It’s such a strange thing- grief, at once consuming and then faded, blending into the background like a fact. And again it comes, lurching into the foreground, a colossus, scouring for consumables, a heart, a mind, all the time you have, sat blinking into space.
I have no right to feel this sad. My Nana was 98, a long life in anyone’s book, we weren’t ‘close’ in the sense that we told each other everything and had a deep bond, but in my small, emotionally constipated family, she was one of the good guys. One of two. 50% of my good guys gone.
I have nothing but happy memories of her, even sitting with her on Sunday, holding her hand and watching her ﬁght to be/ to not be- I felt so privileged, so lucky to be with her at the ending of her life and like I somehow didn’t deserve to be. She was incredibly kind, selﬂess, in fact I don’t really recall her ever talking about herself and her own history, she wanted to know about other people, she wanted to feed them, make them comfy, she couldn’t do enough for anyone.
My children think she was great, they managed to entertain themselves and the other residents when visiting her in the home where she spent the last 4 years of her life, struggling to accept that she had lost her independence. They thought she was the bees knees and the littlest one always made her laugh with his escapades. Climbing onto her bed and walking around with her walking stick pretending to be old.
I recognise that my sadness is generally disproportionate, I can’t separate out one loss from another and each one that happens lights the touch paper of the ﬁrst. The one that left me void- so I sit with the chasm opened up inside me, beckoning me down into it’s belly. I know I won’t go because that’s not a choice I have anymore, but it’s frightening to know its there, it’s hard to remember that its not a hole but a mass- a big ol’ pile of grief; a recognition of how much others touch my life.
As a small person I didn’t recognise my grief for what it was- the mourning of my ﬁrst loss, the loss of my birth mum, I existed with an almost overwhelming sense of loneliness, shame and otherness. People talk about the stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I neither knew nor understood this as a child, but it makes sense to me now- these cornerstones of experience and they don’t go in a straight line and whilst the ‘stages’ may be universal- everyone does them differently.
When I was told I was adopted, I knew, but the conﬁrmation still changed things. Denial wasn’t really an option but isolation was- I grew up in a rural location on a farm with lots of nooks and crannies and limited social contact outside of school, disappearing wasn’t hard, whether it was to my room or off into a ﬁeld somewhere. Emotionally retreating from any bonds that my parents had tried to form, I needed to make sense of something that really made no sense.
Why would she give me away?. What did I do wrong? ..Where do I ﬁt?…How do I love?
Isolation gave me plenty of time to ruminate on these things and isolation and rumination gave way to depression*, because not having access to any of the answers or even an opportunity to voice them meant that those thoughts could only go round and round, circulating through my being until they sedimented and became ‘fact’.
She didn’t want me…I was a bad baby…I don’t ﬁt…I can’t love, I’m broken.
And then I got angry. Angry at myself for being bad, angry at my adoptive mum for adopting me (my poor mum!) angry at the world for being twisted enough to encourage mothers to give away babies and I was a teenager (again, my poor mum..) it took a long time to understand that I could be angry at my birth mum for giving me away.
Bargaining for me was about compromising myself to protect against rejection, I couldn’t do the ‘what if’s’ because the worst thing had already happened, but I felt I could make sure it wouldn’t
happen again, by being compliant when I should have complained, by saying yes when I meant no, by contorting myself into shapes to try and ﬁt, rather than hope that I could be accepted as I was.
Acceptance is the stage that eludes me- Can I accept what happened? Yes, she had good reasons to relinquish me and I am, in many ways very fortunate to have had opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise (this gratitude is mine, not the one I’m expected to have…)
Can I accept that she’s not my mother when actually she kind of is and is still very much alive? That’s where things get much more complicated, I have two mums- how do I accept that something’s gone when its still there? how do I grieve for the living? Am I grieving for the severance? As an adult I still wrestle with these ideas and more, how does a child even begin to make sense of this?
In todays adoption climate how can young children make sense of their parallel lives and multiple losses? Where does the grief go?
* I say depression because its a helpful shorthand to understanding, I’m not actually a big fan of diagnosis and pathologising human experiences- I think I was responding quite reasonably to an abnormal event…