t judge how others grieve and don’t expect people to know how you grieve either. There is no timeline for grief, and there should be no judgment either.