Many years ago, author and adoptive parent Deborah Silverstein wrote that, in the world of adoption, “Loss is the hub of the wheel”—meaning that all of the unique challenges and struggles adoptees face in life emanate from loss. I agree with her. When we look at adoptees’ struggles in areas such as attachment and bonding, emotional regulation, and even social/life skills, we can often trace these struggles back to their traumatic losses early in life.
Author Pauline Boss has written extensively on the subject of “ambiguous loss” which she describes as “leaving without saying goodbye.” This type of loss is common to a family who has lost a loved one in war or through the agonizing process of dementia or Alzheimers Disease. In the current environment of Covid-19, scores of family members are also experiencing a form of ambiguous loss as they’ve had to say goodbye to a loved one via an artificial video connection instead of in-person.
For many adoptees—especially those children adopted internationally—there will never be any full closure to their loss and grief because they either don’t remember their birth parents or they realize that they never will be able to re-connect with them. A young lady adopted from Colombia stated this well when she shared with me that “When it comes to my birth family I have not fully experienced grief, because I hold on to the hope that someday I will get to see them again.” Another young adoptee from Russia shared with me concerning his great-grandmother, “It was difficult knowing that one of the only people who cared for me passed away and I was not able to say goodbye. Even to this day I regret not being able to visit her grave site.”
Readers, I know this may sound bleak to you! But there is hope for adoptees suffering from ambiguous loss. True, as parents we cannot turn back the clock or wave a magic wand for our kids. Like myself, you would if you could. In my next two blogs I’m going to share some practical pointers on how you can both recognize feelings of ambiguous loss in your child as well as how you can help them work through it. Stay tuned!