Huge trigger alert on this one. If you are adopted or have recently lost a parent, this blog is raw. It is raw because writing is how I process, and I really need to process this. Again, Orange Pekoe tea with milk, my favourite and my mom’s favourite. Thanks for joining me today. 🤗
So as you probably know, I lost my mother on October 31, 2022. She lived 97 years, most of it in very good health and active in her community. I have already talked about the “final arrangements” and all that that brings forward. Now lets talk about the aftermath and the quiet. The flurry of activity and support is gone. In my case, this is partly due to the distance between where my mother lived and where I live, a 7 hour drive. Now a 7 hour drive in winter conditions, I do not feel worth that risk to my family or friends, and so I am alone in a town where I know so few people.
When one is left so completely alone with grief it is the loudest silence I have ever heard. In all the post-death flurry I was being hugged by cousins, most of whom I have not seen face to face since my dad’s funeral almost 15 years ago, and friends that made the long trek to be with me. I was receiving the sympathies of the Catholic Women’s League, of which mom had been a member for 66 years, prayers from the Sacred Heart League, and a few people who knew her came to the funeral home to offer their condolences. It had never occurred to me that not only do you notice who has come, but also who has not. It’s like a weird sub-conscious roll call. People are so kind when you are grieving, when your pain is fresh and raw. Then, they are gone. Those of you who have reached out or called since then, thank you, it means a lot to me while I travel this new hellish journey.
Now, I am responsible for cleaning out a four bedroom, two storey home that my mother moved into when she was 9 years old, left and lived her life in Toronto, spent her summers working at various resorts, spent most of her married adult life in Cochrane, Ontario until retiring back to Barry’s Bay, caring for her mother, and finally buying and moving into her childhood home again when her mother passed away. As you can imagine, this means clearing out my mother’s things, as well as many of my grandmother’s things. The cleaning out of the home is not the point of this blog, the emotions are.
I have picked up and held every glass, photograph, letter, army papers, cribbage boards, knitting books, quilt books, and many little mementos of my youth, my grandmother’s life, and my parents’ lives, it’s fate resting on my shoulders. I donated 18 decks of playing cards to a local organization, just to give you an idea. For everything I touch I need to decide: keep; donate; give to a family member; or throw it away. Of course I also consult with my brother about what he wants to keep and then, alone, decide the fate of the items he does not want. When he gets overwhelmed by these decisions he simply leaves and goes to his apartment, about 5 blocks away. I find myself alone often, in the deafening silence of this home now devoid of its owner, alone with myself, now devoid of my mother.
Little things that remind me of mom the most are the hardest decisions. Her tea cozy, so badly stained from pouring tea while having thousands of conversations with friends, family, and neighbours. Stained or not, into the ‘keep’ box. Her clothes, boxed up for those in need, but one sweater stashed away in my suitcase, in the hopes of capturing her scent. I admit I had to go back into the winter coat donation bag because I drove here on short notice in late fall, and find myself still here in early winter. Why did you have such short arms mom, when mine are so long. “As long as your chest is warm.” I hear her say as I put on her coat and go shovel the driveway and her beloved deck. I shovel just in case she wants to walk out and see her apple tree that she grew from a store apple seed, “So many people said it would never grow! Look at the apples on it.” she would say with pride. The tree that is still here, while she is not.
Eating while grieving is already a chore, eating alone while grieving is a nightmare. So mostly I just don’t, I pick at this or that so when my family asks what I’m eating I’ll have an honest answer. I know that packing, going up and down the stairs carrying boxes and bags, brooms and mops, as well as carrying garbage bag after garbage bag outside are all calorie burning activities, but eating alone is such a sad thing. Sometimes when I start eating I find myself overcome with regret. Maybe I could have called and chatted with mom sometimes while she ate. Since I have been here these few weeks, I feel like I lived a little of mom’s life in her last few years and it makes me cry. I think of all the meals my mother ate alone because she had outlived most of her family members and friends. When I sit here hoping someone will call just to break the monotony of aloneness I think of how many times I could have, and should have called her. In hindsight, I could have called while she was eating and chatted with her on speaker phone. Why is this affecting me so strongly? Perhaps it is to inspire those of you who have time to do this for your loved one who lives alone? Just do it, so regret does not fill your pillow case with tears like mine has done. Call them.
It may be cliché but honestly the silence is deafening. I wonder if it is not as much the silence that feels weird but the loneliness. To sit here believing that not one person is thinking of you right now and picking up the phone to check in on you makes the ticking of the clock even louder, or the traffic sounds more noticeable as the odd car drives by. Try it, stop for two minutes and hear the sounds you can hear because you have stopped being busy. That is the sound of being alone. I still wake up at night wondering who is crying, until it occurs to me that it is me. Or I wake up because I hear the phantom sounds my mother made when I would be staying here with her, realize that I will never hear those sounds again, and cry. It amazes me how much crying one person can do and how suddenly it overwhelms. Dropping one of her knitting needles makes a sound I understand that I will never hear again because she can no longer drop it, cry. The unmistakable creak of her chair at the kitchen table as she played cards, never creaking the same way again, cry. When the calls did come I cannot describe how grateful I felt, that you were there, thinking of me and breaking the silence, even briefly.
Now I must acknowledge my adult adopted person pain specifically. I have talked before about the curse of feeling different sometimes because I was adopted, and how I take things to heart and relate them to my adoption. Believe me, this is not on purpose, and I feel the feelings subconsciously before my conscious self tells me I’m being ridiculous. Like, are people not wrapping around me the same way because I did not lose my “real” mother, and so I’m probably fine? Am I able to give away family pictures to family members more easily because I can’t look for resemblances to myself or my children and grandchildren in these ancestral pictures? Instead, I feel like biological family members should have the old photos because they can make those comparisons. When I look at the few pictures I have squirrelled away to take home I note that they are pictures of my granny, whom I once lived with for 3 months, and of my parents, my brother and me. All other photos are packed away for my aunts, uncles or cousins.
Many people at the funeral mentioned to me that they had always found it uncanny how much I look like my mother (but tall like her mother) and how much I am like my mother in personality, even though I was adopted, (they always add that like a sad qualifier, that punches me in the gut, every time). Sometimes I feel like I should take out a photo of my birth mother so they can compare which one I look more like, but that would be rude. I was raised better than that. I was raised by my mother and my father, not my ‘adopted’ mother and father. I was raised to be a good and kind person and they nurtured a sense of humour that usually gets me through the worst of times. It is hard to be funny with just yourself as the audience. Although, if you ever get a chance to see my mother’s headstone . . . I warned her not to die on Halloween and she defied me! Who has the last laugh mom?
I just need to be clear. I loved my mother like a daughter loves her mother, not like an adopted daughter loves her adoptive mother, and I grieve for her with everything in me. Enough said.
Thank you for visiting with me in Blogville, as ever, I would love for you to share your comments. If you prefer a less public forum to do so please feel free to email me at email@example.com. See you next time, thanks for reading.
Hello my Blogville friends, welcome back. Today is simple orange pekoe tea with milk, it’s what mom and I drank when we were together so it brings some comfort. Trigger alert if you are grieving.
As many of you know I just lost my beautiful momma and my world is a little less colourful right now. I feel though, that it is important to talk about all of this. Maybe it will help normalize things a little for some who have walked this sad journey already, or perhaps help prepare some who may be about to. Maybe it will just help me to write about it, I’m not sure.
Walking away from the hospital where I had my last few moments with my mother felt surreal. But I found strength in the story of how excited mom had been to surprise dad when I took my first few steps, how she watched bemused at how panicked my father was as she let go of my hands and her description of how he dropped everything and ran to catch me. As I walked to my vehicle I thought, maybe dad is running to catch mom now, just as he had run to catch me, in another time. It was hunting season then too, dad was just returning from his hunt camp when I learned how to walk. In her last few years mom would wonder aloud why dad hadn’t come for her yet, questioning why she was still here. Getting into my truck and driving away from the hospital the night we lost her I hoped that he had finally come for her as I again took my first few steps, this time sadly, without my parents’ help.
