National Adoption Month 2020

November is nationally dedicated to Adoption. Throughout this month, we will hear conversations around varying degrees of experiences, some focused only on the forever family, others focused on the ones left in the shadow, some who wish to crush the “awareness” campaigns, others who want grow into awareness, some that appear polar opposites, others who hold onto rigid beliefs, and some whom become allies and advocates.

First, we must recognize there are two adoption themes in November. One that has “Awareness” in the title and one that does not. And even the ones that have Awareness in their title are not always advocating for true awareness.

These two adoption themes vary in their campaign goal; the original campaign was focused solely on the act of adopting. It was created to find permanent homes for children in orphanages or foster care. The original week-long adoption campaign in November, started in 1976 by a politician, Michael Dukakis, which was ironically just two short years after the first federal law passing the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act in 1974.

This campaign was never about infant adoption. Parents seeking to adopt freshly delivered newborn babies greatly outnumbered infants available. Especially after the unwed mother homes went away. There is and has been a great demand on newborns. Sadly, adoption agencies also use the November campaign to help promote their agenda.

The other adoption month focuses on awareness and the impact, the history, the gender oppression, the ethics, the corruption, the race valuing, the needs of those who have no voice, the systemic racism, the greed, the power, the iniquity, the inequity, the inequality, the support and needs of an unplanned pregnancy (as one politician said, “the village”), the adoptees experiences, and the many changes that need to occur in the adoption industry.

Over the last couple decades, many adoption roles have joined forces to bring awareness.

I recently attended a conference. After the conference was over, I commented on an event page that I attended virtually and asked the presenter, Sharon, how her view of adoption evolved. Since Sharon worked as a social worker and oversaw adoptions in the 1960’s and 70’s and spoke about her advocacy and ethics and systemic racism in the social welfare system, I was curious to learn when and how she came to her new understanding.

I explained how my view has changed since the early days after my relinquishment and that I no longer believed in the “selfless-gift promo” that I shared in my memoir.

To be honest, I started writing my book within two years after my relinquishment which was originally published in 2002. I was still raw and numb. I was still weak and vulnerable. I was incredibly sad and grieving. I was in the process of healing and writing helped me in that process. I was still protecting those who had groomed me prior to giving birth and gaslighted me after.

I needed to believe in the God’s plan. I needed to believe I did the right thing, made the right choice. I needed to believe my son was a gift to be given. What appeared to be the right choice was in fact a façade.

Truth is, I realize now that I never truly wanted to choose adoption. It was my safety net in hopes that I would NOT need it. I knew that I did not want to be indebted to the adoption agency in any way. I was never 💯. Otherwise, I would have never brought home my son from the hospital. When loved ones began to show and express their disapproval and disappointment in my choice to bring home my infant and parent my children, it became unbearable and I wanted to fix it. I greatly needed to feel their support and love and approval again. I had almost lost them when I gave birth to Jaren. Our relationship was hanging on by a thread. With no commitment from my sons’ father nor his family, I had me and me alone to rely on.

“If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is compromise.” Robert Fritz

Even after I republished my memoir in 2012, I did not change the previous chapters. I added a couple new chapters because the most common feedback I got from readers was they wanted to learn more about me, my story, and my childhood. They wanted to understand me better. I also added a chapter at the end because in ten years, there had been some updates to the story that I wanted to include.

Looking back, I had no reference, no counseling, no birthmother support groups to validate my feelings. And I worried about offending or jeopardize my relationship with my son and his parents. I didn’t want to seem ungrateful. Birthparents in open adoptions and adoptees in open or closed adoptions are both told they should feel grateful or be thankful or that they are lucky. I heard this so many times over the years from family, friends, and coworkers. People have no idea how this comment makes us feel.

Sharon, the virtual conference presenter responded to my post and question so poignantly:

“Great question! I believe changes occurred as I got to know and really listen to adult adoptees and birth/first parents and hang out with them as well as watching my own children who joined the family by adoption and foster care as toddlers and teens grow through their various stages into adulthood. I also went through a period of heavy grief as I came to understand what was happening. I needed to forgive myself and others! A real eye opening journey I took during the seventies!”

