Digging Graves – Adoptees Bury Lost Years

Little did I know when embarking on the search for my biological family, that I would encounter grief/loss like I’ve never known before. The initial reunion with my Dad couldn’t have gone better even if Hollywood had written the script, but the happy part was far surpassed by the overwhelming feeling of loss.

Overwhelming is actually not even a strong enough word to describe it. The feeling of loss consumed me every single minute of every single day – for months.

Initially, I was as confused as my family and friends. This was even better than the best case scenario I’d imagined for reuniting with biological family and I couldn’t understand why the tears wouldn’t stop. But soon, I realized that this overwhelming sadness felt similar to what I felt when I grieved the loss of my mother to cancer, although, I wasn’t sure exactly what I was grieving. No one was dead. My dad was very much alive as well as my brothers and their families. So, I wondered what in the world was making me feel such sadness and loss.

A few short weeks after meeting my Dad for the first time, I spent Thanksgiving with his family. There were about 50-60 of my relatives there – family I’d never met. Family I never even knew existed….brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, niece, nephews. Family that had always been out there – about 300 miles west of me my whole life.

That night, I couldn’t sleep. Once I soaked my pillow with tears, I moved to the bathroom so I wouldn’t wake anyone up. I stayed awake all night crying. I couldn’t stop. For every sweet, new face and name that flashed through my mind as I recounted the afternoon, I started digging.

Digging graves. Yes…graves. Emotionally, I knew I had to grieve and mourn the loss and eventually bury the lost years.

And the loss was great….numerous decades with dozens of family members.  The relationships lost. The shared history lost. The place in the family tree that belonged to me all of those years – lost.

Months passed and adjusting to my new state of all day, every day tears was the new norm. I didn’t want to cry in front of my family all day every day so I made up many reasons to be out running errands. I would intentionally “forget” something so I’d have to leave again. Sunglasses became a staple accessory even on dreary, winter days. I did my best to hide my tears, after all, it had been months since meeting my new family and it was a very happy reunion.

Nobody understood my tears.

Not even me.

There wasn’t a body in a casket. There was no visible proof that I should feel loss. No funeral, yet I was grieving on steroids. This grief without a death was foreign to everyone including myself. When you’re grieving the loss of a loved one, everyone knows how that rolls. Extreme sadness and grief – getting through the first year without them is very difficult. Their physical presence is missing, leaving a huge hole in the lives of those they loved. Managing daily responsibilities is delegated to others or entirely put on hold. Extended friends and family members offer their help and support. Coping with extreme sadness and grief is completely overwhelming – even paralyzing – and every ounce of energy is poured into taking the next breath and making the next decision.

In my generation, adoptees have never been given the permission to grieve or mourn loss. After all, what did we lose? It was all gain. We were rescued by families who could afford us and adore us. We should feel nothing but heaps of gratitude for our rescue. To feel anything less would be dishonoring, disrespectful and ungrateful.

This is why I blog.

Adoptee grief and loss is real.

The inability of the unadopted to understand or accept this fact doesn’t negate its reality. The grief I experienced with the loss of my adoptive mom to cancer was no more real than the grief I experienced when I found my biological family. In reality, the latter was more profound because of the sum total of graves to dig.

But it’s more than grief. When a family members dies, you hold onto the memories and time shared with your loved one while you’re grieving. You remember them. You hold onto precious memories – it’s a bond that keeps part of them with you. Forever. Not with adoptees.

We grieve lost time that never was.

No memories.

No funny stories.

No shared history.

And the hardest part of it all?

There. never. will. be. 

There’s no recovering lost time. Time that was mine to live but never given the opportunity. Decisions were made about me for me. Not one time did my corner of the triad have a voice … not when placed for adoption and not when adopted. So, from my perspective, it’s a loss that possibly could’ve been prevented but wasn’t due to the decisions of others. I had zero control over any of it.

While working through the stages of grief, caring friends, trying to understand, commented, “Nobody gets to choose who their family is really. We’re all born into families that we don’t choose.” I totally agree. Nobody gets to “choose” what family they’re born into.

Being born is a “natural” process. We all understand it as the basic, normal, natural way of becoming a part of a family. Are these families perfect and without challenges? Absolutely not but that’s missing the point.

I was born into a family that I didn’t choose and then given to another one that I didn’t choose. We all experience and have to deal with the first “unchoosing” but not the second.

I was yanked up by my roots and planted in an entirely different orchard and expected to feel only gratitude.



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