References to grief usually center around a death. It had to be someone close to you, and it had to be a death. Only that kind of loss warrants flowers, cards, and consolation. But what if nobody died? What about the pain from a broken relationship, or a lost opportunity or job? What if you recently had to make the decision to just not have a person in your life anymore who was previously very close to you? Is that not loss that warrants a time of a grieving? We call it sadness without calling it grief, almost like we believe that it doesn’t deserve such a name, right along side of tragedies like sickness and death.
But it is. It is grief that we’re feeling. And while it might not be the same, it still leaves an impact that you can’t ignore; that you don’t move on from more quickly simply because it wasn’t the same as another type of sadness, or another kind of loss.
My son turned 5 years old on December 24th, just a few days ago. Five years ago, I was in the hospital for Christmas. Five years ago, I was up all night with a new baby boy who needed to be fed. Five years ago, I had to call a nurse in for help because I was struggling to feed him. Five years ago, I had friends and family gathered around to see this new little boy. Five years ago, I had a family picked for him to go home with. It wasn’t my own. He was mine. But he wasn’t. I went home without a new car seat, without blankets, without bottles or binkies, without a crib waiting at home in a blue-painted nursery. And without a child.
But he didn’t die. There was no tragic loss. At least not in the way that most people would describe the tragic loss of a child.
He just went home with someone else.
He’s still alive. I still see him. I’m friends with his parents. I know his siblings. I see pictures of him all the time. For some reason, that’s always the first thing people ask me. “Do you get to see him?” And then I say yes, and they say, “Oh, okay,” as if to say, “Well, that settles that.”
Shouldn’t that be enough? Isn’t that good?
Well, yes. It’s an incredible blessing for him to have adoptive parents who are so amazing, and who are willing to let me be a part of their lives.
While I still get to see his face, see him grow, learn his likes and dislikes, and see his beautiful little face light up when he opens his birthday gifts, there is still a painful hole where I feel like he should be. Where I feel that I should be. Would that be “enough” for you, or anybody? No. It never is, it never will be, but it’s what some of us have. And it’s incredible, but also sad at the same time.
It’s like looking into his life, and seeing that it is full and complete. But without me. Like there’s a hole in his life that he doesn’t feel, but I do. Hopefully, he never will. He has a wonderful family who loves him very dearly, and they’d do anything for him. He’s theirs. But he’s also mine. And that’s difficult to reconcile.
I don’t want to compete with his mother, or father, or sister, or brothers. They’re his, and he’s theirs. They’re a family. It’s what I chose for him. And it’s exactly what I wanted. I just didn’t know about the hole. The hole manifests itself in ways that I don’t expect. Like the feeling that I should have been the one planning his birthday party instead of attending as a guest. Or the feeling I got when I heard that he has stage fright, and didn’t want to go up on stage for his Christmas recital. I just wanted to hug him and tell him that it’s okay to not want to perform in front of people. I wanted to tell him he didn’t have to do it if he didn’t want to. That was exactly what his parents told him, which made me happy and relieved, and reassured. But there was still that nagging feeling that I should have been the one to tell him those things.
I’m not there when he needs someone to hug. I’m not there when he needs help tying his shoes. I’m not there when he argues about what to wear, or doesn’t like the movie he’s watching, or has nightmares, or when he learned his first words, or learned to crawl, or took his first steps.
And that’s the hole.
It’s me not being in his life, rather than him not being a big enough part of mine. Because he is a huge part of my life. I love him, and I always will. The sadness doesn’t come from the fact that I gave him to another family. They’re wonderful. I love them all dearly. This amazing little boy brought two families of strangers together, and made them one even bigger family. I do not regret him, and I do not regret them, and I never will. Nobody can make me feel guilty about any of it. That’s not where the sadness comes from. It’s from that hole. It’s the brokenness of the entire situation that led to him having to go home with someone else. The imperfection of the relationship that brought him here. The imperfect timing of the whole thing, that led to hard decisions.
But most people will dismiss it because he didn’t pass away. He has no defects, or physical ailments. He’s a perfect little baby boy who simply went home with someone else. Nobody sends you flowers for that. It’s not recognized as grief. Just sadness. And being sad is, for some reason, different than grief. It’s a fleeting emotion, something that you should be able to move on from.
And yet every year, on his birthday, I go back to that feeling. And I wonder if, because I never recognized it as grief, I never actually grieved. I assumed it was “just” sadness, that it would go away. It’s been five years. I should be okay. And I am okay. I’m married, and happy, and he’s happy and with his family. We’re all okay, contrary to what some people tried to tell me would happen if I placed him for adoption. But there’s still that lingering sadness, and I’m not sure if it will ever really be gone. Maybe some grief stays with you for a lifetime. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that time doesn’t heal all wounds. It can’t. Time is just that. It passes. It moves on. That doesn’t mean that we do. Maybe we can’t.
But this is my story. It’s what makes me who I am, and it’s what has led me to where I am. It’s part of me, and so I refuse to regret it, no matter how much sadness there is to go through.
Alena Rivas is a college student from Tucson, Arizona. She has been married since August, 2013. She and her husband don’t have kids yet, but they hope to once she graduates! Alena writes about life, love, loss, and God. She works to incorporate her own experiences in such a way as to inspire others and encourage people to think about things in new ways. If you like her writing and want to keep up with it better or just want to have access to her awesome witticisms that may not always end up in blog posts, you can find her on Facebook (facebook.com/authoralenarivas), Twitter (@MrsAlenaeous), and Google+ (Alena Rivas).