We attended a class tonight, and one of the activities really hit home. Actually, several of them did, but this is the one I’m writing about tonight. When we adopt a child, we often think about the great life we want to give them. And, in particular if we adopt a child out of foster care or out of an orphanage in a foreign country, the focus can often be on how much better their life will be with us than where they have been. But we forget that the best day of our lives—the day that child comes to live with us, is the worst day of his or her life. It is the day that everything changes for them. Familiar people, sights, smells, textures, languages that are spoken in the home or city, pets, friends, and the list goes on. In an effort to give this child a fresh start, sometimes we are too quick to sweep away the things we think are part of the problem, and replace them with the things we think are part of the solution. And we throw the baby out with the bathwater.
So here is how the activity went tonight. We had to write down on five cards the names of five attachments we have to important people in our lives. I just picked the first five that came to mind. My parents, my husband, my son and my sister. (I really encourage you to do this activity as you read this. The impact is so much greater than just reading about it.) Then we partnered with someone and the instructor told us that sadly we were going to lose one of those relationships. We had to hold up our cards with the names facing us, and let them blindly choose a relationship to go away. The first to go was my Dad. She asked how that felt, and I said “painful” and I meant it. My Dad has had a heart attack and two rounds of cancer in the last five years, and so I had already contemplated the fact that losing him might be a reality sooner than I thought. It brought up those feelings again. Then she said that now we were going to lose two of them, and she blindly pulled my sister and my husband. I was standing there holding D and my Mom in my hand, and I can honestly say, I was starting to panic a little. The thought of losing all three of those relationships was not softened by still having my son and my mother. Then, she said we had to lose one more and she pulled D out of my hand. My sweet boy that I have waited so long for was gone in a blink. By now, my heart was really feeling physical pain at the thought of that loss. She asked if anyone in the room had been left with the one relationship they would have picked of the five. Nobody raised their hand. That is hard for me to say, because I don’t want to think one relationship is above the other, or that I love one more than the other. But the fact is, my husband would be the toughest one to lose. He is my partner and his loss would affect every single aspect of my life in a much greater way than anyone else. He is my son’s father. He is the main breadwinner. He is my daily support and best friend and the person I lean on the most. The loss of my husband would have a much more devastating affect than any other one, even though I would mourn greatly for those losses, too. Then, they picked five of us to come to the front of the room. John and I were both chosen. And they said that we now had to lose the last one, but they were going to give us something great in return. The first lady’s new card said “My own room”. I was next. They took away my Mom and gave me “Lots of Toys”. Lots of toys. That was my trade for my mother. They took D away from John and gave him “a pool”. The next two people got “big beautiful home” and “dance lessons” in exchange for their cherished relationship. It was a powerful moment. The instructor made the trades with such excitement in her voice….something like “that is so cool that you are going to have lots of new toys!” But how could that ever be a replacement for my mother? And yet, that’s how we see it for these kids. You may argue that their mother is a drug addict or abusive or something else. But the fact is, that person is this child’s mother and he or she will always, always love her and want a relationship with her, and a pool, or a bunch of toys will never replace her, or heal a broken-hearted little child.
One of the other great things that was said tonight is that so much of this grieving and healing process is not to fix the problem. The loss of these relationships is not a fixable problem. The process is about learning to adjust. A light bulb went on inside my head. All the things that have impacted my life in a negative way cannot be fixed. I have to adjust, not resolve. I have to learn where to file that memory, not shred it. It can’t be thrown away. It can’t be shredded or burned. It is a part of me. What a relief. That really was the conclusion I came to. What a relief to know that I can heal without having to forget. I can let go of the need to wipe out certain things and embrace just learning how to put that thing in its place and move forward. Healing doesn’t mean we were never wounded. It means our body has healed, and even if it still bears a scar, it’s not the focus of our life anymore. It has been treated and healed as completely as possible, and now we get up and get on with it.
I stood there holding my “lots of toys” card thinking how superficial and so totally unimportant that was to me, and how it didn’t even hold a candle to having my mother. I felt a rush of empathy and compassion for these kids who lose everything that is the most important to them. I felt worse for the kids whose adoptive parents think they are the solution and that starting over and severing ties was the best thing for them. I hope they are not threatened by their child’s love for these people left behind. Someone once said that love isn’t a pie, where if I get a slice, that’s one less slice for someone else. Love is just love and you can give it all away, and still have all of it. It’s magic that way. That child can love all of you, so don’t make them choose. Be a part of the healing process and let them know that they are free to love anyone they choose for as long as they want. You might find that letting go and just loving these children will allow the love to bounce back and find you again, and it will bless your life an hundred-fold.