Two years ago today I learned my birthmother’s name. I learned it because she died and because the state’s interest in keeping us apart lapsed with her death. I’ve spent the past two years writing about these matters. I am now revising the draft of a book.
I started writing in the belief I might discover my family, and in that way my place. Quickly, my writing turned toward exploring the perversity of adoption as both an institution and an industry. More recently I’ve acknowledged that I’m writing about grief.
To be adopted is to live in a state of suspended grief, in a persistent gloom that used to be called melancholia.
I am aware that there are worse fates than being adopted. But it’s a thing. My whole life I’ve been told it’s not a thing; I’ve been told that being adopted doesn’t matter.
Those who insist that adoption doesn’t matter don’t know what they are talking about.
When a culture refuses to acknowledge or tolerate grief, when it refuses to recognize the value or existence of what has been lost, one cannot mourn or move forward. One remains dispersed in sorrow, without a line to solace.
That’s what it’s like to be adopted. At least, that’s what it’s like to be adopted in the way I was adopted.
And my adoption was not atypical.
On Halloween, I visited my birthmother’s grave, not for the first time, and placed on her marker three stems of red roses.
It’s a start. I will continue to write.
6 thoughts on “suspended grief”
Ah, Peter, the primal wound of separation from the heartbeat of the mother – we never really get over it. It is not to be gotten over. But you have a name, and a name is a good thing. A name is tangible, and gives form to the longing. Much love, Cecilia
Thanks, Cecilia. Yes, indeed the primal wound is a prevelant theme in my writing these days… And, yes, I am lucky to have a bit more than a name.
I wonder and worry about this with our two adopted children – a now 4 year old girl and 5 month old boy. I hope that having an open adoption and a direct relationship with their parents will help. And perhaps knowing other adopted children and talking openly about it with them, always. As a parent really all you want to do is prevent heart ache of any and all kind – however irrational that may be. In the end, though, I am left with feeling just totally inadequate and always in the back of my mind trying to devise ways to reassure them they are loved. I do understand that in reality, it isn’t about me and I tell myself to instead be in the moment and enjoy this fleeting time. And somehow that doesn’t stop my preoccupation. And so it goes!
Thanks, Meg. Yes, openness, honesty, and acceptance of reality’s complexity is the best antidote to suspended grief!!
Peter, Thank you for sharing this most intimate of struggles… grief and loss about your previously unknown parent. I had no idea when you were posting about the adoption process, that this is what you were living with. You’re in my thoughts.
Thanks, Dan. Yes, most of my writing and research for the past year has been part of this piece… in various incarnatons. I appreciate your care and interest!