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Open Adoption:
Double the Love

  • Linda R. Sexton

Why Do My Children Grieve the Loss of a Grandmother They Barely Knew?

With grandparents day celebrated on Sunday September 10, I am reflecting on the fact that my two adopted children, Finley and Sofie, each lost a birth grandmother this past summer. In our open adoption arrangement, they both have ongoing relationships with their birth moms, but not with their maternal birth grandmothers. Yet, when these two grandmothers died this summer, there was grief. I wondered, How can a person grieve someone they really had no relationship with? I then realized that I know the answer. I know the importance of my adopted children being connected with their birth families. No matter what form the connection takes, the bond is there for life—there is a relationship. A blood relative is a person with whom you share your biology and your nature. Sometimes the bond is just unspoken.

My children did not need to be close to their birth grandmothers to feel the pain, to feel the real loss. They had seen pictures or heard stories of their birth grandmother holding them as infants. They remember meeting their birth grandmother once or twice. They are connected, and that birth grandmother’s death is a loss to my children.

My children felt immediate sympathy for their own birth moms, because they understood the loss of a mother. They each reached out to their birth mom with the message, “I am here for you.” Yet, something inside them hurt too. There is an undeniable power in biological family connection—known or unknown, it does not matter. It is there. In another circumstance they may grieve the loss of someone they did not know well or only met briefly, but this is different. It is a deeper, visceral grief.

I too grieve the loss of these women. I remember talking to Sofie’s birth grandmother on the phone like it was yesterday. I heard the clang of kitchen utensils and a sizzling frying pan and imagined her cradling the phone receiver between her shoulder and cheek, keeping both hands free to prepare dinner, while she spoke with me. Her youngest of three daughters was pregnant at only fifteen. I heard the struggle in her voice as she explained that keeping her full-time job and making dinner for her family every night was more than she could handle—and she just could not provide for a baby in her home. She expressed that neither she nor her daughter were capable of raising a child at this time. I remember sitting with her outside the hospital after Sofie was born. Her nerves were on edge as she smoked her cigarettes. And then, after the adoption placement was made, I received a beautiful thank-you card from her with a message just for me.

Meeting Finley’s birth grandmother at her apartment is a heart-warming memory too that I have carried with me for so many years. It was during our adoption match meeting with her seventeen-year-old daughter that we met for the first time. She welcomed us and spoke honestly about herself and her own struggles with mental health. She did not pretend, she did not try to impress, she did not hold back. She was just herself and we were grateful for the information. And then, after Finley was born and placed with us, this grandmother met us once again, along with Finley’s birth mom, to talk about how we might include visitation with her daughter in our future plans.

Finley did not grow up knowing this birth grandmother well, and only saw her a couple of times. The second time they met was just last year at Thanksgiving—the first and only time they were together at a holiday. Finley’s birth grandmother made a special vegan casserole for Finley as a welcome gesture. Six months later, she was gone. But it was enough connection for Finley to want to travel to attend her grandmother’s funeral and be together as a member of the grieving birth family.

We now enter the next chapter where my young adult children can ask their birth moms questions about these birth grandmothers and hear the stories that no longer need to be unspoken. It will happen in time, when they are all ready. This is the gift of open adoption.

These are pictures of my children with their birth grandmothers.

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