When I arrived back at her house from the hospital and let myself in there was such loud silence. I never realized how much the silence actually hurts your ears. Though I had already been staying alone for several days and nights at mom’s it felt like there had been this sound, or that, to keep me company. I wonder if they had been the sounds of optimism and the hope that mom might yet come home, now silenced by my new reality. There would be no homecoming. Only the sound of my own voice on the phone telling relatives and friends that mom was gone broke the silence that night. At one point, I remember wondering who was sobbing and then realizing it could only be me.
Those of you who have travelled this journey understand the irony of complete exhaustion being in full conflict with the hyperactivity of one’s mind and thoughts. My subconscious system of hope and disbelief filled the night with the sounds of the tap tapping of her cane, her walker humming along the floorboards with the slight click of the brake handle, the beeping and electric hum of her stair chair ferrying her off to bed, and the staccato of a deck of cards being shuffled, in turn, all making me sit up suddenly in my bed at different times with a sense of hope that momentarily released me from my despair. A hope that quickly faded as I realized that those sounds must have been in my dreams because my reality was a nightmare.
I had told mom that when she went, I would not cry for her, because I knew she was ready. I had also told her I would cry for me because I would never be ready to lose her, and I was right. I was so naive. I had no idea of the enormity of feelings that would overwhelm everything in me, the sense of loss so immediate and unexpectedly cruel. Crying was the easy part. I had no idea. The adult in me appreciated that she was no longer confused and uncomfortable but the child in me yelled “Come back Momma I’m not ready!” I stomped my feet, pouted, and crossed my arms in protest, all to no avail. She was gone, I was motherless. I fell into the abyss of grief.
Suddenly the abyss was filled with questions and decisions. Just as I tried to run I was tethered to a workhorse called, “Final Arrangements” and as I hit the saddle I was in for one heck of a ride! It felt a little like this, ‘casket, singers, luncheon, obituary, jewelry on or jewelry off, this person’s availability at that person’s time frame, viewing times, pall bearers, making sure he has been notified, she has been notified, they have been notified, selecting collage pictures, choosing and ordering flowers, determining charities, meeting with this person, that person, decide, decide, decide’. So many death certificates, who has been notified? Who can notify others?’ Suddenly they expected me to act like an adult when I had just been orphaned. Overwhelmingly it occurred to me, I am no one’s child anymore.
The hospital had gently handed me a list of things to do. It felt more like an encyclopedia of finality. Do they really expect me to be the one to wipe out my mother’s existence as a human being? Ours is a country of accountability before compassion as I had never really understood before now. It seems that a paper trail is started at our births and runs along beside us until the roll is empty, like some sad allotment of toilet paper. Ultra soft, regular, industrial strength, 1 ply, 2 ply, single or double roll . . . all minor details because in the end we are left with an empty cardboard roll.
When a baby is born it is relatively easy to create their existence in this Province. Fill out a couple of forms, get the correct signatures on them and a new identity is formed! Even in the case of adoption, the Court can create a new identity on top of the original identity! Wait 6 or 8 weeks and you can apply for the start of that paper trail, known as your birth certificate, or in the case of adoption, an Adoption Order and amended birth certificate. Either way, welcome to planet Earth, we hope you enjoy the ride. Don’t worry, we can follow your paper trail.
As I said earlier, the trail from life to ‘final arrangements’ is fraught with rights and wrongs! From who should read and what should they read, to who will sing, what should they sing, and to what should we have for the luncheon to follow the service? From what should she wear (mom and I had that discussion several years earlier and I highly recommend it. I even took pictures of the outfits she had preselected) to what should I wear? She had only picked out tops though so now I had to decide between a skirt or comfy pants for her? Would I want to wear a skirt for eternity? Comfy pants it is! Comfy footwear too. Now I just had to pick out what I should wear! Not much selection when you threw clothes into a suitcase after receiving a frantic call saying, “You better come Lynn, it doesn’t look good for mom.”
If you have walked this path will understand it when I say it is incredible how many times I thought, ‘oh, well I’ll just ask mom’ only to be struck dumb by the shock of the realization that she cannot tell me, I have to figure it out on my own. Only you can understand standing in the grocery store crying over the selection of yogurt available. When I say that a sound, a laugh, a noise, can suddenly make your eyes burn and fill with tears, you get it. The formality of making final arrangements is both a curse and a blessing of having to decide things, having to attend things, and some days, simply having to get out of bed.
Those of you who have travelled this path will also understand that just when you think you cannot, you can, because there are people who walk beside you, strangers, relatives, your friends, friends of your loved one, people you expect to see, people you are surprised to see, and each of them holds you up in some way, helping you put one foot in front of the other. I cannot begin to express the gratitude I feel toward all of you who have or are currently helping me to understand this new reality and begin my new, now motherless, journey, a sad journey where I am no longer anyone’s child.
As ever, I welcome your comments. If you prefer a less public forum to do so, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hello my dear friends. I want you to know I am grieving the loss of my beautiful mother.
She fell ill quickly but waited for me to get to her. Our time together over her last few days was precious. On her last night she waited for me to leave her hospital room before she went to join her other loved ones who had gone before her. Whatever your beliefs are, they are yours and individual, my mother believed that she will be greeted by my father, and her other loved ones once she closed her eyes for a final time. Everyone told me losing mom would be hard, but there are no words to describe just how hard. I wrote the words below in her hospital room while she slept and I sat holding her hand or stroking her forehead.
When I needed you most, you were there. You and Dad took on this little 9 month old waif in need of a family. 64 years later I still need you. But you are slipping away, some days more than others. I try to grab hold of you and hang on, but you have somewhere else to be, ready or not.
I am here for you, holding your hand in my hand, holding your heart in my heart. I try to be the strength for you that you have always been for me. I try to be your courage when you are afraid, like you have always done for me. You taught me to be there for others and to be strong. I am trying so hard to be strong, hoping my strength will be enough, but you have somewhere else to be, ready or not.
When you look at me blankly, not quite sure, I remind you I am your daughter and that I love you. “I love you too”, you always say back. Somewhere inside I know you feel the love we have for each other, like a little bird fluttering in its nest. You taught me how to love, and be loved. I’m hoping that my love will be enough, but you have somewhere else to be, ready or not.
When you say you wonder why you are still here and that you are excited to see your mother and my father again, my stomach knots. When you wonder what it will be like and tell me you are not afraid, I try selfishly to ask you to stay, just a little longer, but you have somewhere else to be, ready or not.
I love you mom, I will miss you forever and live by your life teachings, passing them on to my children and grandchildren. When they ask where you are I will tell them that you had somewhere else to be, and now it is up to us to carry on for you, ready or not.
I also thought I would share her obituary with you, my Blogville friends, so you might learn a little more about this precious woman.
“A tiny baby girl, Leona Coulas, entered this world on July 9, 1925 ready to live her life, and 97 years and almost 4 months later a wonderful woman, Leona Etmanski, left this life on October 31, 2022.
During her lifetime she was a precious and beloved older sister to Teresa (Hamilton), Leo, Isaiah and Anthony and sister-in-law to Tom and Marcelle. She was a loving and devoted wife to Edward Etmanski for 55 years, putting up with his playful shenanigans until he passed on June 27, 2008. She was a proud, loving, and caring mother to Daniel and Lynn and a special mother-in-law to Paul Deiulis.
