Adoption and mourning.

Any advice or comments for adoptees processing the passing of an adoptive parent? Have you gone through this, and do you have any thoughts to share on the subject?

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5 thoughts on “Adoption and mourning.

  1. This past July (3rd, to be exact), my adoptive father died of melanoma cancer. He heard me say “Hello” when I walked in the front door of my parents’ house and kneeled down beside the wheelchair he was sitting in. But I don’t know if he ever heard me again when I sat at his bed side that evening and then the next morning, telling him, sparingly, how I felt about him.

    When he took his last breath and I knew that he had finally passed into the Great Beyond, I wept like I had never done before. I cried not only for the loss of my adoptive father but also for the void in the shape of my birth father that remains within me. For many reasons, I probably will never come face to face with the man who helped conceive me. I probably will never be at his side when he dies, nor do I even know if he’s deceased already.

    Although my adoptive father did not pass down his genes to me, he did pass on social conditioning, mores, a couple personality traits and some belief systems, which I have been accommodating and struggling with throughout my life. For better or worse, he made his impact on my physical well-being as well as psychological state. However, we never brought up or discussed the issue of his parenting because that was just something he never encouraged, let alone acknowledged. His brand of parenting was very much top-down, Father-Knows-Best, and he made me and my other siblings respect that paradigm for as long as he was alive. That is not to say that he wasn’t warm, caring and thoughtful. My adoptive father simply chose to express those positive attributes in his own way and on his own time.

    So, when my adoptive father became sicker and weaker, and it felt inevitable that the cancer was going to stay no matter how many investigational vaccines he took or chemotherapy sessions he underwent, I planned for the death in my mind. But, all that planning fell through when I watched him slowly die in front of my eyes and when I heard him stop breathing. I was taken aback by how inconsolable I was. It felt like everything that I valued or loved was being wrenched away from me and thrown into an oil drum fire. Never to be recovered.

    When my adoptive father died it felt as if I were also attending and witnessing the death of my birth father. It was a big loss, and I felt lost again right afterwards.

    • I think mourning the death of an adoptive parent is very complex, because you not only mourn them, but you mourn the loss of parent: all parents.

      I’m still in mourning today for all my parents, as I’ve never had the opportunity to have closure with any of them, largely because I’ve never had the opportunity to have a relationship with any of them.

      Of course, I grew up under my adoptive parent’s nurturing and rule, but we didn’t have much of a relationship. Or rather, a close relationship. The relationship we had was extreme: inappropriately close with my father and extraordinarily distant with my mother.

      I sometimes wonder, what is closure? Would it have even been possible? Would it have been enough? Would it have changed anything, had I been there to watch them die? What last words would have been the magic ones to bring peace and understanding between us?

      I suspect not. They were stubborn people who didn’t take criticism or apologize or discuss tough issues. They made avoiding anything outside of their pardigm their life’s work.

      I wanted to be there, but nobody told me the end was near. I also wanted to go to the funeral, but my siblings made it clear my presence wasn’t welcome.

      When it came to adoption, my parents took it personally, so questioning it was not allowed. No. Understanding of my feelings was incomprehensible to them. There were right feelings I should have and any other feelings would not be expressed to them because they would have been erased or discounted them. They took the cool approach to my parenting, which did not include talking, but amounted to sitting back and allowing me to do whatever it was I needed to do – whatever self-destructive, lost, dangerous, stupid thing a teen could do I did – when what I really wanted was intervention and for them to show me they gave a rat’s ass about me. They made the motions once, but it turned out to be more about them than me. But we all knew what their boundaries were, and what they were willing to do, and that what I needed from them wasn’t going to happen.

      Still, I know that was their version of love. They continued to acknowledge me as their daughter even decades after I estranged myself from them. And my mother’s attitude of, “we did the best we could” does have its own truth. I understand they were only human, as flawed and selfish and traumatized as humans tend to be. I guess selfish on my own part is the unrequited desire to have them be proud of me – not my accomplishments, but my growth as a person. But it takes evolved people to recognize evolution apart from them – maybe in spite of them, so I have to let that desire go.

      The truth is there is nothing they could have done to relate to me. My state of being as an abandoned adoptee is simply too profoundly incomprehensible. I think even in the best adoption scenario this is true, and another extremely meaningful reason why adoption isn’t a magic solution for us. But that was out of our hands, and it’s just one of those facts of life I have to shake hands with.

