Grieving at the Holidays

I’ve written about Jane several times before. She and I have been friends since we were 14. Her birthday is coming up on the 19th, two days from now. And yesterday, her dad passed away after a long struggle with Parkinson’s. I didn’t know him very well – probably as well as she knew my father. But he and his wife – I know her only as Mrs. Oh – were always very kind to me, especially considering that I was a white Catholic girl whose lifelong friendship with their daughter could only have perplexed them.

Parkinson’s is an insidious illness that drains the whole family. Though there were certainly aspects of the martyr in Jane’s mom’s insistence on doing virtually all of the caregiving herself, she was also, as Jane described her in her FB post announcing her father’s passing, a warrior. Mrs. Oh was, in her younger life, a nurse. Her husband, Jane’s father, was an OB-GYN. It must have been terribly difficult for him to become the patient after all those years of having been the medical authority.

As I was thinking about how much more challenging it is to lose someone – even somebody suffering with a long, debilitating illness – right around the holidays, I remembered writing an article for a small, bimonthly local health journal a number of years ago. It was the first Christmas after my father passed away, and I recall it resulting from our family’s efforts to find a new normal. Here’s a bit of an excerpt from the article, originally printed in the Arizona Networking News, Volume 25, Number 6, December 2006/January 2007.

Losing a loved one is never easy, but it is particularly difficult when the loss occurs near the holidays. Whether it has been one year or 20 years, you are likely to feel the loss much more acutely during the holiday season.

Although everyone grieves differently, it is important that you be kind to yourself and find the best way to cope with your emotions at this intense time of year. What can you do if eggnog and ho-ho-ho are just not on your radar during this festive season?

  • Acknowledge your feelings.
  • Cry, if you need to cry. 
  • Get support.
  • Offer a prayer, blessing or good thought for your loved one. 
  • Light a candle.
  • Leave an empty chair at the dining table. 
  • Give a gift or donation in their name.
  • Write a letter to the person you lost. 
  • Do not be afraid to talk to your loved one.
  • Begin a new tradition. 
  • Create a memory book.

This is just an excerpt of my original article. Read the whole thing here.

The interesting thing to me, as I reread that article, is that I didn’t specifically touch on loss through adoption at all. I have truly been blessed to have experienced a relatively easy, predominantly open adoption. As a result, I never really went through holiday anguish of the sort other birthmoms understandably experience. I mentioned in a prior post the only time I remember having a significant sense of adoption grief/loss during the holidays – it was during a holiday party we threw for the employees’ children one year during my first tenure at Lehman Brothers. It’s not that I didn’t experience grief, loss, or regret – but those episodes have been blessedly brief and infrequent. I credit that to all the talk therapy I was able to do with my wonderful Spence-Chapin counselor, Mary Weidenborner.

Now that I’m on the thought train, I’m sure sad, grieving, and struggling birthmoms will remain on my mind for the duration of the holiday season. I send each and every one of you heartfelt love, blessings, and hope that the pain will recede and that you find a way to celebrate and enjoy the holidays in spite of the sorrow.

As for Jane and her dad: Godspeed, Dr. Oh! Love you like crazy, Jane!!

no more pain

__________________________
Laura Orsini
 is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who recently graduated from college and began his engineering career. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about the first book from her brand new publishing company, Panoply Publishing.

Throwback Music Memories

Throwback Music Memories

Something of a music aficionado/savant, my husband remembers hearing rock songs on the radio as early as age 6. I didn’t lose my musical virginity until about age 11, with the simultaneous purchase of the Journey “Escape” and Foreigner “4” albums. Today you can’t turn on the radio (AM/FM or Sirius) – at least in the Phoenix area – without being inundated with Journey, particularly “Don’t Stop Believing.” That song has moved from one of my lifetime favorites to my list of “I’d Be Happy to Never Hear It Again.”

