May 26, 2013
Memorial Day ~ Adoptee Style
I've always heard that birthdays can be tough for adoptees, and yes, I can attest that for some reason I have always hidden a quiet sadness around the holiday, especially since my birthday falls on Mother's Day weekend.
But Memorial Day? How could Memorial Day be conflicting for an adoptee? I'll tell you. For years I dreaded visiting the cemetery with my Mom and Nanny every Memorial Day because I decorated graves of grandparents that I never met...and that I knew I shared no blood relation with. It reinforced the hurt within me of not knowing my own biological connections and not being able to honor and know them, and hence, myself. I couldn't really embrace my family because of this. I felt like the third-wheel, but obligated. And sad.
After reunion, I went through all the rollercoaster emotions of grief...for several years...but it was complicated and disenfranchised. Like trying to untangle a ball of yarn without knowing where the beginning or end of the string is...just a numb mess, without the words or self-understanding to even explain.
Finally, after hearing the stories of other adoptees, their feelings expressed...I was able to tap into those unspoken, deep-seated emotions and begin the process of healing...
Anyway, after reunion, I would reluctantly still go with my Mom every year to the cemetery, but inside, I was resentful because I now KNEW where my birth family was buried, but because of loyalty issues, I didn't feel free to feel or express my sadness that I wasn't able to spend time with them or even visit the cemetery of the relatives of my birth. I was fulfilling the role adoption created for me...but I was being incongruent. As I look back I realize it was part of the necessary grieving process....
I thank God that after decades of reunion and walking through the grief (with the help of other adoptees, first moms, and friends...not denying the feelings, but letting them wash over me)...I can now feel the good and the bad...and embrace my entire family. Visiting the cemetery is filled with love now.
Yesterday I spent the morning with my birth family at the funeral of my beloved Uncle Jim. He was laid to rest in the same cemetery that my maternal and paternal grandparents are buried. Ones I was so thankful to know in reunion for several years before their death. I have beautiful, sweet memories. In fact, I have now known my birth family for longer than I was separated from them. Our family sat together and cried together as we heard a touching homily about eternal life and forgiveness. I was finally a full-fledged member. But the cost has been high. Lines and wrinkles and puffy eyes from years of processing and crying and laughing through this journey of self-realization and reunion with my roots. It meant so much to sit by my Uncle David and my little brothers and Dad and cousins. To exchange hugs and smiles and kisses. And Love.
After the funeral I walked a few feet over to the grave of my maternal grandmother, Carolyn, and took pictures of her grave and my paternal grandparents, Sid & Mary. Pictures I will cherish. It was so peaceful...yet I found myself alone, again. Exhausted.
Later in the afternoon we took my Mom to Rest Haven to decorate the same beloved family graves I have visited since childhood. And I cried. Because I now know myself and my connections, and have allowed myself to feel and process the pain of separation...I can now feel and embrace the love of ALL my family, by both birth and adoption. I took pictures of my beloved Nanny's grave, my Aunt Kay and Uncle Olan, and my Aunt Hazel and Uncle Dean...who I have precious memories of growing up.
It was wonderful to see the proud flying colors of our American flag waving over the headstones of my Uncle Olan & Grandpa Sid. Both "branches" of my family serving in the military and keeping us free. I'll never forget their stories and so thankful I was able to hear them tell me in their own words. Papa Sid flew an airplane in WWII that crashed landed...amazing. It also reminded me of this article I read a few years ago about unknown soldiers, and missing families in adoption.
My perfect moment was walking hand in hand with my son through the beautifully decorated cemetery and sharing stories of these beloved relatives...explaining eternal life and love...about the Shepard family adopting me and the Lord being our Shepard and ALWAYS taking care of us...and how Grandma Norma Carol (my first Mother) is in heaven waiting on us...and how we'll all be together someday.