I truly appreciated Sharon’s honesty and transparency.

I recently had a conversation with Jaren after watching this season’s new two hour “This Is Us” episode. I told him I wondered if the Concerned United Birthparents’ retreat had an impact on their producer, KJ Steinberg, who was a guest speaker at the retreat one year ago.

KJ Steinberg sat before a room full of mostly birthparents and adoptees and some adoptive parents. Real people! Real experiences! Real stories! I have to give KJ credit because she graciously and empathetically absorbed our heartbreaking stories.

As the hands went up and the microphone got passed around the audience, I had the opportunity to ask her a question. I told her about my sons and my role, and how both sons identify as Black or African American. And that one son was transracially adopted. I told her that I love the show and that my son and I watch it faithfully and that William is one of my favorite characters.

“This Is Us” told this beautiful story about William that America fell in love with despite his flaws. Why had they not told a story or developed a character of a birthmother? Like Randall’s therapist notated last season, the birthmothers “were cliff notes” to the storylines.

I pointed out, as I looked around the room, that even among our group at the retreat, there were very few birthfathers present. I asked KJ if we might hear more background stories about the birthmothers.

I told Jaren it seemed like George Floyd’s death (which they included in some scenes) and the #BLM movement also had an impact on how they were now telling Randall’s story and how they wanted to represent Black people and Black mothers. I wondered how much #CUB and #BLM impacted the new season.

It seemed like previously, the writers were telling two different stories about Black people. One where Black people in Black communities were poor, struggling, drug addicts, neglectful, and not sexually responsible. And then the story of Randall, a black infant, abandoned by Black parents, raised by white parents, as successful, educated, beautiful suburban home, married, a family man, good husband and father, as if those traits can only be learned and passed down by white parents. It is a grossly oppressive stereotype.

Jaren’s response was precise. He said “Does it matter?”

I was silent for a moment. I had to contemplate it. “Does it matter? Hmmm?”

I replied, “You are absolutely right, Jaren.” I said the most important thing is that when we become aware (whether we had our own awakening or came upon it with the help of others), of an issue, a negative thought or pattern, that we are able to change our perception, our thoughts, and our advocacy.

Whether we are talking about an adoption day, a week, a month, or even throughout the year, how will we support and advocate for those impacted by adoption? How will their stories get told and shared?

My hope is that we support advocacy and share awareness.

Yesterday

Yesterday, I drove from Dallas to Houston to attend the funeral of my dear friend’s mother. I had only met Ms. Shirley a couple times but I knew her through her daughter, my friend of seventeen years. I knew her through her legacy of her children, and grandchildren; their compassion and yet strong character, their will to succeed as humans and as citizens in a society that can be flawed and heartless at times.

The ministers announced that we were there to celebrate Ms. Shirley and her life. And it truly felt like a celebration.

All those who came to speak, knew Ms. Shirley personally. They referenced, “It takes a village” and said Ms. Shirley had a devotion to her “village” which included not only her kids, but her extended family; nieces and nephews, grandchildren, and even those in her community. Two people from the neighborhood stood up to speak on behalf of the neighbors. One woman, a childhood friend of Ms. Shirley’s daughter, who grew up in the neighborhood, shared that Ms. Shirley often times led that village. Ms. Shirley looked out for her neighbors and was there for the kids in her community. She always had food to share, an ear to listen, and a home that kids could visit and feel safe. She was the neighborhood friend, mother, or grandmother that helped keep her community strong. The woman then expressed her gratitude to Ms. Shirley and asked all those villagers from the neighborhood to stand, which they did so proudly.

The minister referenced “the dash”.  He asked if we all knew what the dash meant and then went on to explain. On our tombstone, we have a date of birth. Then we have a date of death. The dash between those two dates represent all the time we spend in between life and death.

