When Your Friends Are Hurting: On Adoption Loss

We’re in the middle of a blog series on grief and loss over here. I’ve invited some friends to share their stories and give you some insight and advice on how to love your friends when they’re hurting. If you missed last week’s post, be sure to check it out here. A big thank you to Tiana for sharing their story with y’all today. This is just really good stuff.

Our story began in June 2008, just two years into our marriage. It began in Tanzania, in a small orphanage up on a hill. It began when I held a little girl named Bahati in my arms and knew we could be her mom and dad. It began when we were told that adopting in Tanzania was next to impossible, but that we could try it anyway. It began when we made the decision to jump into that big, scary, ugly process, regardless of the fact that we were young, naive, low on cash, and completely freaked out by it.

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I had never been part of a story this big, and it was exhilarating. It was frightening and frustrating, discouraging and confusing. And I had never felt more alive.

So you can imagine the paralyzing blow it was fourteen months later to find out our story was not ending in joy and success and the homecoming of Bahati. Instead, it ended abruptly – in tears, confusion, anger and broken hearts.
We had spent over a year pursuing Bahati’s adoption. Over a year of praying for her, preparing for her, working towards bringing her home. We spent six weeks in Tanzania with Bahati, going through the in-country application and home study process, soaking up as much time with our girl as possible, memorizing her smile, her scent, her laugh. We were all in – head over heels in love with this sassy little three-year-old, waiting for permission from Tanzania to move there in order to complete the in-country foster period and adoption process. And all of that was taken away with one little statement: Bahati is being adopted by someone else.

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This is a very lonely place to be. We were left with a grief we didn’t know how to process. She didn’t die, so we couldn’t quite connect with those who had lost children. We couldn’t really call it a miscarriage – not only had I never carried her in my body, but she had been a walking, talking part of our lives. And she was never truly ours to begin with, so it wasn’t exactly the same as having a child (either biological or foster) taken away. Our grief was unique, and though we felt the love and support of our family and friends, we still didn’t feel that anyone fully understood. And we couldn’t expect them to – it was our journey, after all, not theirs.

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To say we were crushed sounds insufficient. To say we were heartbroken sounds too cliche. All I know is we had never felt a pain like this before.

We were broken and angry, shouting questions that would never be answered to a God we were no longer sure how to approach. But the anger always eventually melted into surrender as the wound ached some more. I needed Him too much to stay angry with Him for long. Though I blamed Him for the pain I was experiencing, I also knew He was the only one with the power to heal it.

Because there is no formula for healing these kinds of griefs, friends. There is no checklist to follow. No timetable to chart. The pain often came in waves – sometimes in smaller bouts of grief that would rise and then recede just as suddenly; other times, in a tidal force that would knock our feet out from under us, leaving us wondering when we would surface again.

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People told me to give it time; so I did. (Because what else can you do?) But instead of getting easier, it was getting harder.

Every day I felt like I was farther away from her. It was harder to see her smile and to hear her giggle. I longed to remember the feeling of her tiny little weight in my arms, falling peacefully asleep against my chest, making both of us sweaty in the humidity of the Tanzanian night. I could hardly imagine those special moments we had together, just the two of us. Where she would dance around the room, then erupt into laughter as I scooped her up in my arms and twirled around with her. Where she would lift her arms up to me expectantly, commanding carry me in a language I struggled to understand. Where she would wrap her tiny arms so tightly around my neck, caught up in the emotion of the fun we were having. Where she would sigh and lean heavily against me as we rode through the busy streets of the city, content to be with this silly white girl who called herself Mama. All of the special moments that weren’t caught on camera, but had been so precious in my memory.

And Bahati was becoming just that: a memory. An image in my mind. The photos in frames that littered our living room shelves. The videos of her talking and laughing with her beautiful little Swahili tongue. But that was all. Just memories. Like she wasn’t continually growing and laughing and playing, getting more beautiful every day. Like she was just forever stuck in those moments right before her third birthday.

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And instead of easing the pain, time was making it sharper. Harder to bear.

Grief is like that, I think. Sometimes it gets worse before it gets better. And I’m not sure that it ever does get better. I think maybe we just become more accustomed to the new way of life it brings. We get used to waking up each morning, knowing all over again the person we love and miss will still be gone that day. Then we get out of bed and continue to live the life laid before us. Continue on in what has become our new normal way of existing.

There is no closure for a wound like this. There is only moving on with your life.

If you have a friend in the thick of grief, don’t abandon them. Don’t put a time-limit on your compassion. These things play out differently for everyone, and no one wants to feel like their grief is taking too long or inconveniencing others. Just keep on with them. Keep encouraging them. Keep crying with them. Keep assuring them this hand they have been dealt really does suck as much they feel like it does. Just be with them. It will look different in every relationship. But forget about time and cliches that attempt to comfort. Hug them. Take them out for dinner, if they feel like getting dressed. If they don’t, bring them a pizza and watch a stupid movie with them. If they want to talk, listen. If they don’t, just sit. Your pretense of understanding is unnecessary. Your compassion for their hurting hearts are what will help pull them out of bed on those harder days.

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There will always be a place in my heart reserved for Bahati – that sweet girl who forever changed my life. It has been six years now since we lost her. The pain isn’t as sharp, but I still think of her daily. I still wonder what her life is like today, and what ours would have been like had she never pulled us into our story. She played a crucial role in building our family, and we are so grateful for every moment we had with her. But sometimes, I am still surprised by the chokehold that grief can place on my heart. I still have longings, and unanswered questions, and some tears.

So if you have a friend in a place like this, give them your love. And let them know Mama Bahati understands their heart.

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Tiana Proudfoot lives in Virginia with her husband, her husky, and their beautiful, fun-loving, sassy-pants Ugandan daughter. Tiana is stumbling down the road of parenting the best she knows how, which usually means a whole lot of apologies and glimpses of grace; living on sunshine, love, caffeine and faith. She and her husband have been wrapped up in East Africa and international adoption since 2008, and they are now getting ready to welcome two boys from China into their crazy, messy family this fall. You can read more of their story at tianajane.wordpress.com

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6 comments

  1. I only know grief, but could never put it into words… this is perfect, and I love it!

    “Grief is like that, I think. Sometimes it gets worse before it gets better. And I’m not sure that it ever does get better. I think maybe we just become more accustomed to the new way of life it brings. We get used to waking up each morning, knowing all over again the person we love and miss will still be gone that day. Then we get out of bed and continue to live the life laid before us. Continue on in what has become our new normal way of existing.

    There is no closure for a wound like this. There is only moving on with your life.”

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