Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Death and abandonment issues

Do adoptees potentially experience the death of their adoptive parents differently because of their adoption? This is the latest question rolling around in my head. We've all got baggage and adoptees in particular get strapped with 'abandonment issues'. Not every adoptee will identify as feeling abandoned. For most of my life, I did not. But somewhere in the recesses of my mind this thread lingers. Does the death of adoptive parents represent, in its own way, a second abandonment to adoptees?

The first time this thought occurred to me was after watching the documentary Adopted. Jennifer Fero, an adult Korean adoptee featured, was dealing not only with issues related to being transracially adopted, but also the scary situation of her mother being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Towards the end of the documentary, it was revealed that her father had a late stage form of cancer as well. I wish I could remember if Jennifer had said anything specifically about losing both of her parents. I can't remember now, but I wondered what was going through her head being so young (only in her thirties I think) with the prospect of both parents leaving her. The whole situation was haunting to me.

There are two times in my life that there was a distinct possibility my mom could die. And both times were hell. The nightmares of my life. My dad died unexpectedly when I was one and I'm an only child. The thought of losing my mom was too much to bear. How could I possibly afford to lose another set of parents? What was so incredibly wrong with the universe that my fate was to be left alone again? Abandoned again? There is no worse feeling. The dominant culture says that we all need a permanent, loving, immediate family. They're your world, your lens through which you learn and navigate life. What becomes of you when you lose that context?

I think the death of a parent for anyone can be unspeakably painful. It's a tremendous loss. It changes your world. And if you're an adoptee, it may compound on top of an existing loss of your first family and first culture. I'm not sure what it all means, but it's a fascinating albeit heavy topic to think about. I've tried to look up articles, books, anything on adoptees and the death of adoptive parents, but I haven't come up with much at all. If anyone reading this knows of any resources, please let me know. And thanks for sticking with me through a morbid subject. I know that talking about death makes many if not most people uncomfortable. I recently found out that a fellow KAD's parent is terminally ill with possibly only weeks left to live. What a heartbreaking experience. It's something I've had just a small taste of, but, wow, is it ever hard to get that taste out of your mouth.


  1. Hi there,
    I enjoyed reading your post. I'm a Chinese adoptee and recently found out that both of my birthparents passed away, in fact, several years ago. Although I knew in my heart that this was probably the case, due to the little info I had on my adoption contract about my birthparents, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was surprised by my reaction, and am still processing my emotions, I guess you could say. I felt such a deep sense of loss at that moment even though I never knew my birthparents, nor have ever seen pictures. I lost both of my adoptive parents as well, so I understand the grief of losing a parent. While I've never considered myself to feel abandoned, I do feel a great sense of loss and, for lack of better words, a huge hole because I will never have the opportunity to meet my birthparents. This saddens me, yet I know that's just how it has to be. I'm currently searching for any surviving biological sisters in Taiwan. I hope to be able to connect one day with anyone from my birth family. Thank you for your thoughts and for writing about a sensitive topic!

  2. Hi Marijane! I really appreciate your comment. I'm sad to hear about your birthparents. In my mind, that kind of loss is just as significant as any other loss, but it's also more complicated because it's so amibguous. I think I feel similarly regarding my adoptive father. Not everyone seems to understand how possible it is to grieve for people you never really knew. At any rate, I wish you all the best with your search and look forward to reading more about it on your blog!

  3. Hi Soo,
    Great post. Really made me think. I was adopted domestically as an infant and lost my dad when I was 17 and it completely devastated me. I lost my mother more recently, I was 43. Again, it was devastating. I had not considered the connection between being adopted and the loss of my (adoptive) parents. When I lost my dad as a teenager, I overheard someone say that they couldn't believe how upset I was because "he wasn't even her real father." That was 30 years ago and still stands out to me as one of the cruelest things I have ever heard someone say regarding adoption and what is means to be a family.

  4. Wow, Alison!! I can't believe that person said something so horrible. It's sad that some people believe being an adoptive family somehow minimizes the significance of those relationships. Our losses are not any different and certainly not any less!