Ms. Shirley, who married, had six children, was widowed, and became a single working mother, was still able to find food, time, and money for not only her family, but also for her village. Her nephew declared that her faith carried her through difficult times.  Then he joked how Ms. Shirley sometimes would say that the younger generation didn’t know how to stretch a dollar. As a single mother myself. I could appreciate that. Although, I only had two mouths to feed, mine and my son’s, I still understood what it meant to be on your own and how to make a dollar stretch.

As I sat there in the pew, I heard one minister say how Ms. Shirley would not come back for anything in the world because she was at home, in peace with her father in heaven. While I do mostly agree, in my ear, I heard her say that she would give one more day to be with her kids. I couldn’t help but wonder if Ms. Shirley whispered this in my ear so I could share her words with her children. And what loving mother wouldn’t give to have one more day with her kids. Being a mother myself, given the chance, I would. And no doubt in my mind, that Ms. Shirley would also.

As mothers, we try to impart our wisdom, our teachings, and our lessons to our kids so that we can prepare them for their future. Our legacy is not only in their genes, but in our words spoken to them and in their childhood experiences and memories. Every moment we spend nurturing our children carries on to future generations.

The same is true for those in our community. Our kids are paying attention. I remember on two different occasions my sons acknowledging me for something I did for another person, a random act of kindness. Afterwards, they said, “That was really nice of you”. Funny, because I don’t remember what I did, but I remember their response. It touched me greatly. I thought to myself, these are lessons I want my sons to remember. No doubt, that Ms. Shirley’s children were impacted by her generosity and outreach in her community. I know that my friend, her daughter, is one of the most generous and giving persons I know and I feel truly blessed to call her friend.

In a world where we hear too often about mass shootings, hatred, bigotry, and divisive opinions, it is so refreshing to hear about one woman who loved her family and her community and how that community grew, bonded and became stronger because of her.

 

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Frederick Douglass

 

The Dash Poem, by Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
From the beginning…to the end

He noted that first came the date of birth
And spoke the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years

For that dash represents all the time
That they spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved them
Know what that little line is worth

For it matters not, how much we own,
The cars…the house…the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.

So, think about this long and hard.
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
That can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough
To consider what’s true and real
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect
And more often wear a smile,
Remembering this special dash
Might only last a little while

So, when your eulogy is being read
With your life’s actions to rehash…
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent YOUR dash?

Families Belong Together

I have noticed a rise in adoption related media stories.  However, it is the same scenario, redundant, each showing the adopting side.  I can’t help but ask myself why.  Why are bio parents left out of the adoption story.  Should we assume that no one truly cares about bio/birth parents when it comes to adoption?  Do we believe that average folks may not be able to comprehend the grief of relinquishment?  Can compassion be felt more towards adopting parents than relinquishing parents? Media doesn’t mind showing the hardships of cancer patients, hungry children, abused animals, kids/adults with disabilities, but showing the suffering of a bereaved parent after adoption is non existent.  Why?

I was reading an article that had some adoption fluff.  It was about a couple who after fostering a baby boy for over a year, went to court to adopt him.  Their request was granted.

In the article, the following statement was positioned in the third paragraph, to help set the tone for the remainder of the article.

“Adoptive parents sometimes get to the hospital in anticipation of bringing their little one home, only to find out that the biological parents have decided to keep the baby after all.”

The part that gets me is the wording…notice how the statement has already given a title to people who should be correctly referred to as the PROPOSED adoptive parents.  The statement has also already erroneously assigned ownership, saying “their little one,” when no relinquishment, no adoption or legal guardianship has taken place.  From this statement, one may assume that the couple has not even held this newborn in their hands.

On the other hand, the article references the biological parent’s as “to keep the baby” instead of keep their baby, which was born to them.  This is how pro-adoption folks use their words in newborn infant adoptions.  They use this tactic on vulnerable expecting mothers and parents.  They will allow a stranger to claim what has not even been born or freely given yet.

This statement is degrading to the infant as well.  It ambiguously implies that if the newborn is adopted, he/she is fondly someone’s (their) little one.  He has belonging.  But if the new baby is no longer available for adoption, then the infant is reduced to “the baby” as a commodity; the dog, the couch, the table, the store, etc.  He is no longer a precious little one. You see?

