Yesterday was our last Adoption Training Session. It’s a great feeling to get the training out of the way although we still have a few more appointments with our Social Worker and our autobiography still to get through.
The training was titled “Pre-Adoptive and Pre-Foster Parent CORE Training” The Agenda was probably the most engaging and eye opening out of all four trainings we were required to take.
The Agenda looked like this:
Adoption Basics•Typical Child Development•Seven Core issues in Adoption & Foster Care•Birth Family Dynamics•Overview & Discussion of Child Abuse & Neglect•Prenatal Substance Exposure•Understanding Childhood Trauma•Attachment•Child Advocacy & Support System.
The Blue font is the topic where I got caught in. Seven Core issues in Adoption & Foster. Those 7 are: Loss, Rejection, Guilt/Shame, Grief, Identity, Intimacy, Control. Heavy topics. The room was definitely unsure how to respond -how is anybody enthusiastic to share your thoughts on any of those topics?
The first exercise they did was a visualization exercise. They asked us to close our eyes and focus where their questions were leading us.
- Think of a time to lost something or somebody very important or precious to you.
- Where are you?
- Who is around you?
- How did you feel when you found out that you lost this something or someone?
- How did you respond and why did you respond like that?
My memory took me to the loss of my mother. That series of events is something I know I’ve buried deep down and nobody really has walked with me back into that dark corner of my memory.
Memories are very interesting. They can take place at a very specific moment of your life and depending on how you process it, it has the power to remain there- just as powerful and real as if you’re still stuck there.
I don’t recall when the ambulance arrived but I remember talking to a paramedic. He asked what my mom had the night before. “Lima bean soup and a 7-up”
(Memory goes black)
I don’t think there was an adult supervising me because I recall standing outside of the house watching them wheel my mom away. That was the last time I saw her alive.
(Memory goes black)
I recall standing on the sidewalk facing the street, back toward my home. I grabbed my tote bag which was sewn by my mom. She ran an alteration shop in Castro Valley so her hands were nimble and experienced in sewing. It was made with navy blue fabric that was patterned with these tiny flowers. Two straps and a small pocket in the front. I grabbed a favorite book, maybe 2 and my favorite Teddy Bear which I thought was from the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic but after researching today, the Teddy Bear was from the 1980 Moscow Olympics!!
I don’t know how long I stood out there but nobody came to find me except Lisa Yi, my best friend at the time. I don’t even recall when she came over but she lived with her grandma in San Francisco so I guess they rushed down after hearing the news. We had this really brief conversation (?) exchange of words-.
Lisa: “What are you doing here?”
I don’t know what I answered and I don’t think I knew why I stood out there but knowing me, it was probably because I thought I had to find a new home. All I knew was that my mom was not in the house anymore. I had no idea who was inside our home. I somehow quietly packed my belongings and stood out front hoping somebody would take me ….somewhere?
Judy: “Can I live with you and your grandma, Lisa?”
Lisa: “Okay, I can ask my grandma.”
The 38 year old Judy looks at the 7? 8? year old Judy and wishes she could give her a hug. “What a brave young girl. I wonder if she thought to grab her items because of the influence she had reading those children’s book. I wonder which book she grabbed off her shelf. Who was she waiting for?”
The instructor asked if a brave individual would like to share their memory. It’s been over 30 years since this all happened, so I raised my hand. The moment I opened my mouth, I could feel an unstable quiver in my voice and my vocal chords were tightening.
“No.. Judy. Focus. You’re not going to cry. You can share this memory without any hiccups.”
It wasn’t going away and when I came to utter “I stood on the sidewalk”, I stopped. I looked at the carpet, away from the eyes of those in the classroom, focusing on regaining control of my emotions and these darn tears that were welling up in my eyes.
I could tell everybody was staring at me and I needed to respond to their stares. I quickly looked up at the instructors and apologized.
“I’m sorry.. I just..”
“No ..no that’s okay. Take your time.”
I could hear a mini tissue packet being opened from behind me and JP tapped my arm to hand me a tissue. Even then I refused to use the tissue. I didn’t want to accept the fact that I was still emotional after all these years and unable to tell the story without being moved by emotions.
