Every. Word. Of. It!
Every. Word. Of. It!
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?
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 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.
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 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.
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. I had to figure it out on my own, as did so many other birth mothers.
I ended up resigning from that job. I 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
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…