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.

That One Friend Who Really Gets You

That One Friend Who Really Gets You

I’ve been friends with Jane since we were 14. We met at a ridiculously named program – Project for the Study of Academic Precocity – for gifted high school kids, held over summer break on the Arizona State University campus. We were assigned side-by-side seats because of the alphabet. She was Jane Oh. I am still Laura Orsini. She lived in Sierra Vista – a small town about 190 miles SE of Phoenix. After the summer program finished, we exchanged letters. Written on paper. Which we mailed in envelopes. With stamps on them. The kind you had to lick. Jane was the most amazing letter writer. She would pen epistles to rival any of the Evangelists – except that hers were hysterical. I would read them, rolling on the floor laughing, and when my family would ask, “What’s so funny?” I would shrug and say, “Nothing. Why?”

Friendship is a strange animal. For one thing, I’m not very good at them. Long-term ones, anyway. I have friends now – people I live and work and hang out with here in Phoenix, a handful of whom I’m pretty close to. But while I still know people from my grade school, high school, and college days, I wouldn’t say I’m still friends with any of them. My way is to live in the moment – which means I don’t do such a good job of hanging onto people and things from the past. In certain ways, that could be a positive, I suppose. But it’s left a wake of used-to-be friendships behind me – not because of any specific falling out, but usually just due to growing apart.

Except for Jane.

She’s the one rock – the one person who goes back with me to almost the beginning.

And we couldn’t be more different. She was born in Korea, and her family moved to the U.S. when she was six or seven years old. It used to crack me up when people would ask her where she was from – racist people who see a “different” person and make an automatic assumption – and she would tell them, “Baltimore.”

She was also from “another religion.” I grew up Catholic – as far as my father was concerned, there were no other religions. All others were imposters, sad wannabes who had no claim. When I was 16 and went to visit Jane one summer, my father reminded me, “Be sure you get to Mass on Sunday!” When I told him that if I couldn’t go to Mass, I’d just go to church with Jane’s family, I thought he was going to have a heart attack. “NO!” he shouted, his face red and ready to explode. “If you can’t go to Mass, you don’t go to church at all!” What the fuck? How on earth would it be better to not go at all than to go to a different church? What I never told him was that I went with Jane to her church and she came with me to Mass on the Fort Huachuca Army Base.

Jane’s parents spoke Korean at home – she understood them, but always answered in English. They were always very nice to me, even though I seldom understood a word they were saying. At her wedding, I was one of two non-Koreans; the other was the husband of one of Jane’s friends, so he at least spoke the language.

While I’d never call them Tiger parents, Dr. and Mrs. Oh had definite ideas about how they wanted Jane to grow up and what they wanted her to do with her life. She was an amazing visual artist who was also the most center-brained person I’d ever met. She was equally as good at math and science as she was at writing. She would have loved to go to art school, but that was out of the question. Her parents’ first choice for her was to follow in her dad’s footsteps and go medical school. She said no way. Second was law school, which she agreed to.

We wound up living in the same city – Tucson, Arizona – for a few years after college, while she was in law school. But then she moved to California, got married, started a family, and our contact has been sporadic across the years. And yet it’s one of those friendships you read about in storybooks. Sit us down with two cups of tea and a couple [dozen] hours on the clock, and it’s like time hasn’t passed at all.

So Jane was one of the only people I initially confided in about my pregnancy. And from the start, she referred to Eric’s adoptive family as his “other family.” It’s one of the things I’ve most loved about her because it always made me feel more connected to him than I think I might otherwise have done. So that’s where the name for this blog comes from. Eric’s Other Mother. His actual mother, Kathy, is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met – and I have no doubt that she will be fine with this title.