She loved to spend time with, and hear updates about her precious grandchildren, Samantha Bolingbroke (Derek), Amanda Froud (Jeremy), Veronica, Victoria Lamothe (Rylee), Vincent Deiulis (Genna) and her great-grandchildren, Nicholas, Paige, Harrison, Cooper, Benjamin, Elloise, Zachary, and Declan.
She could sew, knit, crochet, or embroider anything. Her playing card strategy was legendary.
Her family learned many valuable life skills from her, but mostly to be kind to others, be thankful, and share what you have, especially your smile.”
If you still have them, hug your parents today. Visit them, call them, face time with them. These are the memories you will have when your parent leaves, whether you are ready or not.
Hi everyone, today I am drinking an orange pekoe tea with milk, mostly because as I write this, I am in a hotel room with minimal tea selection lol. Thanks for joining me in Blogville, if you are new to reading my blogs, welcome, if you are returning, welcome back.
At the time of this little shopping excursion, my husband and I were in a southern Ontario community that we had only visited briefly once before, several years ago. We are unfamiliar with the streets and routes and rely on our GPS to get us around. For this little story I do not want to identify the store involved, mostly because I don’t want to get into trouble, so I am going to simply refer to it as a Store.
I will avoid elaborating on my concerns about the quality of tea/coffee at the hotel we were staying at, and simply say that we attended a Store to purchase a small coffee/tea maker to use at our hotel. Though we found one we liked on display, there was no stock on the shelf. Another customer, in search of the same item, was also wondering if they had any in stock. I found an employee, who passed me off to another employee, (I will call her Busy Bee), who indicated that she needed to seek out an employee who had possession of an inventory device. Busy Bee called several extensions, but to no avail. She left for a few minutes, came back, and decided to look it up herself and went off in search of a proper inventory device. While we waited, the pros and cons of each type of coffee/tea appliance were discussed between us and the other customer. He was a very friendly young man and we had a nice chat while we waited together. He was wearing a jacket with ‘By-Law Officer’ written on it. (If he happens to read this, I sincerely hope he found a suitable product.)
Finally, Busy Bee returns, advising that though they do not have any in stock at this store, there are 5 showing as available at the ABC Store location, 2 at the DEF Store location, and 1 showing at the GHI Store location. With an air of professional experience, Busy Bee advises us by saying, “So you should probably go to the Store that has five as you’d have a better chance to actually get one. Oh, and actually, you should probably call the Stores that only have one or two because, though my inventory device shows they have one or two, if someone steals one it doesn’t get into the inventory because it has to go through the cash for that. So you can actually call them and ask them to hold one for you because you are on your way to buy it.” All said without Busy Bee taking a breath.
So we asked, “Can you please give us the address to the ABC store?” “Sure, its 123 Fantasy Lane” she responded. I then said, “As you recommend to call first, can you provide a phone number for us?” Busy Bee looks it up, “555 123 4567”, she says.
We thanked her for the information and we and the other customer left.
So we get to the truck, drive across the road so my hubby can take a photo of a giant Canadian Flag waving gently in the wind. We then punch the 123 Fantasy Lane address into our GPS and begin driving. Ok, I am absolutely serious when I say the GPS tells us to turn right onto Blank Street, turn right onto Blank 2 Street, turn right onto Blank 3 street, and I am laughing out loud as I write that the next GPS direction we heard was, “You have arrived at your destination, 123 Fantasy Lane”.
We pull into the parking lot because I am laughing far too hard to continue driving at this point. My husband is shaking his head saying he cannot believe she gave us her own store’s address. So I said at least she gave us a phone number that we can call to get the correct address. I call, go through the directory of departments, listen to some canned music while on hold and finally a person picks up. I asked if that person could please give us the address of his store and he says, you guessed it, “123 Fantasy Lane”. I mean, you cannot make this stuff up! So I ask if there is another store located nearby and he says quite simply, “no”. Stellar customer service part 2 lol.
Now on a quest, my husband and I go to several major retail outlets in the area. No luck with the model we liked at the ABC store. At one store I am looking at a model we might have to settle on but cannot find a price. A nice young man in a suit catches my eye so I ask for his help. He hesitates briefly but then reluctantly comes over (the old lady pity card probably in action) and is able to find a tag on the shelf. As I am thanking him I realize that he is not actually a store employee when he starts his pitch about the merit of the store’s points card and even greater merit of having the store’s credit card. He looked so sad when he realized we already were enjoying the merits. But he was a good sport, with good customer service.
My husband and I wandered around for a bit before deciding to try another store. By the way, for my Northern Ontario readers, did you know that in Southern Ontario they do not like you to leave their retail stores without buying something. As we were on our quest my husband and I had to repeatedly follow the “If You Are Not Making A Purchase” protocol signs and corrals in order to get out of the stores. Many corrals actually leading you right past the customer service desks, like it was the store’s last effort to change your mind! We actually stopped at one and this lady knew customer service, she complimented my earrings and asked if she could help us find anything before we left? We looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and asked about the appliance. After referring to her computer inventory, much to her, and our, disappointment they did not have the item. She had to let us leave empty handed.
As we were about to visit the nearby community where Busy Bee said there was 1 item in stock we decided to give the GHI Store location a chance. We looked sadly up at the display model beaming over the empty shelf below when I spied an employee stocking a shelf. Why not? “Excuse me, are you able to check an item’s availability for us?” This young man instantly stopped what he was doing and said, “Certainly. How can I help?” I was going to let him know that someone had probably stolen their last appliance from the shelf and he will need to adjust the inventory accordingly, but instead I asked, “do you happen to have one of these (pointing to the display) available? Another store said you might.” Well, this young man, whom I shall call Employee of the Day, not only confirmed that there was one in stock, but he told us our approximate wait time while he went off to find the item in the back. He confirmed that the colour of the appliance they had in stock would work, and then off he went. This young man then returned in record time with the item in his hands and he proudly handed it to us. Our quest had ended! Our faith in customer service was renewed. Thank you Employee of the Day!
Note- It is not lost on me that in hindsight, it appears that the Store where Busy Bee worked was the Store that actually showed they had five in stock. Tell me honesty though, would YOU have gone back in there?
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As usual, please know that I would love to hear your thoughts, stories and comments. If you prefer a less public forum, feel free to send me an email at email@example.com
Wow, I am not even sure what kind of tea goes with how I’m feeling as I try to put these thoughts down. This may be as hard to read as it is to write so I caution readers who have elderly parents, or those who have lost their parents, that this blog may contain triggers.
As I write this, I am enjoying the privilege of visiting my 97 year old mom for a few days. (We do not live in the same community so most of our communication is by phone.) The moment I walked into her house I could see a further decline in mom since my last visit only a few weeks ago. I’m losing my mom second by second and it is breaking my heart. I just want to stop time. My husbands’ mom, sadly so much younger than mom is, also travelled a difficult health journey before we lost her. My husband and I both lost our dads so suddenly, our heads were spinning, but this? This is a different kind of hurt.
I have some friends who remind me constantly that I am lucky to still have mom, because they know the pain of having lost their parents, and know what they would give to be in my place, to have had more time. I thank them for their thoughts and reminders because I feel that it makes me more aware and appreciative of the privilege of still having my mom around. It reminds me to look at her and soak up every second, to tell her that I love her, and to thank her for being my mom.
For those who have experienced it, there is a type of role reversal that takes place with very ill or elderly parents. Let me explain my experience with it, though yours may have been very different.
When I was a child, I used to fall asleep to the sound of my mother’s Singer sewing machine that she had bought from the old Cochrane High School many moons ago and used for years and years. If it was not the drone of the sewing machine, it was the tick tick tick of her knitting needles, lulling me to sleep. My mom’s hands were always creating something. On my last visit to mom’s I noticed a rip in a pillow from her bed so I got busy sewing it up while she napped. Suddenly she’s awake and saying “You are so busy and I’m being lazy.” Acknowledging that she taught me to sew I replied, “If it wasn’t for you mom, I could not fix this pillow. Thank you for teaching me so that I can do this for you.”