John and I don’t watch a lot of network TV, but we have tuned in to the music contest shows, most notably The Voice, over the years since we’ve been together. I don’t have the technical music terms to describe why I like or don’t like particular songs or performances, but when I say “It’s too pointy” or “She really sounded off tonight,” John knows exactly what I mean and tells me I have a good ear for a non-musician.

The other night, The Voice featured a guest performance by Michael Bublé. He has a nice enough voice – God bless him and the people who enjoy him – but after the first verse, I think I might have been snoring. That old crooner style is the some of the most boring music I’ve ever heard. I’m no fan of hip-hop, but I’d take it any day over Bublé, Harry Connick, Jr., and even Seth McFarlane’s attempt to mimic Sinatra. Just days prior, I’d spent the weekend listening to a host of mostly local rock bands at an annual arts festival. (I snoozed through the Phoenix Ukulele Club’s version of “Frosty the Snowman” and other traditional carols.) The highlight for me was a punk version of the Christmas classic, “Feliz Navidad.”

This got me to wondering how much of my music taste is inherent – and how much of it was influenced by the happenstance of the music I was exposed to. I grew up in the ’80s when “alternative rock” was still a relatively new concept, and to this day I still prefer UK artists like U2, Sting, New Order, the Cranberries, and the Cure over almost any other kind of music. But maybe if I’d grown up in the ’40s, I’d have quite enjoyed that crooner stuff I find so distasteful today. Usually able to tune out commercials, I noticed yesterday that a particular investment bank is using a song from my youth in its newest TV spots – “One Thing Leads to Another,” by The Fixx – which means they’re definitely targeting people in my age range, and it’s working.

We went out to breakfast yesterday for my husband’s birthday, and as we were pulling into the driveway on our return, I heard the first few bars of one of my favorite ’80s songs, “Melt with You,” by Modern English. John turned the engine off and the music quickly died. “Awwww,” I whined, quietly.

“What?” he asked, concerned.

“It was ‘Melt with You.’ One of my favorites.”

“Well, I’m sure with the push of a button or two, you can hear it momentarily in the comfort of the house,” he chirped. “It’s not like you have to sit around with your cassette player ready, just waiting for it to come on. Kids Eric’s age would never believe what we used to do to get our music.”

tape recorder ready

I laughed so hard at that memory. If you’re older than, say, 45 and you grew up in an American city, you can probably relate. Fortunately, every radio station had DJs back then, and the good ones would announce the songs they planned to play next, so you’d have time to get your blank tape situated in the cassette deck, finger poised to press the RECORD button. Even so, every mix tape inevitably had a song that was missing the first bars or one with the idiot DJ talking over the music. Still, it was cheaper and more convenient that getting yourself to the record store and plunking down $7 or $8 for a cassette that held an album’s worth of music when all you wanted was the hit single.

I know nothing of my son’s taste in music. I feel like those old people we used to see in comic strips and sitcoms – the ones who complain about the music tastes of “those youngsters.” Here’s a screenshot of the MUSIC tab from Eric’s Facebook page.

eric's music

Seriously, I’ve never heard of any of them. I know his dad and I share a preference for the Coffeehouse acoustic station on Sirius – and Eric makes fun of it every time the two of them drive together. One thing is sure: music tastes and formats change. I’m still grateful every day for being married to an incredibly talented musician who constantly brings music and song into our house – especially since we’re pretty much on the same page in terms of what we like.

__________________________
Laura Orsini
 is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who recently graduated from college and began his engineering career. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about the first book from her brand new publishing company, Panoply Publishing.

I Declare This Season of Celebration Officially Open

I Declare This Season of Celebration Officially Open

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted. Haven’t forgotten you, little blog – and dear readers, whoever and wherever you may be. But I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately. Procrastination is its manifestation – the challenge is that it disguises itself as crocheting. What that means is that I can – and do – rationalize the procrastination by telling myself that I’m not wasting time because I’m creating something beautiful. In most cases, this is true. I’m actually a pretty talented crocheter. The problem is that I’m not creating the things I feel I’m really supposed to be creating. Crocheting – regardless of how beautiful the resulting item – is not the best use of my time right now.