“Thank you for sharing, Judy. Could you share how your dad or your family helped your process this loss?”
“My dad never asked me. Nobody talked about it in our family. It was like it was taboo to speak about her. I guess I was also just very busy trying to adjust to being reunited with my brother and dad, making new friends and trying to figure out what is going on. Being resilient as a child and just moving on..”
But she wasn’t taboo to me. She was my mom. She cared for me. She raised me. She loved me and I loved her. Everybody spoke about her as if she doesn’t exist which may be true to a certain extent but she exists in me.. in my memories and in my heart. To see that memories of my mom was denied verbal and mental attention in my family was probably very confusing and conflicting with what I know and remember my mom as. I don’t know why nobody wanted to talk about her. Since I didn’t know why, I just went with the flow and rarely talked about her or the memories I have with her.
I had just become a real life example of what kind of loss and grief an adopted child may bring when they are introduced to a new family. I became an example in the middle of the classroom-of what happens when parents don’t talk or try to understand the child’s perspective even if they are in non-verbal stages of growing. Every loss and grief freezes and stays frozen. It’s never embraced and just remains. If it was embraced, I wonder how different I would be today. Would I still be choking up sharing these few snippets of my childhood with a group of strangers?
I kept tearing up all the way to lunch. I felt embarrassed. I felt like a distraction to the entire class but all the slides and everything the instructor was saying made me wish in my heart,
“I wish Dad talked to me. I wish somebody talked to me before I grew older in age and before new memories covered what I wanted to recall and hold onto.”
So now I think about Benaiah. He too will have some sort of trauma, loss and or grief to deal with. The challenge is that because he will be in non-verbal stages of life, JP and I won’t know which behavior is stemmed from the grieving of loss or just the temperament of the child.
“What can adoptive and foster parents do to help children grieve?”
- Help the child understand the reasons for their adoption placement.
- Assist the child with adjusting to a new environment
- Be open and approachable so the child can rely on you for help in dealing with his/her loss.
- Assist the child in maintaining relationships with his/her family of origin.
- Help the child find a sense of safety and security
- Don’t be quick to dismiss losses in adoption and move quickly to gains.
Even now, I trust that God has a reason. A reason as to why the loss of my mom was never embraced or resolved. Maybe I’ll grieve bit by bit until I die. Who knows. But the strange yet mysterious part of this grieving process while learning about Benaiah’s issues is that I know God can use this grief and loss to draw me into Benaiah’s heart so much more. It’s something JP has not experienced (I asked what his memory was and he said he couldn’t think of one during the exercise) so I’m grateful that as parents to be, we’re not oblivious and inexperienced with grief and loss.
Even though as a grown adult, I feel weak and ashamed to still grieve, but exploiting this weakness of mine for the glory of Christ helps the power of Christ to rest upon me. God willing, if Benaiah comes home and God willing if he lives to turn 6, 7 or 8 years old, my heart will once again grive and tear to see him wrestle with life and the losses in life he has had to endure. Until then, I want to remember these weaknesses and exploit them again when I struggle to understand his tantrums or behaviors so that the power of Christ will rest upon me during those tough parenting moments. Exploit them to Benaiah when he is at an age where he can and wants to verbalize his feelings and thoughts.
God, thank you for revealing this weakness in me. As a mom, I feel inadequate and incomplete with my own grief and loss–to even address and help Benaiah resolve his. But God, your strength is made perfect in weaknesses not strengths. I believe that to be true and cast these feelings of shame, embarrassment and weakness at the Cross and ask that the power of Christ would rest upon me in my brokenness and humility before you and others. I don’t know how Lord, but I know you will redeem this during this adoption journey. You’re the only one who can in every life. So work through these moments and let them not be memories or weaknesses in vain so that you may be exalted and glorified even after the fact that it has been 30 years since. Make JP and I sensitive to the grief, loss, and trauma that Benaiah may be facing or have already faced. Make us effective instruments of your love and grace that will shape Benaiah and all during that time, would you help us in growing Benaiah. Help us heal Benaiah and let it also grow and heal us as individuals and as parents to be. Lord, without you we can do nothing so we ask all these things and ask for your help in Jesus’ name.