This is a story that started at the Heath Home in early December. It’s taken awhile to sort through the facts and emotions to reach the point of sharing it with you. I kept waiting for the last chapter before telling the story, but recently I realized there may not be an end in sight. Afterall, this story actually began many years ago in a country far, far away, and it could be many more years before if comes full circle. Having spoken with many families who have adopted, I know that our story is not rare. This is part of post-adoption life.
Grief is a funny thing. It can swish around, unnoticed and unheeded, until a tiny chink in your memory opens an escape route, then the grief pours out in a drowning torrent.
It probably doesn’t happen that way for everyone, but that’s how it’s been for Angelina, and by extension our entire family, for the full long month of December.
And it started in such a small, pleasant way. It started with a letter.
Angelina had forgotten something special at a friends house and they had kindly sent it home via post. Included with the item was a little letter, a “thinking of you” card with twirling blue and purple butterflies fluttering across the paper. The letter stumped Angelina.
“Whyha?” She kept asking while examining the letter. “Whyha?”
Imagine being 9 1/2 and never receiving a letter. It was a reminder that no one ever had a reason to send a “thinking of you” note to a child abandoned in an institution.
“Whyha? Whyha? What?” All morning Timm and I were badgered with this question as we tried to come up with answers that made sense to her concrete mind. Finally Timm hit on an explanation that settled well with Angelina. “A letter is a message. It is like a phone call, but written on paper. Someone wanted to send you a message, so they sent this letter.”
That seemed to be the end of it. Angelina squirreled away her treasured letter, already dogeared from handling, and continued on with the day. It was an extremely pleasant day. I did not know grief was lapping at our door and seeping up from the deep basement of her memory. Late in the afternoon Della and Angelina were curled up on the couch sharing stories; they were both retelling Angelina’s adoption story. It was so sweet, I grabbed the camera to capture a few fleeting seconds of video before the battery died.
I was in the kitchen making dinner when the story telling ended. Angelina went gliding through the kitchen on the way to her room, shuffled through paper in her desk, and came out to the kitchen table armed with paper and a marker.
“Mama?” She said. “Mama, wouldha youa wrrrrite ah message, budlaska (please)?”
“Sure thing.” I said, expecting she wanted to write back to the friends who sent the original letter. “What should I write.”
She dictated her message – the swell of grief took us.
I sat down beside her and asked, “Who is this for?”
“Moya home.” Angelina mumbled. “MOYA home. I told myha brrrrot (brother) I comma back. I nerverr come back.” With that she lay her head on the kitchen table and sobbed full-body, racking sobs.
The onions were burning on the stove. I went over and turned off the burner with a horrible weight on my spirit. Her brother? Did Angelina have a sibling waiting in an orphanage, perhaps her baby house, still waiting for a family? Of course when we went through the process, the adoption officials had reviewed records to make sure Angeline did not have siblings available for adoption, but what if there was an error? What if an officer had thought, “It is better for one child to be adopted than to have these adoptive parents not want to adopt the extra burden of another child and leave without adopting anyone.” and with that reasoning, lied.
I brought the computer over and sat next to Angelina. I opened an album Angelina has never seen with a few precious snapshots of her childhood that we have been able to gather,taken by adopting families over the years. Almost all of these pictures are from the baby house, her home for the first 8 1/2 years of life. Instantly Angelina’s tears dried up as she was absorbed by the images. She began talking, mainly to herself, describing what she saw. I found it interesting that she only talked about herself in third person.
In one picture there was a little boy sitting next to a cherubic, chubby Angelina. “Angelina’s brrrrrot!” Angelina whispered. “Angelina’s druzzie (which means friend).” This duo appeared in many pictures, sitting together when St. Nicholas came to distribute gifts, seated at dinner, playing outside. Every time this boy came into view, Angelina focused on him. I sat beside her and studied the little boy’s face. He seemed familiar, I was sure I had seen him before. Hadn’t he been listed on Reece’s Rainbow? Hadn’t I seen him listed on My Family Found Me? Yes, I was certain of it.
As I tried to recover the burnt dinner (we ended up having pb&j sandwiches) I sent out a call to a small group of fb friends asking if they could put me in contact with this boys family. Social media can be such a support for adoptive parents! Within minutes I was in a message conversation with a woman, the adoptive mama of the little boy Angelina calls her brother! Turns out we were already facebook friends and she had given wonderful adoptive parenting advice many months ago when we brought home our children. She knew Angelina from their time in Ukraine while adopting. She confirmed that this little boy was not Angelina’s biological brother, though they had been best friends at the institution. We pieced together a time-frame around Angelina’s story; the little boy was adopted a mere three months after Angelina was transferred to the new institution. Angelina did not know he was adopted. Angelina did not know he was already living in America!
And that is where it feels like the story should end, with a lovely feel-good discovery. And for today’s blog post, this is where I’ll stop the story. I must tell you there is still a lot of fallout to work through. This was the gateway for Angelina’s grief, which seems to have significant survivor guilt in the mix, and we are certainly in a new chapter of parenting and post-adoption life. To think, it’s all thanks to a sweet “thinking of you” letter which helped Angelina remember the people she thinks about and the messages she wants to share with them.