Guest Author: The Sleeping Bag of Grief


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.

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

20 Comments

  1. Gayla
    January 18, 2010

    So lovely. This is the story not just of helping him deal with his grief, but of saving his life. So touching and just beautiful. I pray I can be this intuitive and gentle and consistent when we bring my daughter home.

    Reply
  2. Melodie Monberg
    January 18, 2010

    Wow, what perspective. Thank you!

    Reply
  3. Donna
    January 18, 2010

    I'm in tears!

    Sounds like a familiar journey, but spoken with such elegance!

    Thanks!

    Reply
  4. coffeemom
    January 18, 2010

    I'm learning all this in new ways too. How to help. It's hard. THis is a great post…..I'm filing it.

    Reply
  5. Lisa H.
    January 18, 2010

    I loved this post….It expresses beautifully the difficult, but important job of helping our children with extra "sleeping bags" to carry…What a great word picture!

    Reply
  6. The Coys
    January 18, 2010

    Beautiful written. Vu is such a special little boy, and lucky to have you as a mom.

    Reply
  7. Chris
    January 18, 2010

    Yeah, I hope we can remember all that when our 10 y.o. comes home.

    Reply
  8. positivelyorphaned.org
    January 18, 2010

    Really very lovely. Thank you so much. I'm so sorry that you lost a son and so happy that you gained one. Vu sounds like a wonderful kid.

    Reply
  9. Are These Kids All Yours?
    January 18, 2010

    What a great description of what we deal with as adoptive parents…and how to look at it. 🙂

    Reply
  10. Sally- That Girl!
    January 18, 2010

    Oh, I love to go to the "cool mom's" blog too for a good laugh. She can do it like no other! And at the same time, I have cried many a tears reading her posts about Joe and Vu. Yes, she is famous in God's eyes!

    Reply
  11. Mamita J
    January 18, 2010

    Beautiful way to put it. Thank you.

    Julie

    Reply
  12. amber
    January 18, 2010

    Brilliant! A beautiful depiction of your struggles. . . I think your analogy will help so many.

    Reply
  13. mrskmor (Mrs. Morales)
    January 18, 2010

    Pride, love, admiration…I can't levy the words. Inspired. Thank you!

    Reply
  14. jen
    January 19, 2010

    What a fantastic word picture! I just LOVE it; I know this is going to pop in my head next time our adopted ones are having trouble.

    Reply
  15. Robin
    January 19, 2010

    What am amazing analogy to grief.

    Reply
  16. Julie
    January 20, 2010

    Great post. Thank you.

    Reply
  17. Stacey
    January 20, 2010

    Sure wish I could help carry your sleeping bag, you are such a great Mom. A gifted wrighter too.

    Reply
  18. Tina Pennington
    January 25, 2010

    Oh so beautiful..words only a mother's heart could express. I,too have grieved the lost of a child and words could never quite display the journey that goes with that! But your words here have touched my heart deeply and I hope that I can be as loving and gentle as you are with our adopted daughter. God bless you and your family!

    Reply
  19. Tina Pennington
    January 25, 2010

    Oh so beautiful..words only a mother's heart could express. I,too have grieved the lost of a child and words could never quite display the journey that goes with that! But your words here have touched my heart deeply and I hope that I can be as loving and gentle as you are with our adopted daughter. God bless you and your family!

    Reply
  20. lindaloohoo
    January 25, 2010

    holy cow.

    i didn't know i needed to cry this morning, but evidently i did. alot.

    your words are amazing and beautiful.
    your words are strength and tenderness.

    your words remind me there are people out there who are meant to be moms. i had to learn the hard way, and i'm positive i will never do it as gracefully as you.

    i am a birth mom, an adoptive mom once and beginning the process again.

    Reply

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