Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Living with T. often reminds me of the time after my grandmother died. She was my favorite person. Grieving her death was more profound and complex than I expected. I experienced a sense of wonder, as well as distress and yearning. I was preoccupied. Valuable things seemed to matter more, while invaluable things - a tedious assignment, a boring dinner party - just defied my focus. I was annoyed by friends who used to please me, and bound to people with whom I didn't ordinarily share a close friendship.

Like other children whose early lives are full of trauma, T. has experienced a tremendous amount of grief. He lost his connection to his mother the moment he was born and taken away from her. His father, whom he never knew, was murdered when T. was in grammar school. He lost the younger brother he tried to protect for years when they were separated by the foster system. He lost the extended family who cared for him when he was taken away from them. He lost his friends when he was moved from one foster placement to another. He also lost a lot of his childhood as various adults divvied up his life and compromised his security.

But his grieving isn't just sad. It has many, many dimensions, and I see just the tip of the iceberg. His grief makes him wise in certain ways. Sometimes it also makes him excruciatingly irritable. Often it causes him to be quite controlling - it's as if he wants everybody to slow down and follow the rules, so maybe the world will stop and his losses won't continue to mount. He gets exhausted easily - school in particular is just too much for him sometimes.

He also has trouble letting go and being happy. When he gives in to joy (which does happen much more often these days), the transformation in his face and his energy level catch me off guard. At those times, he is a person I don't often see: a boy. I suspect that much of the rest of the time, the person I see in the day to day is troubled by tremendous guilt and fear.

His grief is palpable this week because he just had an overnight visit with some relatives. The communication with them leading up to the visit was poor, the plan for the weekend was chaotic, and their commitment to T. and their interest in him are both tenuous. We went through with it because he initiated the visit and maintaining ties to them is so important to his identity.

The most painful part of these weekends is trying to manage the way they hand him off from one relative to another even during a short visit - it mimics the way they passed him around from house to house during his early childhood. But he loves them - one of his cousins, in particular, "as a mother" - and seeing them at least establishes a sense of continuity in his life. Of course it also reminds him of hurts and losses I can barely begin to catalogue. So it's complicated.

One upside of these visits is the progress we've made in terms of handling the return landing. Last Christmas, he basically crash-landed after a visit to his relatives and it took weeks to resolve the divided loyalties and displaced anger. This time, he was happy to be back. He can go away and come back. He can have a birth family and an adoptive family. That's a big lesson.

He'll grieve for a long, long time I think. As he gets older, I hope two things will happen: that he'll meet more self-aware people who have sustained significant losses themselves, and that he'll catch a break - wide swathes of life when nothing much changes and nobody important dies or disappears from his life.


GB's Mom said...

My prayer for T is that he gets several of these needed periods of time.

Gab said...

Once again, your compassion and insight blow me away. I often re-read your posts several times to let them sink in. Everybody should be lucky enough to have someone like you in their corner.

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