The article leaves out the details of how or why the infant was placed in foster care at a week old.  It provides no details about the parents.  What happened?  I am wary of stories like this.  More so now, with the migrant families being separated.

I am all for protecting children and placing them in safe homes. I know wonderful foster and adoptive parents who love their kids and have provided a good and safe home.  But I am against forced adoptions, forced separations, government forced separations, coerced adoptions, migrant families separations, and any unnecessary adoptions based on ignorance and conspiracy.

When we have one-sided media stories about complex issues with incomplete information, as readers, we cannot make a fair judgement about either parent since we have only been given a partial story.  Too many of these articles make it appear that the birth parents are villainous while the foster to adoptive parents are saints.  That is very narcissistic.  Classic, really.  The adoption industry has operated on narcissistic attitudes for generations.  They play on our emotions to feel sorry for the mom and dad who cannot conceive or give birth while giving the birth parents a blank slate, as if they aren’t human, they have no story, no rights, no validity.  It’s good media advertising.

The adoption industry needs to have people feel sorry or root for one-side.  How do they do that?  Well, they take out the birth parents story or give worst-case scenarios which leaves room for average Americans to generalize birth parents and erroneously portray them as unreliable, addicts, poor, dirty, promiscuous, and possibly abusive and neglectful.  Or as illegal migrants with no rights.

Birth parents can’t all or always be bad or villainous and foster/adoptive parents can’t all or always be saints. This tactic is all too common in the pro-adoption social arena.

Right now, with all the migrant separations, Americans as well as the world around us are appalled and are highly concerned about keeping families together and reuniting migrant families.  Chances are all this media coverage with well-educated commentators speaking out about the impact and trauma of separation will inevitably impact how folks see family separation and how important it is for families to remain intact.  Furthermore, all this information may help those faced with an unplanned pregnancy to see their role differently and help them make a more informed, educated choice. Vital information, by the way, that adoption agencies and fake crisis pregnancy centers conveniently leave out of the adoption plan talk, while giving specific details on abortion, not all based on facts, or the possible pitfalls of parenting, which is based on fear.

To combat this new mass social awareness about family separation, the pro-adoption industry feels like they are under attack.  What has been kept hidden for decades to average folks has now been exposed and revealed on news channels, major newspapers, video clips, and social media memes.

Socialized and sensationalized adoption stories are being created and shared to bring folks back in.  The Adoption industry needs to gain the trust and favoritism of average Americans again.  Social media is their one source for getting that information out to the general masses, using people as protagonist or antagonist to help send their message of the adoption story.  It is a well written script but one that can have lasting trauma and emotional impact for those involved.

National Adoption Awareness From a Birth Mothers View

National Adoption Awareness Month just ended. And the internet was flooded with adoption videos. Most of which were from one side. The happy side. The gifted side.

I am a birth mother. I will always see adoption through my side. Through loss. So as any awareness campaign, please know that there are two sides to adoption and actually three sides because as the adoptee grows, they have their side as well.

Please take the time to watch this video. Share these stories too. And know that adoption almost always is based off of loss and sometimes trauma.

This year and this month marks 18 years that I had a heart-wrenching choice to make. When my son left my arms and my home, and I didn’t know if I would EVER see him again.

This video expresses what women experience just before they make their final decision. Just before they terminate their parental rights. When there is no crystal ball into what the future holds.

 

May God Bless the grieving birth mothers and heal their broken heart.

Think You Want To Be A Birth Mother? Think Again.

I met Maureen at work.  A growing bank chain had begun to acquire some other banks nationwide.  Maureen, who was from Long Island, was asked to move to Texas.  She had worked for her bank 15 or more years when she relocated to Texas.  She had experience, expertise and vast knowledge.  She was well respected, attractive, and witty.  She was an asset and the new purchasing bank wanted her on their team.

