My friend, Ann, is one of the funniest bloggers I know. I often visit Crazy for Kids to add some laughter to my day. She is the “fun mom” I want to be. She is also a woman who has known grief and sometimes she writes words that take my breath away. You will want to get to know her…I’m sure of it.
Before we pursued our last adoption I blissfully knew little about the realities of grief. During our adoption process, our 21 yo son, Joe, had a recurrence of cancer. He was expected to live. He did not. My heart still clutches just writing those words
I learned more about grief than I thought humanly possible.
Joe passed away just weeks before we traveled to adopt Vu–our light during our darkest hour. Vu had experienced trauma and neglect after spending six years in an orphanage, and he also experienced losing everyone and everything he had ever loved—his nannies, his friends, his surroundings.
For my guest post, I will share the story of how one little boy transformed his grief into life.
The Sleeping Bag of Grief
When we first brought Vu home, his “sleeping bag of grief” seemed nearly invisible. He was excited to have a family and ecstatic to begin a new journey in life. But I quickly realized that in fact, his grief was all unzipped and unrolled—making it very hard for him to carry.
Imagine the frustration of a tiny little boy trying to wrap his little arms around the bulk of an unzipped, unrolled sleeping bag! He wasn’t able to walk two steps without tripping over it!
I wanted desperately to help him! But I couldn’t! I didn’t know how and it simply wasn’t possible to carry the weight of his bag!
So, I simply came alongside Vu and picked him up and held him. I allowed his hot tears of anger and frustration. Once he was spent, I began to show him how to zip the sleeping bag up. I told him I loved him, over and over, in Vietnamese. We read books, and sang lullabyes, and ate ice cream every . single . night.
As we were zipping, we talked about positive ways for him to express his grief (hitting the sleeping bag, jumping up and down, looking at pictures of those he missed). We also discussed actions that weren’t so positive (hitting people, banging his head, biting himself). I shared how getting the zipper around the corner is often the most difficult part. Learning to trust is hard work.
And then we folded the sleeping bag in half and I showed him how to roll it up, pushing out the air that wasn’t needed and pulling the straps around it. We practiced over and over again, finding consistency in our days and the best way for him to leverage his weight and small hands. In the end, he learned to roll it up all by himself! He looked at me and smiled–how great this new package was!
We began our trek again and even tho the weight of his sleeping bag was the same, the bulk was manageable so it seemed lighter. As we walked I told him over and over that we would always be there to love him–forever. We would walk right beside him and help him—forever. He would always be in our family, always be sleeping in our camp—forever.
Vu began smiling and laughing a lot more.
But soon, even with the bag rolled up, Vu’s arms began to ache. Just when I thought we had a solution, I realized we had to readjust. I read books on making sleeping bags easier to carry and talked to other parents who had traveled the same course. I kept Vu near me most of the time and even slept with him. We wrote letters and sent pictures to his nannies. We traveled by plane to visit a
special orphanage friend. I soon discovered that sewing straps onto Vu’s rolled up sleeping bag made it lighter to carry—like a backpack!
Vu began to relax more and found the journey much easier. He started school and made new friends and stayed the night with Grandma.
Then, months later, out of the blue, Vu showed me some blisters that had developed on his shoulders. Memories, bad memories, came tumbling back from Vietnam. He was so insistent on getting the sleeping bag off his back he yanked it hard, unrolled it, and we seemed to be back where we had been at the beginning of our journey! Again, we spent time rocking, holding, talking through the bad memories. I assured him that he should have had a Mommy to protect him. He was just a little boy and the bigger boys shouldn’t have bullied him. More tears. More anger. More reminders of good (and not so good) ways to deal with anger and grief.
Side by side, we rolled up the sleeping bag again. This time I was able to sew on thick, soft, padded straps.
When Vu put it on this time, it looked smaller than in the past. Vu was able to roll it up tighter and quicker. Vu was growing bigger while his grief was growing smaller.
Again, we were back on our journey. Vu was now a happy-go-lucky boy, smiling, confident, and full of life. He was excelling in school and handling transitions well. There were longer and longer intervals between straps breaking and the need to readjust.
Most days, Vu completely forgot that he even had a sleeping bag on his back.
I knew that he would always have to carry the sleeping bag, but my Mommy-heart soared, knowing it would get lighter as his body, and spirit, grew stronger.
And it did.
And so did mine.