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The Latest Word


The uniqueness of adoptee loss (part 2) . . .

Updated: Apr 21, 2021

The uniqueness of adoptee loss (part 2) . . .

In light of their being relinquished in the past, adoptees experience grief in different ways. Some adoptees like 21-year-old *Katarena, (adopted from Russia at age 10) seem to be able to rise above their losses and grief. Katarena states, “I think in this aspect God really did bless me. I can tell you horrific stories of my childhood in Russia, yet I do not feel sad or mad in any way. God rescued me from those memories and they do not define me today.”

Still other adoptees like 19 -year-old *Eduardo (adopted from Guatemala at age 6) choose to bury their grief, not wanting to address it. When I asked Eduardo if he ever experienced grief or loss regarding his birth parents or birth country, he succinctly stated, “Grief, no. Loss, no. I have a back knack for being able to move on.”

For many adoptees however—especially for those adopted internationally—their loss and resultant grief remains ambiguous. The dictionary defines ambiguity as “unclear or inexact because of a choice between alternatives has not been made.” Simply put, in regards to ambiguous grief this means there is no opportunity for proper closure. For some adoptees, this ambiguous loss and grief may play a minimal role in their daily lives. For others it can become confusing, even debilitating. For *Danielle, age 21 (adopted from Russia) ambiguous loss has affected other areas of her life. She shares, “Although I was only a year old when I was adopted, I still mourn for the family I would have had, the mother I would have had, and the life I would have had in Russia. The grief mixes with loneliness and sadness. When my cousin was pregnant and having her baby, I got upset because everyone in the family was so excited! I didn’t have any of that when I was a baby. I was discarded like a piece of trash. I was unwanted by the ones that should have wanted me the most.”

How can we as adoptive parents help our kids deal with ambiguous grief, which is grief without closure? We must first recognize the signs. Most girls will naturally tend to verbalize their feelings more than boys (see Eduardo above). In boys it may express itself more in depression and withdrawal, even displaced anger at his adoptive parents. These behaviors may especially manifest themselves during holidays and birthdays. As parents we must start with allowing our kids to verbalize their feelings and not feel threatened by, or take personally what they might say. We need to consider that their anger at us may well be displaced anger towards their birth parents for relinquishing them. It is also important to verbally validate their feelings. With older adoptees it can be helpful to suggest they write a letter to their birthparent(s) expressing their feelings. True, the letter cannot actually be mailed, but just the act of writing the letter and then talking about it (if your child is open to that) can be cathartic.

More to come on this topic in next week’s post . . .

*The names of adoptees mentioned in this blog have been changed to guard their privacy


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