Another thing I’ve been doing a lot of is playing a word game on my phone, even as I am aware of the ridiculously addictive nature of screens. Who knows what kinds of subliminal messaging I’m allowing my brain to receive as strive to make as many words as I can out of this?

wordscapes

Again, I tell myself I’m doing something useful by building my vocabulary and stimulating my brain – neither of which is untrue. But I’ve reached and surpassed Level 700. I won’t calculate how many minutes I spent getting there, as that would just depress me further and could actually result in my climbing under the covers and staying there for a day or two.

So I’m not sure it’s a holiday funk, because it feels like it’s been going on a lot longer than that. I am certain that some of it is grief – it’s going on three years, but Corina’s absence can still be such a difficult thing to reconcile. She was never much for the holidays, but it’s the famliest of family times, and our family has shrunk so much over these last four years. Now it’s just John, his stepmom, and I.

I still delight in the time I got to spend with Eric and his parents this past summer. We talked during that visit of his coming – with his best friend and Meaghan – to Phoenix in January for the big annual golf tournament. They were all so excited. Clock’s a ticking, though, and I haven’t heard anything further about those plans. The grown-up thing to do would be to call or text him and ask him directly if he’s still planning to come. But the hesitant, tippy-toe birthmom part of me fears the answer is no, and since I’d rather not know that just yet, I keep on waiting – ahem, procrastinating – to make that call or send that text message.

out of the dark

I was just re-reading a prior post where I mentioned The Grief Recovery Handbook. A friend gifted me another copy last week. It still sits in the canvas grocery bag in which I brought it home, on the dining room chair where I plopped it when I came in from that meeting. But I’m starting to feel that this funk – or grief – has stolen enough of my time and productivity and fitness and emotions. I probably need to crack the spine on that book and read it. It’s our first Christmas in our new house, and John and I have commented many times how blessed we are and how much we love our home. So as of right now, I publicly declare this season of celebration open. If grief again shows her head, I will welcome her, comfort her for the moment, and then politely ask her to take her leave. What we resist persists – but that doesn’t mean I need to coddle or wallow in the muck.

I was reminded earlier today that Christmas lights have cheered me since I was a tiny girl – so I guess it’s time to boil up some hot cocoa, load Pandora’s Rockin’ Holidays Radio on the car stereo, and hit the road. Time to do some holiday self-care.

holiday lights

__________________________
Laura Orsini
 is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who recently graduated from college and began his engineering career. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about the first book from her brand new publishing company, Panoply Publishing.

Waiting for the Phone to Ring

Waiting for the Phone to Ring

Went visiting with Eric and his family in May and then took a 2-month break from the blog. The way life goes, I suppose. The topics haven’t stopped coming, though, and it feels like the right time to get back to it. So here we continue the story…

My son is about to become an uncle. Which means his sister is about to become a mom, and his mom is about to become a grandma. All for the first time. I know Kathy won’t mind my sharing this FB post she put up yesterday…

impatient grandma

Got me to thinking that if she’s this impatient waiting for this baby, waiting for news about Eric’s birth must have been even more challenging. There are funny pictures from Jill’s baby shower of Kathy with her hand on “the bump,” and I personally witnessed Kathy tease her daughter about talking to her grandson during my visit in May. Even though I could tell it really bothered Jill, she’s probably somewhat used to the banter and her mother’s ways.

When Kathy and Bruce were waiting for Eric to come, I’m guessing the wait would have been much more serious, less playful. And how could it have been anything other, given how high the stakes were? I remember at some point hearing Kathy say that she had only washed half of the baby clothes they’d bought in preparation for Eric’s arrival. It was her version of crossing her fingers – trying not to jinx the adoption by being over-eager.

I scoured the web in search of statistics for the numbers of women who start off making an adoption plan and change their minds – at any point in the process – before the placement is complete. Those statistics are impossible to find. Here are some of the answers I uncovered, some from adoption “forums.” My comments are in bold/italic.