Maureen knew about both of my sons.  I had pictures of them on my desk.  And I had even brought up Noah and his family to the office one time.  Jaren had been up there many, many times.  I had talked about both of my sons in the office.  So I wanted my coworkers to meet Noah and I wanted Noah to meet them.  It was a proud moment for me to have both Jaren and Noah at the office.

I always wondered who was judging me.  It was a mind game, whether real or imaginary and I am certain it was a little of both.  I felt like my diverse family made others feel awkward.  My family was not neat and tidy.  There were complicated pieces.  This contributed heavily to my emotions and imbalance at times.  It’s why I understood that sometimes it’s easier to just move on as best you can and put the birth and the adoption behind you.  And when I say, “behind you,” I mean to not speak of it.  Birth mothers can never totally forget or put giving birth nor their child behind them.  They keep it reserved in a portion of their mind and their heart, hiding it carefully as if they are protecting a small child from a scoundrel.

After Maureen began to reconnect with her lost daughter, I learned she was a birth mother too.  She and I had other things in common.  We were both from the upper east coast, both raised Catholic, both with Irish roots.  So finding out that she too was a birth mother made me feel closer to her.  Besides that, her New York accent reminded me of my grandmother, especially when she said my name.

Previously, she was private about her adoption experience.  Maureen was regal and conservative.  She was not at all open about her choice to relinquish her daughter.  I say choice but I doubt she had many options or choices.  She was young, Catholic and not married; the perfect recipe for the adoption industry.  But when she reunited with her daughter, things changed.  I don’t think she confessed to everyone about finding her daughter.  But she felt safe with me and another birth mother who also worked in our department.

Maureen, who never had any more children, was so happy to meet her daughter.  She proudly showed off her pictures.  Her daughter looked so much like Maureen and just as beautiful.  They began to connect on Facebook.  Then, they arranged to meet; secretly at first.  Her daughter didn’t want her adoptive parents to know.  She didn’t know how they would take it.  Maureen flew back to the east coast.  Her daughter was recently engaged.  So Maureen got to meet her daughter’s fiancé as well.

After their first meeting, they stayed connected.  It was not always easy.  Her daughter was having a difficult time with the reunion too.  Maureen felt her daughter would retreat from the relationship sometimes.

Maureen would talk to me about her feelings.  I would try to share as best as I could.  Although she had been a birth mother much longer than me, I seemed to have more experience because of  my open adoption relationship with my son and his family.  Maureen was unprepared for the emotional toll this new birth/adoption/reunion was about to take on her.  While my situation was a little different than hers, we were both still women who gave birth to a child and relinquished our parental rights.  We have a similar experience.  That, in itself, is enough.  I had gone through with the reconnecting and disconnecting a couple times.  That’s what it felt like whenever Jaren and I got together with Noah’s family.  I had to say good-bye over and over again.  It’s a very strange feeling because you don’t know who you are to your own child.  Or who they want you to be.  You don’t want to be too aloof and give the impression that you don’t care.  But you also don’t want to overly show love or affection or appear “too clingy” and give the impression you are trying to take over.  You have this natural instinct and need to mother and to protect.  It can feel as if your every move is being judged and nothing will come off as appropriate, as if you are on trial without a character witness for a choice you made and nothing will erase what happened and there is a consequence that every person amidst you will consciously or unconsciously bestow on you.  It’s an emotional tight-rope.  And you feel as if one wrong move could end drastically and possibly severe the relationship for good.

For the first time, Maureen’s emotions began to show.  This very cool, collective, admired soul began to show insecurities and self-doubt.  The beautiful woman, who walked with her head high, began to take a second-class position.

Maureen got invited to her daughter’s wedding.  Maureen took her mother, the birth grandmother, to the wedding.  And they even stayed with her daughter’s adoptive parents.  Maureen shared some of her feelings about that experience.  I understood.  We shared our stories and our feelings.  I wanted her to know that what she was feeling and experiencing was very normal.  Birth mothers don’t always know that unless they talk with other birth mothers.  We can feel as if we are weird or strange for feeling a certain way.  And if we are not careful, we can have family or friends convince us of the same.  It never seizes to amaze me how many people will try to counsel another person without having a similar experience, no education or degree in the field, no work experience, nor any research done on the subject matter.  And yet, they will speak as if they are the expert.  If we are not careful, we can lead a person down a deadly path.

