This week I’ve been working on an article for Catholic Exchange called “The Language of Loss.” The idea came to me while I was reading Jodi Picoult’s latest book, Handle with Care, in which the Catholic mother of a six-year-old child with OI (brittle bone disease) sues her ob-gyn for “wrongful birth.”
In one memorable passage, Picoult refers to a “language of loss” that parents and children endure in the most intimate family relationships. Within adoptive families, these losses can be especially complex — if for no other reason, because of the number of people involved in the family bond.
As parents, however, we must be willing to see – and help them articulate – the pain of our children as it surfaces. Sometimes the expressions of grief will surface at unexpected times. For example, the other day I was reading my children a book entitled God Found Us You, by Lisa Bergren and Laura Bryant (HarperCollins).
This happy, gentle story about a mother fox and her adopted baby fox, who asks her to tell him the story of how he came to be with her. The kind of books adoptive parents love, because it ties up the future in a lovely, reassuring bow. We read it to our children, hoping it will give them the feelings of love and security we so much want them to have.
So … imagine my disappointment when I finished the book, closed it, and turned to my kids and asked, “So – what did you think about the Baby Fox? How did he feel after Mama Fox told him the story?”
Christopher avoided my gaze, and traced three letters on his leg: “S-A-D.” Then he snuck a glance up at me, and asked me if I’d fill up his love banks. General tickling and head-rubbing ensued. Later that night, I asked him about it again. “Why was Baby Fox sad?” “Because he missed his first mom. He wanted to see her, too.”
This was Christopher “language of loss.” He needed to process — in a way the little fox did not seem to — that by holding on to one mother, he could not entirely eliminate the longing for the other. And I’ve learned that this is actually a good and reassuring thing. The fact that his first mother continues to have a place in his heart indicates that he was securely bonded to her — just as he is firmly attached to me, and just as he will no doubt be able to bond with some lucky girl in the future.
“It is those who have been most deeply wounded by grief that have the greatest capacity for joy.” I can’t recall where I heard this bit of wisdom, but it seems to fit here. We cannot “fix” or wipe away the pain, cannot silence this language of loss. But if we are doing our job as parents, our children will find in us the compassion they need to make sense of their world.