  • Everyone that I know who has successfully adopted experienced at least one failed match.1 [They evidently haven’t met the Stanfields.]
  • There’s always a risk. Most potential birthmothers make adoption plans because their circumstances seem less than ideal for a baby… but occasionally circumstances change, or potential birthmothers decide to keep their children despite their circumstances. You simply can’t consider a child yours until after the adoption is final, or at least until after the relinquishment is signed. I realize it’s difficult and unfair, that it is emotionally traumatic and can be devastating financially to have adoption after adoption fall through. I wish that adoptive parents didn’t have to pay agencies or facilitators any money until after they got the baby.2 [Could you make it even sound slightly more like you are buying the baby?!]
  • Believe me, we heard tons of stories and were quite frankly terrified of domestic open adoption when we first heard of it. Over time, we learned that the old advertising rule “if a customer is happy, they’ll tell 3 people, if they’re unhappy, they’ll tell 23” applies in adoption – we tend to share our unhappy stories much more often then our happy ones. We found that in only a very small percentage of cases, and in many of those there were huge red flags, did birth families change their adoption plan.3 [Thank you for your thoughtful comments!]
  • The number of expectant mothers that change their mind is low; it should not deter hopeful adoptive parents from desiring to adopt. … To decrease the likelihood that a Birth Mother changes her mind about adoption, expectant mothers should speak to mental health professionals that are not affiliated with the adoption agency to prevent her from feeling overwhelmed or pressured to place her child. It should be a well thought out decision rooted in understanding and peace and not based on emotions.4 [This is a good idea and should be mandatory – not just a nice idea for a blog post.]
  • There are certain warning signs that may indicate a birthmother (or birth parents) is more likely to change her mind and decide to parent. This is obviously an inexact science, so take them as red flags only. [There are twelve points. I’m listening only the “red flags” I would have set off.]
  1. Has not shared her adoption plans with her family or the birth father. [I’d have failed on this count, as I didn’t tell my folks about Eric until his first birthday. Kathy was the only prospective adoptive mom I met who understood that and didn’t try to make me feel guilty about it.]
  2. Seems too sure and confident of her decision. If she sounds rehearsed or scripted, she likely is.5 [I’d have failed on this count, too. I don’t think I sounded scripted, but I never really wavered in my decision – even though the agency thought I was wavering because I didn’t like any of the 11 families’ profiles I saw before Kathy and Bruce’s.]
  • Though they are rare, and most adoptions go through seamlessly, revocations by birth parents happen.6 [Vague details are all I can uncover – someone may have hard numbers, but I don’t know where they’re hiding.]

There was no need for Kathy and Bruce to worry. I made my adoption plan the second I peed on that strip and saw the little pink + sign, and the two blue lines, and whatever other methods the six additional pregnancy tests I took used to indicate POSITIVE. I knew my son would grow up with other people, call another woman Mommy – and I never wavered in that knowledge.

Speaking of the kiddo – he’s not talking to me again right now. Not really sure why. Maybe the week we spent together was too much. Maybe he still has questions, but it’s just easier not to ask them. Maybe he’s hurting. I think about him every day – and daily say a prayer of thanks and wish him well. It’s all I can do from here. We’ll circle back again soon, and I’m OK with that knowledge.

All eyes will be on the new baby soon, anyway. And that’s always a good thing.

___________________

  1. https://adoption.com/forums/thread/104012/how-often-do-birthparents-change-their-minds/
  2. Same as above
  3. Same as above
  4. https://adoptionnetwork.com/do-birth-mothers-change-their-mind-about-adoption
  5. https://creatingafamily.org/adoption-category/top-placement-risks-for-birth-mother-changing-mind-in-domestic-adoption
  6. https://www.bcadoption.com/resources/articles/when-birth-parents-change-their-minds

__________________________
Laura Orsini
 is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.