It's no secret that adoption cannot exist without loss. It's also no secret that grief is inevitable and is already something any mother carries.
Grief is something that our agency, Special Delivery Adoptions, tries to address head-on. Monthly, we offer support group sessions in three different cities and virtually. But, we know it's fluid and not linear. We strive to help moms right where they are, as they are feeling in that moment.
Sharing stories is one of the strategies that can sometimes help; sometimes it can shed light in corners we've kept in the pitch-black. As always, every single person's grief is different, but this is certainly a story worth reflecting upon; even though it is not grief in adoption, it's painfully present.
"It's no simple task to let a loved one morn on her own, especially if the person is your daughter. Author and devoted mom, Karen Joy Fowler shares how she learned the hard way."
by Karen Joy Fowler
originally published in Real Simple December 2009
Her daughter Shannon lost her fiance while on vacation in Thailand to a box jellyfish; he died within minutes of the sting.
"Shannon didn't want us. On the rare occasion we could get her on the phone she said, 'Honestly mum, what could you possibly do that can make this even a tiny bit better?'
I got a crash course in the things well-meaning people say but shouldn't:
I know what you're going through.
You're so strong; I just curl up and die.
You're young and beautiful you'll find love again.
God has a plan.
So many wrong things to say, and so few right. In the days before she left, I got a good look at my daughter. She couldn't sleep and hardly ate. She was suffering from post-traumatic stress and survivor guilt and was sometimes angry, sometimes paralyzed with grief. I had my own irrational guilt. I'm her mother; it's my job to keep her safe. Clearly I hadn't done my job. I hadn't even been home when she called [ to tell me of the accident].
I couldn't tell her I was devastated. Shannon resented any implication that we shared this tragedy, as if I were trying to take it from her.
'You hardly knew him,' she said, which was true. Their relationship had happened in Europe, Australia, and China he had come only wants to visit us in California. But I had known they would marry long before they made it official. In my heart, he was family.
For months I couldn't go to sleep at night unless I was fantasizing about some impossible way of saving him. And beyond the loss of him, her grief was more than I could endure.
'When she has her own children, she'll understand,' my friends told me, but they were solving the wrong problem. I never doubted that my relationship with Shannon would be fine. What I wanted was a way to help her.
But she was somewhere emotionally that I couldn't even imagine.
[I remember back when my mother was dying and the doctor told me,] 'she can't be your mother right now, she's too busy dying.'
I applied that to Shannon. 'She can't be your daughter right now,' I told myself. 'She's too busy surviving.' [Some could have seen her as] an emblem of loss, of loneliness. Many months passed before I realized that she also signified resilience.
Shannon is in a good place right now. She's writing a memoir about her time in Eastern Europe. I have good advice and valuable experience is drawn, as sometimes I will. I no longer feel it's my job to protect her from all the bad things; I've seen too clearly that I can't. She is my daughter and the only expert on the way to live her life. I am her mother, with all the love and limitations that implies."
Fowler, Karen Joy. “Letting Go.” Real Simple, Dec. 2009, pp. 107–111.