When It Comes to Sharing the News of Great Loss
Today is the second anniversary of losing my sister. It’s hard to believe two years have already gone by. Then again, I looked up on February 10, fearful for a moment that I’d let the day go by without remembering. But would that have been such a bad thing? My husband’s grandmother was a big one for death anniversaries. It seemed she would mark the day on the calendar and look forward to it for weeks, then spend the whole of it working herself into a frenzy of sadness and tears – as if that were somehow expected of her, that she wouldn’t be a good widow or mother if she weren’t visibly and viscerally wracked with grief.
Death anniversary or not, I think about my sister often. She was two years younger and, in the last dozen or so years, my best friend. It’s a hole that will never be filled, as no one could ever take her place because no one will ever know me like she did. My husband is a wonder – he understands and accepts most of my moods and peccadillos, whether it’s excitement for a new project or sadness because I’m feeling Corina’s loss. But we don’t have the shared history, the stories, the childhood memories, the laughter about how weird things could be with our mom. He also won’t go thrift store shopping with me or to get a mani-pedi, no matter how nicely I ask.
Although, as you may have guessed if you’re reading this blog, I’m not a terribly private person, I am rather selective about with whom and how I share personal information. I don’t typically post every detail on social media, preferring instead to be in more direct, personal contact. I have a small circle of girlfriends, and as things were progressing with Corina’s health, I kept them updated. She was getting better for a while, and we were quite hopeful. Then things went downhill quickly.
The adopted family relationship can be a difficult one – what do you tell them, and when? Kathy’s sister-in-law was in treatment for breast cancer when I was back in New Jersey in June 2013 for my son’s high school graduation. She passed away that October – and Kathy emailed me a day or two after it happened. I knew she was sick in June, but was still surprised to hear of her passing. Then a year later, my husband’s father passed away in late 2014, after a brief illness. I’m not even sure that I updated Kathy before it happened because it was so quick. When it came to Corina, though, I continued to hope she would rally again, so I hesitated to tell anyone how much her health had deteriorated. Finally, I felt I had to let Eric’s family know … just in case. So I called Kathy – and she told Eric – maybe a week beforehand.
When Corina actually passed, I knew that I had to be the one to tell Eric. (I don’t know why I still have such a hard time saying she died. Usually I refer to her passing as “when Corina left.”) I couldn’t leave that job to Kathy. Eric was still in college at the time, and he hadn’t been returning my texts or emails very promptly in the months prior. But that day, he answered when I called. I really wanted to hold it together and just report the news, but I couldn’t. I could barely get the words out because I was crying so hard. Poor kid – I can’t imagine how that must have freaked him out. He’s a kind, sensitive young man – but how was he supposed to respond to such terrible news from his birthmother, a person he’s intimately related to but still doesn’t know all that well? I was so grateful in that moment that Corina and Eric had had the chance to meet and get to know each other a bit at my wedding.
He got pretty distant almost immediately after that phone call. And as much as I might think I deserve to be upset about that (on the rare occasion, I do feel that way), I know that Eric has had a lot to process when it comes to all avenues of life, not to mention the adoption. Being adopted, at all – why didn’t we keep him? The fact that his birthfather walked away and Eric has had no contact with him since the day he left the hospital with his adoptive parents. My dad dying when he was 11 – and them never having met. Meeting me for the first time at 16. Adolescence and graduation and choosing a college that was far enough away from his parents to give him a sense of freedom. Keeping up his GPA. Losing his aunt. And then me dumping more loss on him. When I can view it with that clarity, I’m not at all upset that he needed some distance and time – just grateful that we’ve subsequently managed to evolve to a pretty good space, at least for the moment.
My son is going to be 23 in a few days. He’s no longer a little boy – or a teen – barely still a student. He’s a young man with a bright future. I’d love to think it will all be sunshine and roses for him from here on out, but that’s not reality. Life is a mix of ups and downs, good and bad. The fact is that there will be more loss, because that’s just the nature of life. My hope is that he’s developing a strong coping mechanism and that he continues to lead with his heart.
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.