My Thankful Life is a series written by our readers. We admire and appreciate you more than you know. Thankful Moms is a place for all of us to gather and encourage one another. If you would like to submit a story about your life, you can find our editorial guidelines here. We can’t wait to hear from you. – Lisa and Jennifer
My granddaughter is two. She greets me each time we meet with a huge smile and small arms thrown round my neck.
She emanates the essence of being two, from the rounded still-baby cheeks to the insistence of her new found power of speech to the pure intensity of every emotion she experiences.
Joy borders on hilarity and sadness mimics despair in her unfiltered emotional two-ness.
When I look at her sometimes, I think about our three sons, who each were close to her age when they moved into our home. Still so young, with their cheeks still babyish and round, their emotions and smiles and hugs were guarded. They already knew instinctively that safety required them to charm strangers while keeping emotional distance from anyone who tried to get too close.
In so many well-meaning attempts I floundered at being the final mother for children who had lived in multiple homes. We tried advice of so many experts, thinking there was some magical thing we could do that would erase pain and bring peace and connection.
Even now when they live on their own, we are still figuring out our relationships, although with distance, rather than in the same house.
This week I heard Pauline Boss interviewed by Krista Tippett for the On Being podcast. She spoke of ambiguous loss, the loss that does not fit into our normal categories of loss. Living as a caregiver for a spouse with dementia is an example. Your spouse is alive and with you, but is not the spouse you married.
You have a loss that is daily while you are also living daily with the person you are losing. Ambiguous.
Adoption is an ambiguous loss for every person in the relationship.
My tiny children had mothers who were alive but not with them.
They had a mother who was with them but wasn’t the mother they wanted.
Their mothers had children who were alive but were not with them.
I had children who were mine but not mine.
Our birth children had siblings who were not their siblings, who added drama, and sometimes violence to their lives.
Our adopted children had siblings who had easy bonds with parents, who had the life they wished they’d had with their birth families.
We wanted it to be uncomplicated. We wanted to believe the people who said, “Love is all you need.” What was wrong with us??? Each of us chafed and struggled against the impossible parts of our relationships.
Pauline Boss reiterated that ambiguous loss is complicated loss, which results in complicated grief. But complicated grief is not pathological grief. It is only complicated grief.
When she explains this idea, people frequently comment, “Oh, you mean the situation is crazy, not me.”
What a comforting thought. I’m not crazy. My child isn’t crazy. We are attempting something very complicated. I wish I’d known that in the thick of things.
Even after all my children are grown and making their way as adults, I think on those round, childish cheeks and the emotions that were hidden inside those small bodies.
I think of my own emotions and the crazy ways we tried to make sense of what we were living and the grasping for wisdom and for empathy and for meaning. I still grieve for the confusion and anger and sadness they felt, and for the same emotions I felt/feel.
Pauline Boss states that closure is a myth. Healthy grief does not end. It changes, but it is revisited.
Our lives are forever changed by the losses we have experienced, and so are the lives of our children. Healthy grief includes experiencing that sadness again as events and life stages bring it back, or remind us. And healthy grief also includes eventually finding meaning.
And there IS meaning. It isn’t always easily articulated, but it is there. I have learned so much through the life we stumbled through, through all my children and through the people we met because of our children.
I’m still learning, learning humility and honesty and empathy for myself as well as for those around me.
I’m thankful for this journey, with a complicated thankfulness that wishes I could have spared those I love from the parts that were hard. I’m thankful for the grace I’ve received from each of my children, for the relationships they offer me, each as they can. I’m so thankful for my husband who made sure we stayed on the same team.
One last thing. Boss also stated that for healthy grief, which is sadness, the treatment is human connection. It is in being with others. It is in being understood…in finding and offering empathy.
That is the strength of Thankfulmoms. When we read truthful and vulnerable writing about lives we recognize as like our own, we feel understood…we feel community…we experience healing. It is encouragement to carry on with important work.
What a gift.
You can read more from Bev at her blog, Getting There.