Grief is a funny old thing. Like an ornery old troll lurking behind his white hair and droopy eyelids but ready to spark a little mischief and trickery at the first opportunity. Just when you think you are over something and ready to move forward, suddenly, grief appears and you are thrown back into the past. I think that grief is so difficult because it does not allow us to live in the present. We want to live in the “now” and think about living in the future but without whatever it is we are missing we can’t really reframe life. It is like we do not know how life is to be lived without the object or person we miss so
dearly. And just when we think we have our heads wrapped around it and we think we are ready to move forward…that tricky troll pays us a visit and we turn our heads back to the past and think about everything we are missing. Thus, grief pulls us out of the present time and transports us mentally to a time when things were, in our perspective, hunky dory. Of course this “looking back“ perspective is never completely accurate. It can’t be. In fact it is famously inaccurate! Think of all the times someone passes away and suddenly they are elevated to sainthood regardless of a lifetime of burning bridges and selfish living. Think of the widows that claim they had the best marriage when their husbands are gone but already had the divorce papers drawn up before he passed? We wonder why we made choices to get out of situationsi or relationships (that were the RIGHT choices for us) because we grieve some moment or feeling where we suddenly think the other side of the fence had greener grass than ours. (Ex relationships, previous jobs, etc.) That tricky old troll just messes with our heads sometimes I think!
Of course, those things we grieve do have a right to be honored in our memories. Good or bad, family death or toxic relationship, things we lose do deserve to be in our minds and honored in a healthy and realistic way. But for some reason it seems that the Tricky Troll, grief, shows up in a deceiving way a lot of the time and deters us from healthy processing these losses and distorts things for us in an incapacitating way.
So yes, grief has shown up this month in my life. This time last year we thought we were going to be able to adopt a darling child. He had entered our lives and hearts in the way only a child can. This time last year he started his first year in our school district, he was
starting a new IED plan in school suited for his needs that I had fought so hard for him to get, he was learning to read and enjoying that process, we were celebrating all the things to do with fall – fairs, pumpkins, scarecrows, leaves, Longwood Garden Mum’s festival, parades, children’s movies, Halloween costumes, and all the joy and wonders this time of year brings. Now this year he is gone. He has been moved into a different situation and we do not have contact with him. This year I see mums and pumpkins and I get a lump in my throat and I feel tears behind my cheeks forming. I have no desire to decorate or to even walk upstairs to the room that was his. It now sits empty except for a few boxes of things I am storing before we move.
That room looks like my heart feels. I have an empty room in my heart that was his. It was supposed to be filled by now with memories and artwork and love. Instead it is filled with a few taped-shut boxes and devoid of even a piece of furniture. And if I am honest, (and you will never get to see me express my emotions of this in person) I am heartbroken. Perhaps my husband is as well. How can we not be? Last year our evenings were filled with homework and playing outside until dark, stories of our little guy’s day and telling him stories of our lives and families and catching him up on what we hoped and believed would be his life with us forever.
This year it is just the two of us, my husband and I. I guess we can count the dogs but it simply isn’t the same as a child no matter what anyone says. This year we get to see the neighbor children gather at the bus stop in the morning and run towards their doors at night with artwork in their hands and excitement from their day at school. We watch from afar but have no part in this joy anymore. It is like life is happening around us and we are frozen in time. At night we don’t have to do the
homework and the sit-down family style dinner. We don’t have bedtimes or bedtime stories. It is just the two of us. I rarely cook full dinners for just the two of us, we pick informally at whatever I prepare a few times a week. Reading, watching TV quietly, having tea or coffee then we head to bed quietly. It is almost sad, because without kids, what is life? Without the wonder, amazement, passion, exploratory energy that kids bring to the house things are not what I feel they should be. It dredges up all the pain and reminds me of being unable to conceive and our many reasons for not adopting which convults another loss and cycle of hurt.
Do you see what I mean now?, Grief is a tricky little troll like that. Suddenly we wonder if maybe we were wrong and that maybe he didn’t need more help and could have lived here forever. Maybe we could have talked to the agency and convinced them to let him stay. Maybe the problem is that we were unprepared for parenting a mental impairment and we should have sought different routes or accepted the risk of it all. Maybe I could have taken a handicapped self-defense course to handle him attacking me. How is the child? Is he OK, is he happy, is he loved like we loved him? Will he end up like his parents because he couldn’t stay here forever? I torture myself with these thoughts and all of this is robbing me of the present.
