Ambiguous loss- a feeling of grief or distress combined with confusion about the lost person or relationship.
This is my son. This is her son. I knew…when I met him for the first time, that I wasn’t his first mom. But I could feel I belonged to him in some way. I held him. My heart stretched, and then broke a little at the thought of all the loss this baby boy had already been touched by. My soul sighed. I loved him swiftly and deeply. She loved him too, of that I am sure. As is sometimes the case in foster care, reunification sadly was not possible. At one of our last visits, I watched her face as she realized that depth of love for herself.
Our boy, hers and mine- he is lovely, intense, loyal, explosive and rigid, playful, quirky, curious, smart and thoughtful. He yearns to be loved and accepted, and yet struggles to show his connection and feelings to people. His soul seems, at times, touched by a sadness too old and too deep for his years. I saw that in her too.
His eyes hold a life story punctuated by distress and loss, AND growth and determination. Grief and worry lurk, but resiliency shines through. Ah… that grief, that ambiguous loss, ever present in our lives, sometimes a hum, sometimes a roar.
The ambiguous loss came to a roar last fall when we learned our boy’s belly mom had died, just weeks before his 9th birthday. Although we began his life as our son in an open relationship, sending letters and photos to her, we lost connection over the years as she became harder to contact and find. I still feel I should have tried harder. We knew how proud she was to get our updates and photos though, because she would share them on social media, shouting with all the light in her that he was the best thing she had ever done in life. And then we learned that his name was the last thing she spoke. Oh. My. Heart.
Many people have questioned why her death has had such a profound effect on our boy, especially since he didn’t have a recent relationship with her. (Because that is what we do now? Question grief?) Well I can tell you that a person doesn’t need to have a relationship with someone to have a connection to that someone. She was his first smell, first sound, first rhythm. Her characteristics, her mannerisms, her hard, her good…it all is coursing through him.
There was no denying that connection, the depth of that loss when I told him of her death, as I held our son while he sobbed. And sobbed. And sobbed. As tears poured down his cheeks, with her eyes looking at me, asking why it hurts so much. I can’t explain it. He can’t explain it. It’s confusing and ambiguous. But I can feel it, as surely as I felt that I belonged to him on that first day holding him.
He grieved outwardly for a few weeks. And then turned inward, only to have that grief roar to the surface in more intense and more extreme behaviors, marked days of sadness, and a disconnect from us as he struggled to process it all. He will likely always work to process this and absorb it where he can.
A couple weeks ago, after a really hard day that stretched into a long night of battles and tantrums, he started sobbing while brushing his teeth and cried out, “I want to visit my belly mom!”. The explanation seemed to surprise even him. We took him the next morning. For the first time. We had offered to show him her gravesite many times, only to be met with silence. But he was ready. Maybe he wasn’t ready as much as… he had a need to visit her. There are many memories from parenting I hold close, but that morning, at her grave, is etched on my heart, burned into my memory. There was more crying, from him, from us. There was silence. There was connection. And possibly even the start of some healing.
Our boy, hers and mine…so brave to tell us AND show us how he was feeling and what he needed. I see her when his lip quivers now, and the tears spill down his cheeks. I have seen her lips quiver, silent tears behind the hesitant smile.
This day, at her grave, I silently told her that I know she loved him. I had felt it each time we were with her, on her good and bad days. I told her about his recent good and bad days, his strength, his light, and his kind heart. I assured her that we honor her, her worth, and her place in his life. I acknowledged her own pain, suffering, grief and loss. So much pain. I vowed to her that I would help him see her, as he grows, aches, loves, searches, heals and hopefully one day, finds peace.
And now, in this moment, I will continue to hold space for him, for her, for me, our connections, our grief, and the messy beautiful of it all.