My mom was a wonderful cook and home baker. When she first retired she took up the challenge of learning how to make buns, a skill that had alluded her for years much to her dismay. She did it. Her home baked buns were so good people used to love to receive them from her, and she gave away many. When visiting my parents, we learned NEVER to throw out the potato water as this was the apparent bun baking secret ingredient. Recently, she was looking over the variety of gluten free cookies and muffins I had made for her and she noted “I’m gonna get fat.” I thanked her for teaching me to bake so that I could make these treats for her. She winked and said, “but you still can’t make buns like I can.” (To this day I make sure she never sees me throw out the potato water.)
My mom was always so good, calm and reassuring, especially when my brother or I got hurt. She always said she had wanted to be a nurse. The sight of blood never got to her. I remember one time my dad had to go to the hospital as he needed to have an impaled fishing hook removed from his eye lid and there was mom, calmly checking out the wound and saying it needed stitches. In the meantime, my brother and I were cringing in the corner unable to look at our dad’s injury without feeling nauseous. Mom would always tell us that scabs are nature’s bandages that would fall off when our cut was healed enough. Recently, she has developed a bad habit of picking at some scabs on skin. One time when I was visiting she started picking at a scab on her temple. I said, “Stop picking at that mom, you’re going to make it bleed again. Remember how you used to tell us that scabs are nature’s bandages?” Apparently, when you are 97 years old you do not appreciate hearing your own words as a ‘life lesson’. She looked me in the eye and said, “Hah! I guess you fell for that” and gave me a huge grin. That leads me to another moment when I once wanted to ask her to look at my slowly healing cesarian section incision. I remember asking her, “Am I too old to ask you to look at my incision?” She looked me in the eye and said, “You are never too old to need your mother Lynn.” She is so right.
My mother had such a sharp wit and sense of humour but she is fading fast. We are not sure what is causing this decline, arterial aging, dementia, or some other sinister ‘reward’ for living as long as she has, all these 97 years so far. She is still such a kind and caring person who does not look her age, but slowly is becoming more and more child-like, confused, and forgetful. Let me share some examples.
Recently I had baked some of her GF cookies first thing in the morning. A few of them went missing from the cooling rack without explanation. However, I did notice a tiny, guilty smile on mom’s face. Consequently, when her ‘meals on wheels’ arrived she didn’t want to eat the meal, making the case that, as a rule, she she keeps it for supper. That theory was disproved when I saw her eat her ‘meals on wheels’ meal the other day when we had just arrived for our visit. As a fun test, I put the 3 included dessert choices in front of her and magically her appetite reappeared as she grabbed a freshly baked cookie and dug into the strawberry mousse. Man, if I’d have tried anything like that when I as a kid!
A difficult example occurred when mom recently took out a photo of her grandson, (my son), and his wife and said to me, “these two were actors and now they are married.” I mean, she is quite correct, factually speaking, as my son and daughter-in-law did meet during a play they appeared in together. Mom continued by explaining that “They are very nice, she came to visit me once and spent time talking with me.” Though it bothers me that she does not always know who my son is, honestly, the bottom line is that I am happy that she has such a nice memory of meeting my son’s wife. Life lesson; always take time to chat with seniors, it matters.
Another odd time came about when mom suddenly picked up and was reviewing an old pantyhose cardboard where she keeps important phone numbers written down. She was looking it over and chatting about the people listed on the cardboard when suddenly she read the name of someone she knew who has passed away and said, “oh there’s ****’s number, she’s passed away” she said sadly. Expecting a chat about that person, I’ll admit that I was startled when mom suddenly grabbed a pen saying, “well I guess I’ll stroke her number out” and proceeded to do just that.
This is a confusing time for us both, one minute she calls me by my aunt’s name, and in the next minute mercilessly beats me at cards. She can seem far away one second and then suddenly right with me. If this behaviour is confusing for me, I cannot imagine how it feels for her. This is my mom, my mother, the woman who raised me and taught me so much. It is notable to mention that my mother, who taught me to be kind and respect other people, now receives the kindness and respect of her PSW helpers whom she affectionately calls ‘the help’ or ‘my girls’. These people are truly angels on earth.
I try never to correct mom about things. Respectfully she has taught me so much and has probably forgotten more than I have ever learned. Who cares if she thinks Saturday is Monday? Instead, I do my best to try to lead her around to the right answer, but only if the right answer matters. For example, the other day she had forgotten to take her lunch pill so I handed it to her with a glass of water. She looked at me and said, “I take one of these at lunch time and one at supper and its not supper time yet”. I simply agreed and said I wondered which meal that this pill that was left on the table might be for. She looked at the clock and said it was probably her lunch pill and that I had likely forgotten to give it to her at lunch time.
The oddest thing happened the other day. Mom randomly picked up a pen and paper and asked me what year it is. I told her. Then she asked me what year she was born. I told her. She’s quiet for a little bit, looks up at me in shock and says, “don’t tell me I’m 97?” I asked, “did you just do the math?” “Yes” she replied, “no wonder I’m slowing down.” “No wonder mom.” I agreed.
When my mother asks me the same thing many times in a row, I am grateful to be able to tell her the answer many times in a row. I am grateful that she is still here to ask me questions and to hear my answers. When my mom calls me by my aunt’s name, I answer, because she is simply calling out to someone she loves, it doesn’t really matter what name she is using, I am grateful just to be able to still hear her voice. I love you mom!
Thank you for reading. As usual, please know that I would love to hear your thoughts, stories and comments. If you prefer a less public forum, feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Welcome back to Blogville, nice to see you again. I’m sipping a chai latte today as I find it comforting. What is your beverage of choice today as you visit?
I was walking in my neighbourhood one day this summer and I came upon a big evergreen tree and I recalled that its owners light it up every Christmas season. Then I noticed that the string of lights was still there even though it was June and I felt the urge to take a picture for some reason. I guess I just felt drawn to the image.
At first I thought I was affected by that pre-decorated tree as a symbol, or marker of the passage of time for us all, when we get to an age where it is too cumbersome or too dangerous to put up and take down decorative lights every year. Ironically, as trees age they grow taller, and stronger, while as home owners age, they often lose strength and dexterity and should maybe reconsider climbing an icy ladder leaning against a tree in a snow bank. Noticing that they were leaving the lights up all year, hidden among those prickly branches, was indeed a stark reminder of the passage of time, and it made me a little sad. For some reason, instead of deleting it, I simply filed away that picture.
Some weeks later I was waiting for some of my grandchildren at their school bus stop and I noticed a second big evergreen tree, also with lights hidden in the branches, disconnected from any power, but there, waiting. So when I came home I started scrolling through my photos looking for the tree picture I had taken earlier this summer. Suddenly I knew what the trees actually meant to me! I realized that they were more symbolic to me than I initially realized. Those trees, with their hidden lights reminded me of children and youth currently in, or from, foster care. Suddenly I became aware that this symbolism may be important and relatable when talking about fostering, adopting, providing kinship, and customary care, or any alternative care really.
Children and youth in care often develop a thick skin, like the bark of a tree, to protect themselves. They develop attitudes, not unlike prickly needles of trees, in order to protect the softer, more easily bent branches, like their feelings. Just like some saplings, children and youth in care may have suddenly been pulled out of one environment and placed in another. This may have been an unexpected, emergency kinship or foster care placement. Attempts to thicken their skin and bring forth protective attitudes is usually a coping mechanism for helpless children or youth to help them feel like they have some control in the chaos. After all, the more prickly the needles on the tree, the harder it will be for you to see through to the unplugged, powerless string of lights woven around the tree trunk.