After the wedding, Maureen and I got a little closer.  She gave me a Willow Tree Angel, called Friendship.  I treasured it.  We went out for happy hour a couple times with some co-workers.  And we even made plans to go to the movies.  We saw October Baby.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_9l7lEe-AA

However, Maureen, who now had almost twenty-five years of service, seemed to be changing more.  I had worked with Maureen for nearly five years so I knew her work behavior fairly well.  She had begun to appear intoxicated at work.  I never knew for certain.  It was a feeling.  I thought maybe she was taken some medication.  Her eyes and her speech were sluggish.  I wanted to help her but I didn’t know what to do or say.  I mean, what DO you say?  “Hey, Maureen, are you drunk?  Is everything okay?”  I didn’t want to make false assumptions or offend her; especially during this difficult time in her life.  But I also didn’t want her to feel alone.  At the time, I didn’t know of any birth mother support groups.  I didn’t find one myself until 13 years after my son was adopted out.  That’s a long time to go without any counseling or support. Even though the adoption agency was required to offer me counseling after the birth and relinquishment of my infant, they did not. Even when I was at my lowest point a couple weeks after the birth and called them in despair for some counseling, the woman who had been so available to me none stop during my pregnancy and even made special arrangements to meet me on Christmas Eve day so I could sign relinquishment papers for the agency, now seemed unconcerned for my mental well-being and said, “Do you think you really need counseling?” So I had to figure it out on my own, as did so many other birth mothers.

I resigned from the bank and had lost contact with mostly everyone.  However, I did send Maureen a link to my blog in hopes it would help her.  And a year later, when I found the birth mother support group, I tried contacting her to see if she wanted to go with me sometime.  I don’t think she ever responded.  Four years came and went, and I decided to check in on her.  This was last year.  I sent a text.  No response.  Then just recently, I decided to send her another text.  She had been on my mind.  I still worried about her and wondered if she was healing.  When I got no response, I thought maybe she changed her number.  So I sent a text to another coworker that I keep in touch with about once a year.  I thought maybe she knew how she was or had contact information.  I told her that I had been trying to contact Maureen.  She told me that Maureen had gotten fired and she believed it was due to the drinking.  Then she said, “Sorry to be the one to tell you, Maureen passed away from Liver disease.”  Maureen had passed in 2015.

I was shocked.  And deeply sadden.  She was only 49 years old.

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. – Psalm 147:3

Angel

What is a Mom?

Sissy and Karen

 

Now that is a loaded question, right?  We can answer that a thousand ways and then we could add another thousand more.

I recently lost a very dear friend of mine.  She was a second mother to me.  I called her Sissy, a nickname that her brother gave her when she was a baby.  I can still remember very clearly meeting Sissy for the very first time.  Her son, Sonny, my boyfriend at the time, brought me to Texas back in 1989 for the Thanksgiving holiday.  I think I fell in love with her the first time we met.  We connected and bonded very easily.

Sissy had four older brothers and no sisters.  She married her first husband and they had three sons together.  She got remarried to her second husband, who had two daughters from his first marriage, both of which lived out of state with their mom.  They were a blended family.

Sissy treasured her female relationships.  She would often say, “My son’s bring me my daughters.”

I loved listening to Sissy talk about her “momma”.  She loved her mom dearly.  She enjoyed retelling the many wonderful stories about her mom and she treasured each one of them.  I remember her telling me, “Once your mom dies, there is no one in the world who will ever love you as much as your momma.”  And that is how her mom made her feel.

I wasn’t that fortunate.  I knew my mom loved me growing up.  She cooked and cleaned and did those kinds of things a mom does for her child.  But I didn’t get the nurturing, protective kind of mom that comes with motherhood.  I didn’t realize this until I got much older.  I didn’t realize how much I was searching for something that I needed.  Looking back, it is clearer.

