April 15, 2015

It's OK to Grieve

. . . And you live happily ever after.  The end.

The last piece of paper has been given the last stamp of approval, and at last the painful wait is over.  The child you have been dreaming of and praying for all these months is finally home!  Friends are celebrating this glorious and unforgettable event with you.  You are surrounded with shouts of “Congratulations!” and well wishes.  There are welcome-home parties and showers of gifts and friends bringing meals and your extended family coming to visit.  It is a joyous time indeed!

This is the one thing you have longed for more than anything.  This is what you have been preparing for and planning for.  Your dream has finally come true!  Your family finally feels complete.

Where, then, is the happily ever after?  How is it possible for you to feel so sad and overwhelmed?  Where do these tears keep coming from?  These inexplicable emotions add guilt and shame to the confusing mix. 

Of course you cannot possibly say a word to anyone about this.  Who would understand why you are so downcast about a child that should make you so happy?  Who would understand why you would cry when your prayers have finally been answered?  Who would understand your overwhelming emotions when you barely understand them yourself?

If you talked to your friends who have been through the adoption process, you may be surprised to find that they, too, have felt the sorrow, along with the guilt and the shame after their adoptions were final.  They will understand that “happily ever after” isn’t the end; it’s really only the beginning.  That what you are feeling is completely normal.  They may tell you exactly what you need to hear:  that it’s ok to grieve.

It’s ok to grieve the months or the years that your child lived without you.  All those nights when she fell asleep in someone else’s arms, or in no one’s arms at all.  All those milestones that you did not witness.  All of the tears that you did not wipe away, the laughter you did not hear, the fears you did not comfort.  You know that God’s timing is perfect, and you came to rescue her just as soon as you could, but you still grieve for her lost childhood that you will never be able to get back.

It’s ok to grieve for your child’s birth mother.  What tragic, unthinkable circumstances led to her being separated from her child?  You know now how deep and powerful and fierce a mother’s love can be, and you cannot imagine how painful it would be to lose this precious child.  You know that somewhere in the world is a mother who is most likely crying herself to sleep tonight, barely able to bear the weight of her loss.  It’s ok to grieve for her.

It’s ok to grieve your family’s story that did not include this child.  The inside jokes that he will never understand because he wasn’t there.  The dozens of family vacations that he did not experience.  The special memories, the long-standing traditions, the photo albums that have not a single picture of him.  How can you not wish that the story could have been written just a little bit differently?

It’s ok to grieve the loss of everything that was before.  Nothing in your life or in the life of your family will ever be the same again.  You will forever have the responsibilities that go along with being the parent to this child.  When the adoption became final, it became so . . . final!  Everything up until now had been fairly carefree.  Time with friends, popcorn and movie nights, camping trips.  But now it’s day to day responsibilities and appointments and assessments and registrations and applications and providing needs.  You can’t help but wonder, Did I just make the biggest mistake of my entire life?!

It’s ok to grieve for your other children, whose lives have forever been altered.  From now on they will always have to share your love.  They may be learning even now what it means to allow another child, perhaps a hurting, traumatized child, to demand all of your attention and to require all of your energy.  If the newest member of your family has behaviors that are extreme, your other children may already be struggling with the disappointment of cancelled plans, sabotaged events, broken toys, stressed parents, appointments with doctors and therapists, lack of sleep.  You made this decision in obedience to what you felt God was calling you to do, but now you can’t help but wonder, Did I just ruin my other children’s lives?!

It’s ok to grieve the adjustment that is much more difficult than you ever imagined it to be.  Maybe that “love at first sight” hasn’t really happened yet.  And everything takes longer and requires much more effort than it did before.  Even basic routines like eating dinner together as a family seem monumental and impossible when she won’t eat anything and screams when you look at her and refuses to stay in her seat.  You had the bedrooms all set up, but the current arrangement doesn’t seem to be working, so you have to re-think where everyone will sleep.  You did have a workable schedule of carpool, school, music lessons, sports, and youth activities at church, but with this new child who has new fears and different interests and limited language skills, those easy things are no longer easy.  You think, will anything ever feel normal again?

It’s ok to grieve the medical conditions and diagnoses.  Of course you studied the doctors’ reports.  You knew that she had diagnoses and labels and syndromes.  But now the diagnosis has a name and a face and a cheek that you have kissed.  It is no longer a term you have researched on the Internet or learned about from chat rooms.  It now belongs to this child whom you love with all of your heart.  So when you hear the doctor say the words out loud, and when you fully understand the long-term ramifications, it is understandable that you would grieve this child’s future that will forever be impacted.

And it’s ok to grieve the loss of support.  The family and friends who were so present at the beginning have all gone back to their busy routines and responsibilities, and you are left feeling alone on this journey.  Perhaps some of your relationships have changed or even been lost because people don’t fully understand this path you have chosen.   Those friendships will never be the same.

Despite the intense, overwhelming emotions that no one ever talks about, it really shouldn’t be a secret.  Everything you are feeling makes sense.  You are physically exhausted, emotionally drained, and adrenaline depleted. 

If you ask your friends, the ones who have traveled this path before you, they will tell you that it’s ok to carve out time to rest.  It’s ok to leave the clothes piled in the laundry room and the dishes piled in the sink . . . an extra hour of sleep can make a world of difference. 

It’s ok to lighten your schedule for a while.  Your child needs time to adjust and to get used to a new routine, and so do you!  The sports and music lessons and Bible studies and youth group activities and social invitations and field trip opportunities will all be there next season.  Some unstructured days at home will help replenish your energy and enthusiasm.

It’s ok to ask for help.  All those friends who prayed for you while you were waiting and who welcomed your child home?   They don’t know you need their help and support unless you tell them.  They would be willing to babysit, drive, clean, provide meals, do laundry . . . whatever it is that will lighten your load. 

Gradually you will get stronger – physically, emotionally, and mentally.  In a few weeks, as routines are established and roles are defined and you get to know your child, the sadness will lessen and the joy will increase.  Things will feel normal.  The overwhelming feelings will subside. 

And before you know it, your dear friend who has recently adopted will approach you in tears, practically incoherent, asking you why she is feeling the way she is feeling.  Her question will momentarily startle you.  You will almost have forgotten that you ever had those intense feelings yourself.  You will wrap her in a hug and say with tenderness and compassion, I’ve been there too, my friend.  And honestly? It’s ok to grieve.

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