Beneath those prickly branches, if given a chance, is something beautiful and magical, just like a string of lights hidden in a Christmas tree. I sometimes feel that helping a child or youth fit into a foster family and/or adoptive family can be like trudging through deep snow, (navigating the child welfare system), trying to find the best Christmas tree. One must move the branches slowly and carefully as some trees have layers of ice and snow protecting them that will drop on you in an effort to make you leave them alone. Please, do not let that tough exterior deceive you. Once you put that tree on your sleigh, take it home and let its branches begin to thaw, you will usually find that one teeny, tiny, sparkle that lets you know there are more beautiful lights inside to be discovered. You are just going to have to work really hard to find them.
I believe that sometimes, in the beginning of new relationships, it is enough just to stand side by side, ‘batten the hatches’, and protect children and youth as much as one can through the storm of being in care, or having been in care. So, to begin with, simply bring that tree in, put it in a sturdy stand, and start looking for why the tree lights are hidden and disconnected from their power. Sometimes it seems that for every light you find, another layer of ice thickens, or a needle grows bigger and sharper to try to keep you out. Don’t let that stop you from finding those shining lights! Trust me, it will be worth it!
Children and youth often respond more to actions than words and the best action is always in being there and your willingness to listen. Sometimes, saplings are planted and replanted so many times it makes it difficult for the roots to accept the nutrients from the new soil and will require a little more planning and effort. Sometimes you have to drag your belief in the child or youth’s worthiness around with you like a pile of soil, and a bucket of water, always ready to nurture! Many times that child or youth will stomp on that pile of soil and dump the bucket of water because they don’t feel worthy of nurturing. You must be ready to accept the child or youth, if not their behaviour, for who they are, what they mean to your family, who you believe they can be, and what they can accomplish.
Along with your pile of soil, your bucket of water, and your belief in the child or youth’s ability to cope and accept your nurturing, there are many tools that can help you to safely empower the beautiful lights inside of that tree. However, sometimes you do not have all those tools at hand. You many need to trudge and trudge through very deep snow until you find just the right tools. You may need someone to help guide you safely through the snow, someone to help you uncover the right tools, or even someone to just help you pull the sleigh. You can help children and youth reconnect their power by plugging in the right services, after all, not all of us are electricians!
As I said, my experience has shown that, as a defence mechanism, children and youth in or from foster care are often trying to make themselves appear bigger and stronger than they might be feeling, so they may present a prickly front just like those big evergreen trees! These children and youth have usually been through a trauma and are likely to be in self-protection mode, fight or flight. Foster parents are often the first to notice the little lights buried deep inside the children or youth in their care. Workers and counsellors can sometimes see through the branches as well and find more of those little lights. Looking past the prickly front, the thick branches, and the gnarly bark one can usually find the lights hidden within! The next step is recognizing that these little lights need to be attached to a power source, usually by belonging to a family, often an adoptive family, in order to fully shine!
If you are a fostering family, you will have many children and youth come through your doors. Some will fit the exact spot you hope for them, while others cannot fit, no matter how hard everyone tries. People struggle to admit it, but sometimes the reality is that this person just doesn’t fit with that specific foster or adoptive family despite all the supportive efforts but, given the chance, may be able to find the perfect spot in another family. Have you ever had a plant that looked wilted and sad no matter how much water you gave it or how much soil you added? Then you discovered that the plant just needed to be moved to where it would get the best light to meet its needs and it began to grow and thrive. Turns out, it just needed to find the right spot.
If you are considering adoption, make sure that you do your research, and that you take courses about trauma and attachment! In fact, take all the courses you can get about merging a child or youth into your family, and becoming their ‘right spot’. In addition, inform yourself about your community resources and how to refer yourself or be referred. Your future as a parent is worth it!
Thank you for your visit to read this blog. As always, I look forward to reading your comments about the blog. I continue to welcome emails for those who might prefer a less public forum. Please send your comments to email@example.com
Hello friends! Welcome back to Blogville. Today I’m having a quiet herbal tea as I relax and chat with you. As I write this opening greeting I’m reminded that I finished my Wordle puzzle in three steps today. Makes me smile.
Just thinking about puzzles makes me smile. I LOVE doing puzzles! There is something magical about opening that sealed jigsaw puzzle box and pouring those pieces onto the table. There they lie, a mystery to be solved. I’m amazed at the fact that, though the goal is already known as the picture is right there on the box, we delve wholeheartedly into its re-creation. Everyone has their preferred technique, some complete the edges first, while others sort the pieces into piles of a specific pattern, like all the red pieces, all the pieces of one shape, and so forth. We have a family friend, Julie, whom my grandchildren and I agree, is a jigsaw puzzle magician. We watch in awe how she solves a puzzle section in five minutes that we have been struggling with all afternoon.
I have to share this puzzle story with you. One Christmas Julie drew my name in our group gift exchange. She gave me a 500 piece puzzle, no real surprise there. The puzzle was of medium difficulty (after all I’m no puzzle magician). ‘Open it, open it’ she said. Curious, I thought I was mistaken and maybe she just reused an old puzzle box for my actual gift. Nope, turns out she had individually wrapped each puzzle piece in the box! Now that is dedication to gift giving! Julie also noted that as she was finishing wrapping the last few pieces of the puzzle, the dog grabbed a piece and took off with it. Among the 500 wrapped puzzle pieces in the box was one misshapen, formerly soggy, carefully wrapped puzzle piece. Seriously?
While writing about this little story I was reminded of that gifted puzzle and found it in my closet. I grabbed a small knife, ironically also a previous gift from Julie, and began unwrapping the puzzle pieces. Initially I was sorting as I was unwrapping. I started by forming piles of amplifier pieces, guitar pieces, the edge pieces, but then, except for the edges, unwrapping and sorting quickly became an overwhelming task. So I focused instead on the task of just unwrapping these tiny pieces. Wow! I don’t know how long it took Julie to wrap these but unwrapping them was proving to be a lengthy project, but hey, I’m retired.
At one point I sent Julie a photo of the project. The photo included some unwrapped pieces, a pile of wrapping paper, and still so many more pieces to unwrap. I added the following text message, “omg JULIE!” to which she responded, “Hahahahaha omg. Didn’t think you’d actually make the puzzle!” Well, that sounded like a challenge to me. 3 HOURS LATER . . . all unwrapped. I thought to myself, ‘maybe tomorrow I’ll start completing the actual puzzle’ and went for a walk.
I also enjoy a good word search or crossword puzzle. For years all I could find were small clues to my birth history, like a challenging life puzzle. My mom would have a little clue, adoption disclosure workers gave little clues, but despite these clues I could never solve the whole puzzle. As you know, my greatest word search was my quest to finally access all those words in my historical files, and from there, to understand the true story of my pre-adoption journey. Adoption disclosure workers could sometimes provide me with a word list, but never the page that contained the puzzle, and for certain, never the answer page. I was left with the clues but no words to circle, therefore I was unable to solve the puzzle.
I think all members of the adoption constellation strive to solve their own unique 3D puzzles. I feel that adopted persons are trying to solve a life puzzle called, “What Happened Before I Was Born?” Often these include a bonus puzzle called, “What Happened Between Being Born and Being Adopted?” Birth parents and other birth relatives, meanwhile, may be trying to solve a life puzzle called, “What Happened Next?” With a bonus puzzle, themed, “Are They Being Loved And Cared For?” Finally, I feel that adoptive parents spend every day trying to solve adoption-themed life puzzles called, “What I Do Not Know.” Their bonus puzzle is likely called, “Things No One Told Me”.
