Golden Grief Nuggets

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]tumbled across a few gold nuggets the past few days. Most have to do with processing grief (or not). All worth the watch or read, at least they were for me.

Can you believe I used to feel bad that I felt bad about losing my daughter? How ridiculous is that? Recent reads (Tim Lawrence, Megan Devine and others) have taught me that my grief is perfectly acceptable.

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“Sometimes grief sneaks up on you and whispers: I’m still here. Don’t shame me. I deserve acknowledgement. I am the pain of your love…” – Tim Lawrence

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“To say that grieving is “negative” is preposterous because grief is an aching wail of love for what we’ve lost. To NOT grieve is negative”. – Tim Lawrence

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The word “closure” has always irritated me, perhaps because it is so oft used to push grieving people into ‘moving on’ or even, sometimes, shaming them into hiding.

Let’s look at this word more closely. The word ‘closure’ originating in the 14th century means a “a barrier, a fence,” an “enclosure; something that walls off or creates a “barrier or division”. From late Latin, closure comes from clausura meaning to “to close” or “bringing to a close”.

Is it really wise to encourage mourners to ‘find closure’? And when we say that, what do we really mean? Do we want grievers to ‘enclose’ their grief? Do we want them to build barriers around their true feelings? Do we want them to bring their emotions to a close? And if we do, why? Because of our own discomfort? Because we need others to be productive, happy citizens?

There is a cost to pay ‘enclosing’ grief. There are significant consequences for what my friend, the great scholar and psychoanalyst, Dr. Robert Stolorow calls the “war on grief.” The cost is high: addiction, inauthentic emotions, disconnection from self, from others, from the earth and nature.

Closure is for doors and cupboards and windows, not for emotions, particularly grief. The concept of ‘closure’ does not apply to my grief.

When we are suffering, we don’t need more barriers from one heart to another. We need connection, affinity, and civic love. We need to feel upheld in our grief. We need others to accept our sadness and love us however we show up in the world.

So, instead of worrying about how to make grieving people find “closure,” let’s worry about helping those who aren’t grieving find compassion.

In that way, we aren’t closing our hearts – we are, rather, in a state of opening, unfolding, and becoming.

– Dr. Joanne Cacciatore

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Beyond Closure TEDx Talk with Nancy Berns

Worth the 17 minute watch.

Adoption Communications

 In this post, I am the Sender. I am the Initiator of this message. In writing the post, I am encoding it, that is, I am putting the idea into language while adding my own meaning to the words. I am posting it to my blog readers, or Receivers. You as a reader will receive the message and decode it. In the process of decoding it you will internally, privately translate my post into something you understand, by using your knowledge of language and your personal experience. The blog post is travelling to you through written communication channel. You may or may not provide feedback on the post via a blog comment or perhaps personal email to me, both written communication channels. Throughout the entire process, the message is subject to Noise.  In communication, Noise is considered anything that interferes with effective transmission or reception of the message.  There can be physical noise or external noise that is environmental to you. Perhaps while you are reading this, your young child interrupts you causing you to look away or begin another task. Your receipt of this message was interrupted and as such may influence your understanding of it. Other types of noise physiological (maybe you have the flue)  psychological (your own preconceptions and bias towards “someone like me”) and finally, semantic noise.  If I chose words that are confusing or distracting to your reading, that would be semantic noise.

Keep these concepts in mind. Noise is important, in my opinion, when we consider adoption conversations, particularly those that occur online, in written form, with people we have never met before.

Consider the recent comment thread between Daniel, myself, Rich and Janet.  I believe this illustrates challenges with communication and supports my belief that we need to consider these challenges in the conversations we have.

Daniel is not American. By his own words he is an adoptee from Lebanon. He writes very well, but very much rhetorically.  During our conversation, I found myself impressed with his writing (smart people who write well can always hook me) and I was interested in hearing his thoughts. I continued to prod him to explain himself when I did not quite understand. This seemed to frustrate him for in the end, rather than explain himself, again, in a simpler way; he resorts to Arabic slang derogatory terms towards me, Janet and Rich.

I am American. I am a natural mother that surrendered her child to adoption. I am in reunion with a child that wants nothing to do with me or her first family. I am a reform activist and I believe adoption should always be a last resort and even when needed ties to the family of origin should be maintained. I don’t believe in amended birth certificates.  My communication style is one that places understanding high on the list of requirements (or so I like to think). All of these factors and more impact your understanding of my blog posts.