The present contains its own set of privileges that someday the tricky troll may show up and try to trick me into grieving for. What are those privileges that I may someday wish I still had? Well it is hard to see right now, in my grief, but when I think hard on it I think that a quiet evening alone with my husband would have been envied this time last year. We have nephews and a niece that their parents have been more than generous to share with us and allow us to enjoy since we do not have our own child. Those kids come with all the fun and joy that last year had, the only difference being that we get to show up to have the fun and then the poor parents get to deal with the day-in an day-out stuff. I have freedom to invest my time in my health, writing, and marriage. My husband gets to relax in the evenings after work.
As for perspective, grief has distorted my thinking into being nostalgic for small, even minuscule moments that existed more in my own mind than in reality. Maybe that is its trick that takes the toll. I want to be a parent so badly that I take those little moments
of goodness (that were so few and far between) and magnify them so much that now I don’t see the rest of the picture. But when I pull back from the troll’s magnifying glass I do see. There was a lot of hardship. A LOT. School was hard for our guy and while he had good days he had equal bad days and ones that were very detrimental to his own future. Homework was a fight every single night that often resulted in him punching, hitting, and attempting to stab me with his writing utensils. We loved to cuddle and hug our little guy like he wanted but the sexual abuse that he suffered would surface in pretty graphic ways for us to contain and deal with every single time. He did enjoy learning to read, but then that would change on a dime and suddenly he was screaming and fighting physically and trying to harm himself in frustration. We had a great family dinner each night that often was disliked and included discussions of his misbehavior reported to us by the school or hospital he attended part time. Shower time started a whole new round of battles, and again at bed time. Oh and there were the nightmares as well that would keep me awake with him. We had four counseling appointments every single week and doctor visits for malnutrition. All of this and did I mention that there was still a biological mom for this child that just got out of jail and signed off parental rights? How the hell do you explain THAT to an 8 year old? And we wonder why he had a mental breakdown and could not stop attacking me physically or hurting himself.
Meanwhile, I was truly suffering physically and mentally. My husband was second shift so most evenings I had to handle these struggles alone with our boy. My disability makes life hard enough and suddenly I was fighting not just to keep myself, my home, my family, and this child functioning I was also on guard for physical attacks and locking my bedroom door so I could sleep safely. There were so many days that I had to put him on the bus after an entire morning of his bloody murder screaming and fighting to not go to school and then I would go back to bed. Not to sleep, I wasn’t depressed, I was physically exhausted and mentally exhausted. Emotional wear and tare of caretakers dealing with extreme childhood trauma is a real thing. The foster care system provided us with no respite, no medical coverage for the mental help he needed, and no assistance or transportation for any of the court dates, parental visits, grandparent visits, sibling visits, doctor appointments, school meetings, and on and on and on it goes.
So that is the other side of reality, the side that we all try not to show on social media or in passing with our friends. The side that, looking at my social media memories is hidden and the few and far between good times are highlighted and elevated in illusion. The side that, as foster parents, we couldn’t even talk about and even now must be very astute and vague to protect privacy of the family we fostered for. So what is it exactly that I am grieving for this fall?
The good, of course. The fact that we lost a child that we loved with our whole hearts and that there is nothing we can do to make our home safe for him (or for me with my disability when he does “lose it” physically). Can you hear me bargaining? Rationalizing
the way that it was and wasn’t OK here? It makes me so sad to think about the good that may be missed now because we not only don’t have our darling boy back, but we likely will not ever have kids to pass things on to. Working on some genealogy was so difficult for us when we realized, all of a sudden, that the line stops with my husband. We won’t have any reason or person to preserve the information for. That is just one example of the myriad of things that hit us in grief.
Before long I will hit that final stage of Tricky troll’s grief – accepting – and I will convince myself that I am OK with things the way they are and the way they happened. I’ll accept that there is nothing more we could have done to make the situation work and likely I will chalk it up
to God’s will even. I’ll get control of my perspective and work out a plan for the future. A plan of keeping busy and finding joy in the moments I have NOW in the present. Thankfully grief, as tricky as it is, does not ever impact my faith. God is who he is and nothing on earth can possibly change that. He will work things together for good, I know and trust completely, but sometimes accepting that he would not give me the most basic of things I desire like hearing, walking, and a child, is not an easy pill for me to swallow.
So I accept it as much as possible and move forward. Grief certainly does take a toll on me though. And you know, next fall when the corn turns brown and the leaves turn red, when the stores put out the pumpkins and the neighbors return to the bus stop, that little tricky little troll grief will likely show up again on my doorstep. I laugh as I write this because I am writing to you, dear reader, with exactly what will trigger my grief, exactly when it will come, and what it will entail, yet next year I will be just as blindsided by it as this year! I will be tricked all over again and find myself in a new groove on the same old path. Completely irrational. I don’t know why. Maybe living life from our hearts is irrational.