I think adoptive parents have the puzzles with the most pieces (often wrapped in their own layers), with the least number of clues, and yet, the most pressure to solve the puzzle. Information sharing is much better today than when I was adopted, but it still lacks many details and facts, like a puzzle that is missing some pieces. An adoptive parent needs to be a puzzle solver, also known as a dissectologist. Adoptive parents sometimes start a puzzle and do not immediately know that some pieces are missing, or that they were not given the full picture as shown on the box. But somehow, they work around it. First they search the box, the table and the floor for the missing pieces. Then they might stand up and brush themselves off to make sure the pieces are not hidden on their person. When they realize that they were never given all the pieces in the first place, they turn their attention to working with the pieces they have and begin solving the puzzle to its fullest potential. Adoptive parents seem to have a special talent for that, even though there is a great deal of work involved.
When you pick up a variety puzzle magazine there are so many types of puzzles in them. Each puzzle needs a different approach, a different solution, and has different clues. There are Pictograms, Crypto-grams, and many other puzzles to solve. I found that the social and medical histories I received over the years reminded me of Rebus puzzles; where the information is clear to the writer but often a riddle to the reader.
Negotiating the Adoption Disclosure site in Ontario is often like a Brain-Teaser or a Maze for many people. To complicate things further, the people trying to negotiate the details of adoption disclosure rights to information already feel like they should not be there in the first place. Many people feel that they are being disloyal to their adoptive parents for even looking at the site. Many birth parents feel like they are breaking a promise to someone that they made when they swore that they would forget about that baby and move on. People trying to solve the government access to information puzzles are often looking over their shoulders already, so to call someone and ask for help is almost impossible for them. Therefore, if you know someone wanting to start an adoption disclosure journey, offer to travel it with them, journeys are always more exciting and less frightening when you are not alone.
My adoption disclosure journey was much like the task I recently did with the 500 piece puzzle, unwrapping each tiny piece to be able to see the whole picture. It was not three hours work though, I have been at this in some way for over 60 years, as soon as I could start asking questions. The encyclopedia (or perhaps more like National Geographic) of my life and adoption journey was often missing pages or even full volumes/issues despite the fact I was paying my subscription fees almost every day.
My subscription fees were paid when I was pregnant, and did not know of any genetic conditions I might be passing on to the baby developing inside me. My fees were paid when I looked in a mirror and knew no one I could say I looked like (except for people always telling me I look like Jamie-Lee Curtis lol). I paid my fees every time a medical professional asked if there was any family history of this, or that condition, and I could not answer.
The single most difficult moment in my adoption disclosure journey was learning of my birth mother’s passing. This would now be the biggest puzzle piece that I would never find, and never be able to unwrap. Irreplaceable, just like the puzzle piece in my musical instruments puzzle that the dog ate. It was the end of my hope of ever completing my adoption puzzle fully. I cannot completely describe that loss, it was too big for any words. But I can tell you that it was the end of my hope that she would one day welcome me into her heart.
However, the loss of my birth mother brought me new puzzle pieces to unwrap. Through her passing and subsequent published obituary, my sister and I found four half-sisters, the daughters our birth mother raised. Through them, and their acceptance of us, we began putting together a picture of who our birth mother was, the daughter, the wife, the mother and the grandmother. Though it isn’t a perfect picture of my life puzzle, each of the pieces that my new sisters bring to the table fill in some of the gaps where my birth mother’s pieces should be. For this, I am truly and eternally grateful.
As ever, I would love for you to share your comments with me. If you prefer a less public forum please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. See you next time, thanks for reading.
Maybe my book can help your family talk about adoption, kinship, customary care, or other alternative care scenarios! The book is called, What Is Your Story? Let’s talk about adoption and kinship. Look for it on Amazon, Friesen Press, Coles Timmins Square, Altered Reality on Third Avenue in Timmins, Barnes and Noble, and Chapters Indigo on-line stores!
Welcome back to Blogville, my place for tea and stories. I have made myself a cup of chamomile for your visit, I’m so glad you are reading ❤️
As many of you know I began this journey to help children and families talk with each other about their stories of adoption, kinship, or alternative care. What started out as a retirement project, to develop a handout for the agency I retired from, turned into a book called What Is Your Story? Let’s talk about adoption and kinship. Now my journey is to help the book get into the hands of families. One way I have been doing this is by donating books to public libraries where they will accept them (this is harder than you think). Since the book contains activities between the chapters, libraries are rightfully concerned that patrons might complete the activities in the book and ruin it for the next patron. As one solution, the activities are available, at no cost, in a downloadable/printable format in the activities section of my website, www.whatisyourstorybook.com
If you might be interested, I would appreciate it if you can check with your local library to see if they would accept a donated copy of the book for their shelves- the librarians can email me at email@example.com. Thank You!
I was inspired to ask you this by an experience I recently had at a library. Let me tell you about it . . .
This is a story about my belief in the idea that things happen for a reason. For a couple of months I had been trying to reach the librarian of a public library in a community that I visit several times per year. I was inquiring if they would accept a donation of my book. I hope to have the book available in as many community libraries as I can so that families who cannot afford to purchase the book would be able to access it. So, when I am going to communities I often try to reach their public libraries and offer to stop in and donate a copy of the book.
In this particular case I had previously tried to reach the library via email on two upcoming occasions when I would be visiting that community. I did not receive any responses from the library. However, not be be deterred, as you can imagine that I am not easily deterred, I decided to personally visit the library when I was there recently. I spoke to a staff member and asked about donating my book to the library and she graciously went to get the head librarian.
I gave my, ‘please accept this donation’ speech to the librarian and explained that the goal of the book is to help families travelling adoption, kinship, or alternative care journeys. I explained that, though there are activities in the book, the activities can be downloaded at no cost, and printed from my website. I also explained that the activities are in the book in order to help pace the emotions that readers may be feeling when working through each chapter of the book. If the emotions are too high, the activities are a great natural break in the book and a great ‘excuse’ to stop reading the content at that time. The librarian was very pleased to accept the donation of the book and even inquired if the library may print the activities to accompany the book. I responded that this would be wonderful, especially for families with multiple children.
The librarian and I were then chatting about a finger puppet cut-out activity that my birth sister, Krista Donnelly, the book’s illustrator, had designed as a supportive activity for families reading the book. I gave the librarian some copies of the puppet activity pages so that they might be able to copy them to provide to families borrowing the book. I explained that these copies had been generously donated to me so that I could provide them to families.
We also talked about the potential for me to attend the library at a future date and make a presentation for the public. I was explaining the frequency of my visits to the community and that I would be in touch prior to a future visit so we could plan something. The librarian seemed very interested in the idea. I was explaining that I live in Timmins, Ontario when a voice suddenly chimed in with, “I’ve been there!”
The voice belonged to one of my cousins whom I had not seen in several years. He was accompanied by his young grandson, a shy little guy that I will call H. So while my husband was talking with his grandfather I was chatting to the little guy about school, sports, and other things. Since I have some grandchildren around his age I took out my phone and we were looking at their pictures. H spotted a portable gaming device in one of the pictures and began telling me all about what games he plays on his. His system is yellow though, he patiently explained, not orange like the one in the picture but H quickly assured me that it still does the same things. While we were chatting I found out it was this child’s very first visit to this library and I told him it was mine too! He was a little shy and wearing masks made things even a bit more uncomfortable, but I think we established a little common ground.