I found an old autograph book from 1974.  I was in the 7th grade.  This is one of the entries from a friend of mine.

Dear Karen,

                I know this is a little sloppy but, I’m trying to keep Mr. Smith from seeing it.  Dear Karen, I hope you and Greg fall in love and get married.  No matter what some people think, you’re gonna; ya hear?  Listen, this sounds a little corny but I have to say it: I don’t want to lose you as a friend and you’re also one of my best friends.  Anyway I just don’t want you to forget your “mom”.  So I’ll be seeing you later.  Bring those grades up girl so you can be back on the cheer-leading squad.

                Love ya,

                Kim

                (Mom)

                P.S.  I don’t mind you calling me mom.  I like it.

Funny thing is that Kim, who was actually in the same grade as me, was one of the first of many to get the mom title from me.  I had other friends from school that I called mom.  I find that odd, especially because they were girls themselves, the same age as me.  They were usually the nurturing type, the ones who would protect me from bullies and also listened to my problems and gave me encouragement, compliments, and advice.

So in a way, they were a mom to me.

In high school, my best friend, Levia, took me over to her house.  I fell in love with her mom, too.  She loved me like another daughter.  Lots of my friends’ moms or parents felt that way.  I often heard them say, “My mom really likes you.  You are the only friend she will allow to spend the night.”  And so often times, I would ask if I could call them “mom”.

Of my mother’s five children, I was the only child to run away from home.  One time, I stayed with my best friend’s older sister.  Another time, I stayed with my boyfriend’s family.  I called his mother, mom.

Then, in my late twenties, I went to Texas and met Sissy.  I remember asking her what I should call her;  by her first name, Carolyn, or her nickname, Sissy.  She told me I could call her whatever I liked and I could even call her mom.  I chose to call her Sissy.  I’ve wondered why I didn’t choose to call her mom when I could have.  She ended up filling that role so easily and the void that I needed so desperately.  But I considered her a mother.  I got her Mother’s Day cards each year and one year I got her a balloon on a stick.  That balloon stayed inflated for more than twenty years.  I would tell her that she could get rid of it or deflate it but she never would.  I finally said, “Are you afraid if you deflate it, it will deflate our relationship?”  She confessed she did.  I smiled and told her that could never happen.

For the last six months, I was able to help care for Sissy.  On Easter Sunday, I had the honor of experiencing her last day here on earth.  For all she has done for me over the many years, it felt good to be able to give her something back.

Tonight, I was invited to a women’s gathering to talk about our mothers, grandmothers and surrogate mothers who passed away.  It was truly a spiritual experience.  To see the deep connections that these women have had or have to their mothers, some describing both their positive and negative emotional attachments to their mother, is extraordinary.  I saw that no matter how old we get, that little girl-the daughter, still lives within each of us.  Some wanting more from our mothers, but most just wanting more time with our mothers, to try and reconcile what went wrong or to recapture what was lost.

We went around the room and we each shared our “mom” story.  When it was my turn to talk about Sissy, I quoted Sissy, regarding her mother’s unconditional love.  I confessed, I never really felt that way.  I told them about how my mom had two children with her first husband and two children with her second husband and how I came in the middle of those two marriages and how that story seemed to follow me growing up and how that story became my story.  That was the legacy I carried.  But then I said, with Sissy, I was not that story.  I had a clean slate.  I was just Karen.

Sissy learned of my whole story and it never mattered to her.  She loved me despite my flaws and rich and troubled past.  She loved all those parts of me.  I truly cannot imagine how my life would have turned out had she not been in it.  She transformed me with her acceptance and unconditional love.  She is the true meaning of motherhood.

