Grief and the Adoptee


The loss for the adoptee is unlike other losses we have come to expect in a lifetime such as death and divorce. Adoption is more pervasive, less socially recognized and more profound.

-Brodzinsky and Marshall

This time last year, I thought I was going crazy. Literally. I’ve never been more scared in my life! I didn’t recognize myself. Two months prior, my life was normal. As normal as  the life of a twice-rejected-by-birthmother-now-mother-to-seven life can be! Only 2 months earlier, my life was about family, figuring out the next meal, basketball and braces. Then, I found my biological dad…

If you know my story, you know that initially, my reunion with my biological dad couldn’t have been better even if Hollywood scripted it. However, at this point, almost 2 months into reunion, I couldn’t stop crying. I mean I could not stop crying. Tears fell all day every day. It made no sense to me. This happiest of happy events just took place in my life and all I can do is cry??

Even though I tried to control it, disguise it, ignore it … the tears still fell. Grief, loss, overwhelming sadness enveloped me. Sunglasses on dark, dreary winter days became my new fashion statement.

While I had everything to be happy about finding a dad who wanted to be found, my experience was extreme sadness like I’ve never known. Homesick for my family I never knew and a home that was never mine. Sadness and grief really don’t even come close to describing what I felt, but they’re the two words that most everyone can relate to.

With Christmas quickly approaching, I tried hard to push through for my family and enjoy our Christmas traditions. With every cell in my body,  I tried. As the holiday season brought its own amount of chaos and stress, it quickly became too much. Although I’d already pulled out of several prior commitments and scaled back to the absolute minimum, I only seemed to fall deeper into the abyss.

While driving alone one night crying, my thoughts turned to a place they’d never gone before. I felt that I was failing everyone. I felt like my grieving – that none of us truly understood – was ruining my family’s holiday and they probably didn’t need me around to ruin it even further…

In 50 yrs., my mind had never taken that path. Not even on my hardest days of caring for my dying mother for 6 years and my 5 young children. And not even on those post-partum blues days that seemed to never end. Not even through the dozen or so letters exchanged with my natural mother who said she loved me, but couldn’t tell anyone about me. So, I remained her dirty little secret and hoped time would change her mind. But 8 yrs. later, she never wanted me to be more than a pen pal.

Not even once did I have a thought even close … til now.

Even though I’d never been to a counselor, this scared me enough to seek one out. She told me I should’ve been there a long time ago – years ago. All I paid her for was to hear her say four little words: “You will be okay.” Or at the very least the outskirts of okay. I hadn’t even been in the same galaxy the last couple of months and I just needed someone who understood my adoptee brain to tell me that I was gonna be okay. I was truly the most scared I’ve ever been in my life that I wasn’t going to be remotely close ever again.

I hung on every word she said. I took notes and did my “homework.” I wanted to get better more than winning the lottery. One session she told me that she thought it would be helpful for me to go to a grief meeting. It was specifically to help grieving folks during the holidays. Sign me up! I wouldn’t have missed it. I needed help – answers for my crazy and how in the world I’d be able to pull off Christmas for my family. And more importantly, pull off my life!

The evening arrived for the session and I cried all the way there. Believe me, I couldn’t stop the tears, especially when alone. There was no one there to be strong for so I just let them flow. My counselor told me I had to get them out. That was definitely one thing I was doing right!

When I walked through the back door of the little chapel, I told myself to keep it together. Swallowing hard couldn’t do it…nothing really seemed to be able to dam the oceans of tears that seemed to constantly flood me. I just wanted to at least get to my seat before the tears resumed. I knew if I could avoid talking to anyone, I might be able to pull it off.

I reached my carefully chosen close-to-the-back-row seat. As I scanned the fellow-grievers, I noted their crowns of gray and wise eyes. Most everyone seemed to be alone which led me to believe that most of these sweet ones were spending their holidays without their loves. The grief counselor spoke to the broken hearts of those who’d lost someone special. This Christmas would be different without them.

He shared information that would help us get through a very family-oriented time without our loved one. He encouraged us to put up at least one Christmas decoration or picture that reminded us specifically of our lost one. He told us to wear the jacket or robe of our loved one to bring comfort. He encouraged us to cry and do whatever we needed to do to get through it. He reminded us that God is our Comforter and to look for Him. 

While I appreciated his calm, soothing voice of care and genuine concern, much of what he spoke about didn’t apply to my experience. At the closing of the session, he asked each of us to come and take an angel off of the tree that would be a reminder of our lost one. I sat there pondering who I’d lost; there were so many! The tears gushed. I told myself to stop thinking. I sat and watched the others crowd around the tree, carefully choosing their angels – gold, glittery, silvery, sparkley. Some were decked with quite the bling! After the angels were chosen, he encouraged us to find a counselor and tell them about the person the angel represents.

Well, I knew that wasn’t gonna happen for me! How in the world would anyone even come close to understanding my crazy story? Nobody died! But I was definitely grieving. And I knew I couldn’t get through my story anyway because of my tears even if I had a whole day. I was the only one still sitting so I decided I’d choose an angel so that I wasn’t an obvious target for a counselor to approach. Ha! Pretty sure I already had that “obvious” thing going.

Very wobbly on the inside while strategically maneuvering my way around the counselors, I approached the tree.  I decided to get an angel that represents the lost time with my dad – the 50 yrs. that we missed. That part of knowing him that I’d have to bury – death of missed opportunity and memories. That’s when my default to make-something-funny-that-isn’t-funny thing kicked in. So, in honor of my ornery, Texas rancher dad, I picked out the blingiest angel I could find! I think I actually almost smiled before my eyes brimmed.

I avoided eye contact with everyone as I headed for the exit. The counselor was at the back door with good-byes for everyone as they left. I quickened my pace so it looked as if I was in a hurry to get somewhere other than out the door. I managed to get the words, “Thank you,” to fly out as I blew past him.

On my cry home, I felt little significant “help” was given to me other than being in a room full of people who fought for sanity during their Christmas also. I couldn’t wear a robe or jacket and I had no pictures to put around my house. There was nothing Christmasey that we ever shared. I had NO MEMORIES to cherish – not with my dad nor my sweet brothers.

I knew there was something lost or dead or I wouldn’t be grieving. But it didn’t make sense to me that I grieved someone – my family – who were very much alive and had been all along … for 50 yrs!


I always equated grief with death. Now I know you can grieve even for the living.

And even though I wasn’t sure of it at the time … I will be okay.


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