His grandfather then began updating me about himself, his siblings and his wife, as well as his adult children, including H’s mother. It turns out that H and his mother are living with them in a blended household.” I looked up at the grandfather and asked if I could give H a copy of my book (by coincidence, or perhaps not, I happened to have an extra copy in my bag because of the library donation). The grandfather explained to H that I had written a book for children and H’s eyes got pretty big. I took the book out, opened it to the page that contains my picture and stepped far enough back that I could safely remove my mask to show him that was me in the picture. H consulted the picture very seriously, looked up at my maskless face, and his little face lit up. I asked if he would like me to give him a copy of my book he shyly nodded yes. So I signed the copy and handed the book to H. For some unknown reason, I had also held back a copy of the puppet handout when I gave the rest of the activity pages to the librarian so I handed that to H too. He hugged that book and the puppet activity pack to his chest and smiled broadly. The grandfather was very appreciative and offered to pay for the book but I asked if I could please gift it to H and he accepted.
There are no words. I honestly cannot describe how it felt to hand that little boy a copy of the book I created for families like his, and for children travelling journeys like he is. He and his mom live in a different family scenario where the two of them are a team surrounded by a supportive family and network of friends. I suppose I never really expected to knowingly be able to personally hand a copy to a child who will hopefully benefit from some aspects of the book. Especially a child whom I am related to. If a heart can burst with emotion, mine was as close as possible to bursting. I knew then without a shadow of a doubt, that this book was meant to be!
Suddenly I began to look at the whole scenario. Maybe it was meant to be that the librarian did not have an opportunity to answer my emails, maybe it was meant to be that I and H would be at that library that day, each of us for our “very first time”. Maybe H was meant to receive a copy of the book, and I was meant to be the one to give it to him. Maybe my book will reach its goal of making a difference. We will never know for sure, but my tummy does flips when I think about it. Things do happen for a reason.
As always, I look so forward to reading your comments and if you prefer a less public forum, please email your comments to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Welcome back to Blogville. I’m so glad you are here. I’ve poured myself a delicate hibiscus tea blend that reminds me of my mom’s perfume when I was a child.
I had to separate the ‘Momma Says’ blog into two parts because it is very emotional and I tend to jump around when I’m feeling emotional. (Of course I mean jump from topic to topic, not actually getting up and literally jumping lol.) So I decided to talk in this blog about when I had questions for mom as I was growing up, and then, for part 2, fill you in on a wonderful adoption discussion she and I had just last month when I was visiting her.
When I was growing up, discussing adoption with my mom felt very taboo. I mean, when any doctor asked about family medical history she would give him a scathing look and gesture that they needed to leave the room for any further discussion. Adopted people of my generation understand that ‘fight or flight’ feeling when trying to ask questions about adoption. For those of you not adopted, think about trying to ask your parents about sex or puberty in the 1960s. You remember that look of dread right? Well, in response to an adoption question, my mom would sometimes give me short or curt answers, and other times she would just look at me until it was so uncomfortable I said, ‘never mind’ and took off. Last month I returned to that uncharted territory and found that my interpretation of her reaction was not completely on point. Starting this conversation with my about to turn 97 year old mother was like walking on thin ice across Cochrane Ontario’s Lake Commando in springtime.
Since my mother brought it up, I have to mention my dad’s role in any adoption discussion or Q&A. How can I describe to you what it was like talking to my dad about adoption? Well, let’s just say I wasn’t sure he knew I was adopted. My mom would often tell me a story about how my dad once came home from a fall hunting trip and when I stood on my own he started to rush over to protect me from falling. My mom gleefully told him, “It’s OK, she can walk now!” That story inspired me to think that maybe my dad had been hunting when I was placed with them and he didn’t know I had arrived until he got home. I could almost hear my mom gleefully telling him, “We have a daughter now!” Not what happened of course, but truly don’t ever remember him even saying the word adoption’. As I got older I learned that I actually arrived into the family in June of 1959 on the Friday before Father’s Day. How special was that? Daddy’s little girl arriving in time for Father’s Day. I have seen the home movies and photos, he looked pretty excited and proud.
I honestly don’t think I ever really thought to ask my dad any adoption questions as my mom seemed to have been in charge of that. Last month when talking to mom about adoption she actually said she noticed that children all seemed to go to their mothers with their adoption questions. As a result she felt that, “The fathers were off the hook”. I could tell she was none too pleased about it, even in hindsight.
When we were kids we always seemed to be hanging out with other families who had also adopted children. Mom always seemed calmer when we were playing with those kids. I never really questioned why, I just noticed it. When I asked her about that last week, mom explained that she was just so happy that there were other children ‘in the same boat’ in Cochrane. It’s true, our families seemed drawn to each other and we kids played very well together. My mom said she could relax when my brother and I were playing with these other kids as they would never ‘say anything bad to you’ simply because all of us were adopted. Mom said that all the parents felt the same way, “You were our children and that was that.” but apparently not everyone in Cochrane felt the same way. As we continued to chat about spending time with those other children who were also on adoption journeys mom and I agreed that we kids were like cousins through adoption. It was like a special club where adoptive parents could send their children who were adopted and know they could just be regular kids. (I’m sure our dear friend Billy would wholeheartedly agree.)
Mom then observed, “We also noticed that you kids (cousins through adoption) would ask each other questions about adoption. Everyone seemed ok with the answers or explanations you told each other. “We parents never initiated that” she pointed out, “but sometimes we would overhear you kids talking. I think it was good for all of you.”
Sadly, my mom always behaved as if having to adopt children was her ‘fault’ and not my dad’s ‘fault’. It was as if she wanted to clear him of some shame that she carried. My mother would talk about back problems she had that caused her to have to leave school very young. She eventually needed surgery on her back when she was a young woman living in Toronto. My mother always felt that her ‘back issues’ were to blame for her inability to carry a baby to term. It was on the rare occasion that she would even talk about this so I hung on to her every word. But then the sadness in her eyes always travelled right to my heart and I would drop the subject. In hindsight, I was unknowingly leaving her all alone with her grief.
I feel that mom must have implied that her bad back was why she and my dad had to adopt because I remember, as a small child, witnessing my mother trip over a suitcase at the train station and fall to the ground. I recall being terrified that she would die, or that she might never be able to have a baby stay in her tummy. My mother was mortified when I told her that was the reason I was crying so hard. I’m 63 years old and if I close my eyes, I can still see her fall over that suitcase.
As we chatted Mom opened up about the early days of parenting children placed on adoption. She talked about how afraid she was to hire a babysitter and go for a drink with my dad at a ‘beverage house’ because they might take her children away. She spoke about how she felt that she had to ask her adoption worker if that behaviour would be ok. The worker reassured her that she should do whatever she would normally do if she had her ‘own’ children (oh that hurts me just to say it).
When I was young and I would ask about my birth mother my mom would usually tense up and visibly run some kind of check-list about what she should say. She was always clear that my birth mother’s father had made her give up her parental rights and allow me to be adopted. Mom always said that the birth mother’s family had been ashamed of my birth mother and sent her away to give birth to me. She was always very careful that I understood my birth mother was forced into making an adoption plan by her own father, (my birth grandfather). Mom always looked sad when I would ask about my birth mother, and given her explanation, I always felt sad that I made my birth mother and her family feel ashamed. So, I asked about it less and less.
Last month mom talked about how she felt that Children’s Aid workers would try to ‘trick her’ into taking foster children that she would likely have to give back one day. That made me feel sad until mom grinned at me, leaned in and disclosed that they ‘couldn’t fool her once she was on to them’. That made the former Children’s Aid worker part of me smile. She talked about her feeling of betrayal by the Children’s Aid workers when they would call and profile a child but not say for fostering until they had her interest. She related a story of how once she was called about a brand new baby girl and thought they meant for adoption but her heart broke when they said for fostering. As revenge, mom called all of her adoptive applicant friends in Cochrane to warn them of what the call was really about. The former worker in me almost defended the workers because of how much foster parents were, and are still, needed, but the daughter in me said, “Way to stand up for yourself mom!”