Rich is American.  He is not personally effected by adoption, rather he is collateral damage to another’s experience, mine. Rich is my fiancé.  Rich responds to Daniel with a very American phrase that suggests if he is not part of the solution he is part of this problem. This message could have been completely lost on Daniel or offensive as he is not familiar with Rich or what Americans may mean when they suggest such things. Daniel likely thought from his own perspective he was offering solutions. The fact that I, nor Rich, nor Janet understood what he was saying did not negate the fact that he said it.  Hence, noise.

Janet astutely noted that Daniel was talking in very academic, rhetorical terms that can create confusion.  Daniel may have been doing this on purpose but he may indeed speak like that all the time.  Since none of us know Daniel personally, we cannot know but we make those assumptions based on our own personal experiences (noise). Perhaps someone in our past talked down to us like that. If so, we may be reacting to Daniel’s words from a past experience versus a present one.

I posit that communication challenges like this happen all the time in adoption circles. We are continually influenced by our own personal noise, and holy jeebzuss there is a lot of personal noise in adoption trauma.  If we are not able to identify that, see that what we are offering up or how we are receiving messages is effected by that, we cannot communicate effectively. 

Daniel suggests (or at least I think he does, again, not clear) that Americans and those of us in adoption reform discussions are too politically correct. He suggests that adoptees are told to “play nice” and their voices are squelched in conversations they have with adoptive parents.  I am not disagreeing that is done (although I am not an adoptee or an adoptive parent) but I do disagree that not playing nice is productive to conversation.  Daniel also balks at things like Roberts Rule of Order and that we must have rules on how we will engage. I disagreed here too.

While I agree that those of us that have been torched (not touched) by adoption have a right to be angry and hurt and such, I do question how discussion can be productive if one or more parties to that discussion are permitted to be uncivilized. As I shared in a different post, I tend to avoid people who cannot have a conversation with me without resorting to calling me an abandoning c*nt whore.  I don’t see how that is relevant to changing adoption. I am interested in progress, moving forward, making change, not you showing me how colorful your language can be.

Thoughts? Can we have unemotional discussion on adoption? More importantly, do we even want to, for isn’t the pain, the damage, the emotion of adoption a primary motivator for change? Do we really want to eliminate it from the conversation? How do we keep it without turning off the people we are speaking to?

My Reality

A blog reader emailed me privately tonight and asked me a question I have been asked several times over the past year.  They asked (and these are their words verbatim):

“It seems like you are less involved in adoption issues. You are blogging less and I don’t see you at events and such like I used to. Whats up?”

At first, I winced at this.  I felt it might be a judgment, a criticism, an expression of how I was failing “the cause”.

I felt defensive and instead of responding, I sat with it for a while. This is typically my response to such things. When something lights a fire in my belly, when it elicits a desire to strike back, and defend myself, I tend to stop, pause and take time to reflect,  I question why I am feeling defensive and wonder if the truth might be that there is a shred of painful truth in what the person is suggesting and that I am denying it.  I use such opportunities as a chance to look  internally and self reflect.

I will share the most honest answer I can give at this time. I wont spout excuses (though they aren”t) about my busy life, my career, my children, my darling fiance, my college classes, or other. I will tell you the truth.

It simply hurts too much. Adoption slays me more today than it ever did.

Avoidance? Acceptance? Reality? Call it whatever you need to.  But allow me to explain.

My divorce, my reunion, my therapy, it all taught me a valuable, yet painful, lesson.

It taught me how to feel. It taught me how to acknowledge and honor my feelings.  It taught me I HAD feelings and more importantly that they MATTERED. Where prior to reunion I spoke from a place of cold intellect, post reunion, I speak from a place of the deepest pain I have ever felt. This is not due to my reunion, or my daughters decision to have no relations to me, her brothers, her natural family but rather it is due to the fact that opening your heart to feelings opens it to feelings of all kinds, good bad and otherwise.

To open my heart to my fiance, to accept the love he offers, the acceptance, the understanding, the ability to be, is to leave my heart open to all the things I have pretended were.not.there. It is to avoid denial. To refuse transference and projections. It is to sit with all that is good — and bad in my life and let it be.

And it simultaneously feels wonderful and hurts like hell. More than I have ever hurt before. Ever.

And I don’t know how to handle it (yet).

And so I stay away from adoption like a child stays away from an open flame after he has been burned.

I do not want to suggest this approach is appropriate or that I want it to be forever.  But I acknowledge that it is. And for today, it has to be.

For now.