      But I’d be lying if I said that schism and the ache for it to not be there wasn’t always in the back of my mind.

  2. Yes, my adoptive mother died when I was in my 20’s and when she died I had one very good cry and then it was a huge tidal wave of relief! Of freedom to now become my own person. To not have to act ‘fake’ anymore, or take her abuse, or hatred. It was the most beautiful Easter I celebrated after she died. I did not have to do the ‘family’ thing. I just stayed home with my sweet little son and I did the laundry and relaxed, happy and content. My (adopted) dad (who is 81 now and still in good health) will be a different story. We have known each other even before we came down to this earth and I will greatly miss him. He is a wonderful friend and supporter. I know I will see him again once it is my turn to transition. My Korean parents I don’t know what to feel…I have never met them and I suppose there is a little speck of hope that one day I will have the pleasure of meeting them. I do not have any anger towards them. I have anger towards the agency making a decision to separate us on the basis of making some good money for their ‘non profit’ corporation. But that is business you know….

  3. Dear Kevin,

    First of all, I just read your post. So I would like to pay my respects and condolence to your loss of your adoptive father. I do not respond to these topics easily because it touches so many sensitive issues. Conscious and many times unconscious ones.

    I concur what Yung Sook wrote as response to your post. Many times Adoptees have (residue) trauma affected due to their ‘relinquishment’. This hidden grief and pain even leaves imprints in our body (muscular and emotional imprints). More and more research and methods shows which impact loss and trauma has on children and human beings in general.

    For Adoptees this can have even more devastating impact on their lives due to the fact that Adoption itself is many times not seen as an existential loss but as a life saving act. Meaning, the context of adoption deliberately urge you to accept and to contain the traumatic bonding (Stockholm Syndrome) which Adoptees automatically experience without knowing that this is happening due to the adoption. This systemic replacing of body and soul (I call this sometimes – ‘out of soul experience’) can be shown by the following example.

    When a child is waiting to be transported from the country of origin to the receiving country, many children did not understood at all what happened to them. We even may consider that, even when they where waiting for the plane to be flown to their near future, the body is moved but most certainly for many, the soul was left on the airport, wondering and still waiting for the parents to take them home again.

    When adult Adoptees mourn when adoptive parents pass away, they do not even have – literally – a parent which can process the projection of the lost parent, but also the Adoptee (due to the significant entanglement with the birthparents-see also: http://www.hoffmancentre.com/articles/FamilyConstellations.pdf) has no fundamental of hope anymore to solve the inner depth and silent hope that the parent will take them home.

    Especially adopted men, seem to have hard time to share their deep – but most of the time silenced – longing to ‘reconnect’ with the father who is not eminent in their lives. The consequence of absent fathers creating lost sons (see also the similar title – written by Guy Corneau) is a huge social issue but the more for male Adoptees.

    So when an adoptive parent(s) pass away they symbolizes, next to the emotional grief which each son or daughter can have, also a confrontation that they are really lost again somehow. This is deep existential experience and I would wish that more adult male Adoptees would share this experience. So I also would like to thank you for sharing this with us so open and clearly.

    Warm regards,

    Hilbrand

  4. Kev: First of all, my sincere condolences for the loss of your father. May he find peace. Second, my apologies for not replying sooner. My father passed away last October, after a similar debilitating illness. I keep rereading this thread, and I keep thinking about my connection to the man who considered my adoption an act of salvation when I know now that it was anything but. I never was able to communicate with him about this, and my return to Lebanon I think pained him greatly. We could not be more different in any aspect of our personalities, and I think he wanted most to see his reflection in his children. So here I imagine I let him down. As UnitedAdoptees said, this sets up a very particular existential crisis for the adoptee. It’s nice to see Gravatar21 state out loud what has been bothering me to a certain degree: That I felt, too, beside the pain and grief a sense of relief that the burden of keeping up pretenses was lifted in a way. I don’t blame him for this, I blame the mythology of adoption that forces us to maintain this facade despite all evidence to the contrary. I alluded to this elsewhere, and now perhaps that other item makes more sense, where I was basically defining a kind of waning connection between adopter and adoptee as the former approaches the end of his or her days. I wrote that question when, as Kev stated, the realization hit me that my father was fading. That this connection was a contrived one to begin with only makes it more painful on some level. In any case, I hope my father can find now the peace he didn’t really have in life. And I hope that one day, God willing, we can too.

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