Well my thin ice conversation went pretty good. So I decided to take a bigger risk. Instead of just walking on thin ice, my next line of questions felt like the risk all the kids took after the annual Cochrane Carnival fishing derby; when we would run across the lake dodging the abandoned fishing holes. You might make across unscathed, or you might break a leg, but the thrill was worth the risk. So, with my heart pounding, I asked, “Mom, would you have any advice for people who want to adopt children?”
Pour yourself a tea, maybe a nice Chai, and come back to Blogville in two weeks to hear her advice in Part 2 of Momma Says . . .
As usual, please know that I would love to hear your thoughts, stories and comments. If you prefer a less public forum, feel free to send me an email at email@example.com
Well as I said in ‘Momma Says . . .Part 1’, my conversation with my mom about growing up adopted went pretty good. So, welcome back to Blogville for Part 2 of this amazing conversation. I have just brewed a lovely cinnamon apple tea for your visit.
Let’s focus for a minute on my mom.
My conversation took place last month when I was with my mother to celebrate her upcoming birthday. As well, she needed refills on her supply of her favourite GF carrot muffins and cookies, and we often chat while she watches me bake. Realizing the golden moment that I was presented with, I asked her, “So, mom, how does it feel to turn 97 years old?” She thought for a moment and said, “You don’t really think about it until someone asks you a question and you stop and realize it is getting harder and harder to figure out the answer to their question. Also, I can no longer do so many of the things I used to easily do.” She expanded by saying, “I feel weaker and less able to do things but I’m definitely smarter.” I asked why she thinks she is smarter now and, without missing a beat, she grinned and said, “well, I don’t have to do so many things anymore, everyone does it for me”. Well, that is smart. So I handed her the muffin tin liners and put her to work!
Back when it was mom’s 90th birthday I suggested we get her an IPad. People thought that was a bit of a ridiculous idea but I prevailed. She has loved it from the beginning and still loves it seven years later. So when she was talking about being smarter now she said, “Its kind of like my machine here (referring to her IPad). I can play cards all day and my machine has to do all the shuffling and count the points. I don’t even have to pick up the cards when I’m done. Grinning, she turned her screen to show me the cribbage game that she was currently winning.
Her memory is failing for sure. It bothers me the most when I’m visiting and she’ll suddenly just stare at me. I know at that moment that she isn’t quite sure who I am. There was a time late last year when my mother sat across the table from me and proceeded to tell me a story about how she and her had husband adopted a little girl. I realized that I was listening to the story of my own arrival into the family from a perspective I had never heard it told from before. Sadly, in my heart, I knew it was because she had no idea that, sitting across from her, was the aged version of the little girl they had adopted.
As I explained earlier, given her age, and mom’s memory issues I decided it was the time to talk to her about adoption in general and my adoption specifically. This was the conversation I had started so many times in my life but quickly retreated because I sensed her pain or discomfort. Since, at that moment, she thought she was telling a stranger about her experience, she seemed very comfortable talking about it. So as bittersweet as it was, during this conversation I learned about her heartache at not being able to carry a baby to term, and how she and my dad learned about adoption from a visiting missionary at mass one Sunday, and how she called for information on adoption the following day. She talked of wanting a baby girl but reminisced about when they called about a 2 1/2 year old boy and how she called my dad and excitedly told him, “We are getting a little boy!” I learned how afraid she was to hire a babysitter and go for a drink with my dad at a ‘beverage house’ because they might take her child away. How she felt that she had to ask her social worker if that behaviour would be ok. Though I asked about it, she didn’t remember the application process or other pre-adoption steps specifically. Her response? “You just did what they said if you wanted to get children.”
Suddenly, Mom surprised me by asking, “Did you know about the woman who had you? Her father did not want her to bring you home and he wouldn’t let her, so we got you instead.” She looked sad when she added, “I always felt sorry for her because she could have a baby and was not allowed to keep it, and I got to keep it instead.” Mom then blew my mind by asking, “Did you ever get to meet her?” (Definitely a topic for a different blog, but I finally told my mom what happened regarding my birth mother because she doesn’t read my blogs, and she’s 97 years old. I’m afraid you will have to wait.)
Getting back to my first ever real heart to heart conversation about adoption with my mom. I asked her, “Was it hard to tell people that you were going to adopt?” “I forget”, she said, “we just brought you home and said you were our children. Nobody ever gave us a hard time.” She qualified that with, “It was just what families did. If you couldn’t have children you adopted. Simple as that.”
So, I asked her how her siblings, and her mother, my Granny, took the news that she and my dad were adopting. Mom looked at me like I had suddenly grown a beard and said, “Granny didn’t think anything of it as it was something that always was. I mean, adoption.” She added, “Like in the old days when parents died and their families would take care of the children. If there was no family then a family that knew the children would take them in.” She looked me in the eye and said, “Lynn, children need a family to take care of them and that was that.” Here is where I start bawling again from simply typing the words that she added, “You and your brother needed a home and that was that, you were part of the family.” Keeping the tissues close as I write that, I remember how she concluded with, “You were such good children. I think you were so glad you had a brother when you came to us, and he was so glad to get a sister. You were never strange with each other when you came to us, it was like you both knew you were home now.”
I am being honest when I tell you that I have never had a conversation like this with my mom. She always looked so hurt when I would ask, or would just stare at me like a ‘deer in the headlights’ and now I know that I was wrong not to have kept asking. But I was just a kid, and no kid wants to put that look of fear on the face of their parent.
As you know, I had decided to take a bigger risk by asking my mom if she had any advice for people who want to adopt. As I noted in Part 1, venturing into this topic felt like the risk we kids used to take after the annual Cochrane Carnival fishing derby. Usually on a dare, we would run across the lake dodging (we sincerely hoped) the abandoned fishing holes. You might make it across unscathed, or you might break a leg, but worth the risk.
It kind of felt like that when I asked, “Mom, would you have any advice for people who want to adopt children?” Without missing a beat she replied “I’d tell them to make sure that that is what they want”. Pushing aside the little girl in me begging me to stop talking, I asked what she meant by that and she replied, “I’d tell them that it’s not just like having your own” (I thought I had just figuratively fallen into one of those fishing holes- I could almost hear my leg snap). Well folks, since I have two legs, I decided to continue to ignore the little girl in me and pursue the concept. Metaphorically, I felt mom putting a cast on my leg when she said, “They need to be sure because sometimes children have questions about adoption that you can’t answer. You can’t just tell them about the birds and the bees.” I was in it now, why not keep going? I leaned forward asking, “Why couldn’t you answer?” She replied, “Well, lots of times I didn’t know the answer because they didn’t tell me much” (meaning the adoption workers). “Other times I didn’t know the answer because I wasn't adopted.” Well I sure did not see that one coming! I flashed back to some questions I had as a child when she would give me that ‘deer in the headlights’ look. Honestly, until that moment it had never occurred to me that adoptive parents sometimes struggle to answer their children’s questions because they have never experienced what their children were experiencing. Wow! What an enlightening moment for me, and hopefully for you.
But, since opportunity was knocking! Something I have always been curious about but was too afraid to ask my mom was why, when a doctor would ask about family medical history, my mom would give him a look and the two of them would leave the room. I remember thinking that she was sharing some magical secret about my biology with the doctor, or revealing some terrible medical facts about my birth family history. So today, I took the plunge, I worked up the nerve to finally ask, “Mom, I’ve always been curious why, whenever family medical history questions would come up, you and the doctor would always leave the room to talk?” In response, my beautiful 97 year old mother looked me straight in the eye and said, “I have no idea.”
Are you KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW???
Nope, no clue, not even a twinkle in her eye. Sigh.
I love you mom!
As usual, please know that I would love to hear your thoughts, stories and comments. If you prefer a less public forum, feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lynn Deiulis' personal and professional journey sparked a passion to write a book that offers an opportunity for children to learn about how they came to be living together as a family or living with another family.