So today, I honor Sissy and all those surrogate mothers who nurture the souls that need nurturing.  Happy Mother’s Day!

second mother poem 2.jpeg

The Grief Club

Jaren and I recently volunteered at a Thanksgiving dinner for a non-profit organization for men.  Charles, a handsome black man who works there walks up to me and my son, introduces himself, and begins to chat about all the ways this Christian based non-profit helps in their community.  He tells us that some of the men are homeless, some are veterans, others are men who participate in their discipleship program to help mentor in their communities and some are just learning how to become better men and fathers.  Charles, a true gentlemen, is confident, warm and sincere.  Something about him seems vaguely familiar.  Out of the blue, he looks over to Jaren and says, “You remind me of my son.  I lost my son when he was thirty years old.”  He glances over to me and tells us he also lost his wife a few years later.  Then he looks directly back at Jaren, lays his hand on Jaren’s arm and humbly proclaims, “I know pain.”

Instantly, I know what is familiar.  It’s that place of pain.  It’s a place that only those who have experienced such a great loss can enter in and out of as if we belong to a club that no one ever really wanted or wants to belong to; a place that is usually caused by a great loss.  It’s a place you don’t wish on your worst enemy.  It’s heartbreaking to see a new member enter into this club.  It’s written on their face.  Their eyes shine differently and the scar has already made it’s imprint on their grieving heart.   While others will sympathize, The Grief Club members will empathize because they understand all too well the road that lies ahead.

There’s a strange comfort when meeting someone who can look you in the eye and say “I understand.  I know pain.”

A friend of mine recently lost her father to suicide.  It’s never easy to lose someone, whether it’s a loved one dying from Cancer, from an accident of some sort, or from old age, whether we were preparing for the event or the loss was felt unexpectedly.  No death or loss is easy to experience.  It is said that losing a child is one of the greatest pains to bear.  But losing a loved one to suicide must also be a great burden to bear.

When my friend told me about her father, he was in the hospital, holding on for dear life.  He lived several states away and it was important for her to see her father before he passed.  She had previously confided in me that her father had not been there for her as a child, something that I am all too familiar with, and they had a troubled relationship.  She and I have much in common when it comes to our fathers; but now her father was lying in a hospital bed fighting for his life and her heart was about to break open.  Truth is, her father is still her father and she still loved him dearly, despite his imperfections.

I immediately recalled my dear friend Mark who committed suicide back in the early 80’s.  We were both around nineteen years old.

I ran into Mark when I drove into town, after he had been up all night on a speed enhanced drug.  He asked me for a ride home.  I invited him to breakfast at the fast food restaurant I worked at.  He went along for the ride but declined on eating.  He was still crashing from the speed that invaded his body.  Food was the last thing on his mind.  Apparently he had a lot more on his mind than he led onto.  When I pulled into his driveway, Mark said, “It’s been nice knowing you.”  I smiled, gave him a light hug and off he went.

Part of me wondered if he was really talking about suicide but mostly I thought he was using the phrase as a metaphor or at the very least, it was the drugs talking after being up all night.  Surely, once he went to sleep and crashed all day long he would feel refreshed and be back to his good ole self.  I didn’t know what his home life or love life was like.  I knew he came from a blended family.

Mark ended his life the next day with a rifle shot gun.  I remember getting the call about Mark but for the life of me, I don’t remember who called me.  We all (my friends and our families) had already experienced so much loss.  Our friends were dying from drugs or alcohol related car accidents and overdoses.

Mark and I had gone to the movies just a week or so before.  We saw An Officer and a Gentleman.  At the time of his death, I never thought about the movie and the suicide scene but later looking back, I saw a much bigger connection.  I’ve thought about my actions many times over the years.  Was there something I could have said that would have caused a different outcome?  Was I being naïve or insincere?  Mark’s death hit me hard.  I felt partially responsible; like there was something I could have or should have said or done.

Mark didn’t leave a note that I am aware of.  His family invited us over to the house and let us read through his poems and allowed us to take which ever one we wanted.  You can tell a lot by a person by what they write.  Many of us feel more comfort in writing than verbally speaking how we feel.  Maybe that’s because when we do share our deep feelings and hurts, there are those who try to minimize our pain or tell us we should focus on being positive and happy or that we should be thankful for what we have.  Truth is we are all those things and more…most of the time.  But we still need time to grieve.  Grieving is a process and something you cannot resolve within three days or three months.

I think this poem says it best, a scene from Four Weddings and a Funeral