Beauty for Ashes: A Journey into Grief and Loss

The little talked about secret is that adoption always begins with loss. The bigger secret is that this loss lingers well past the drying of the ink on the adoption decree, the settling in period in the new home, and even well past their acceptance that you are now mom and dad. There is no expiration date on a child feeling grief that they lost their first family. Some days it’s just harder on them than others. The loss travels with them as they grow from childhood to adulthood. Every now and then the loss leaks out, a crack in the dam built up over the years from self imposed and external expectations that they should be grateful they have a family now.

Mom, dad, how are you going to respond to their grief when it comes in waves and in ways that can’t be attended to in a condolence card from the Hallmark store? Can you sit with them in their grief knowing you can do nothing to ‘fix’ it? Maybe it’s their shared 22nd birthday and you have a family lunch planned to honor them but they don’t show up, don’t call, and only one of the two sends a short text saying “I’m sorry we didn’t show up for lunch, I really am” despite having texted you two hours earlier that he is excited for the plans.

Grief isn’t a very good guest of honor. Loss doesn’t know how to be happy.

Parents do you know it is grief that makes them decide to ditch out on the family plans? Or more accurately said, it is the unresolved grief they have carried ever since they joined your family and had to let go of their fantasy that their ‘real parents’ would come get them after all. Do you know that they have been secretly nursing this loss all these years – such big feelings with no where to go. They need a place for it to go.

Someone named Keith C. Griffith is quoted as saying, ” “Adoption loss is the only trauma in the world where the victims are expected by the whole of society to be grateful.”

Ouch.

But true.

The truth is that loss and beauty can live together but no one is telling us that and we’re not telling our kids. Unresolved grief is the result and it looks like a whole host of other ‘issues’ beside what it really is. Addictions. Failed relationships. What looks like indifference. Hostility.

No one is telling us that it is not only possible to simultaneously be happy in a new home and also mourn the original one, but that it is okay to live in the tension of those two worlds. It is ok to talk about the loss and be sad…really, really sad about it.

These worlds collide on days like birthdays, ‘gotcha- days’/ adoption anniversaries and really any major holiday where family (or the illusion of the perfect family) is on display. These are the days where loss and grief spill out in often unexpected ways. It is hard on parents and it is hard on the kids. And not many are talking about it .

Nobody tells us parents that it is our responsibility to not only tolerate these big feelings in our kids, but to actually invite these feelings. Even though we can not ‘fix’ it for them. And no one equips us to do the necessary hard work on ourselves first to look at our own feelings of loss and grief. Yes, I lost out on being my sons’ only mother. I lost out on having a family that is not touched by trauma. I lost out on being able to take their pain away. And I lost out on 22nd birthday parties.

My sons lost out on never having to feel the most painful rejection a child could ever feel. They lost a biological connection to people just like them. They lost a health history. They lost family stories of ‘you look just like…’ and ‘you have the same eyes as…’. They lost out on being born into a safe family. They lost out on never having to question what ‘family is forever’ means. They lost out on never having to question their own self worth or preciousness.

So where do we go from here? We can’t ignore the grief, that much I know. Maybe we start with our own grief work first. Then we’ll be in a better position to hold space for our child’s grief. No the loss doesn’t go away. But maybe, just maybe, when we are open to it, don’t hide from it, we can see that loss is the place where beauty starts.

In the book of Isaiah, God promises to give Israel “beauty instead of ashes.” I am intrigued that in Hebrew the word for beauty is spelled with the same letters as the word for ashes, just in a different order. Is the telling us that beauty can come from ashes?  With God, this is reality. He’s really the only One who can meet each of us in the place of loss and grief and bring forth a beautiful journey to wholeness. Now that’s a party we are all invited to.

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