Saturday, July 10, 2010

Grief sneeking up

Things have gone so well the last four months that these last two weeks really snuck up me. Claire has been grieving a lot lately, a lot more than I anticipated. I think this is related to many things all adding up together.

*School is out and her routine of keeping busy during the day is not happening.
*The more English she gains (which is a lot, she's basically conversationally fluent) she is able to tell us stories. For a couple of days last week she talked non-stop about China, her aunts, her grandmother, her friends, everything. We loved hearing her stories and it seemed as though everything would trigger a story. One time we were looking for fabric and she told us her "sister" had something that looked like a particular fabric. (I say "sister" because this girl was actually a friend who lived in another house.) But then she had a hard grieving cry later that night when she went to bed and had some quiet time to think on her own.
*She's forgetting Chinese. When she realized she was actually forgetting the words it made her sad and she said she wanted to remember Chinese but then when we would practice with her she didn't remember some words and would start off a sadness circle.
*The "honeymoon" period is pretty much over and the tip toe of "don't make Claire upset, give her want she wants" is starting to wane. Going from the oldest of two and dictating how things are done to the youngest of four isn't making her too happy. We encourage the kids to play fair and all but in reality there is a pecking order in siblings; there just is. Even if everything is fair, with four kids they only get what they want 25% of the time.
One example: The other kids had to prove they could handle a Nintendo DS by starting with a Leapster, progressing to a Gameboy and then purchasing a DS with birthday money. We don't make the other kids share their DS with her and then she gets upset that she doesn't have one.

I typed the above post on 6/20 and then stopped. I always intended to come back and write more but summer things, like swimming, were just too important!

Claire has started to have less grieving than a few weeks ago when I started this post but we still see more than we did initially. She cries most often when she is upset, rather it be from not getting her way, getting hurt or being scared. Recently she was at a playground and I was watching her while sitting on a bench. The bench was in the sun and I got hot so I moved 4 feet to other side of the sidewalk to stand in the shade. A couple of minutes later she ran off the equipment with a look of panic on her face and when she saw me she started crying and said "I not see you, I think you leave me." While we don't see much fear of abandonment on the outside, it is definitely there inside and it is probably something she will always wrestle with. I reassured her that I will never leave her but the mood was set and we had to get through a grief episode and tears before moving forward with the rest of the day.

So, what does a grief episode look like?
This may be different for each child but here is what happens with Claire.
I can tell when a grief episode is coming. When an episode is triggered by something she doesn't like, she gets quiet and reserved. She is usually talkative and very happy so I know something is up if she stops talking, won't answer questions and especially if she just looks at me without a response when I ask her what is wrong. She gets this look in her eyes that she's not really here, almost like I can visually see her "check out" and go to another place. I'm sure that place is her memories from China. As I see her check out, her eyes will usually fill with tears and one more "what is wrong" is enough to bring the full episode of tears. Most of the time she answers with "I want China" or "I miss China" but sometimes it is that she misses her nai nai and a yis. We usually just hold her, hug her, kiss her and rock her. Several times we have told her we miss China too and we always validate her feelings. Her grief is real, it's raw and most times all we can do is hold her and reassure her that she is safe here and we are forever.

When she was telling many stories during the day a few weeks ago she cried several nights in a row after I tucked her into bed. Around the third night I was starting to wonder if we were doing the right thing. I actually looked at J and said "what should I do? Are we making it better or worse?" He didn't know either so then while holding Claire I looked at her and said "what can mommy do to make you feel better?" Her response? "Sing me rock a baby"; the song I sang to her when she cried that first night we had her in China. By the end of the song she had stopped crying and smiled.
I thought to myself "wow, why didn't I just ask her all this time what would make her feel better?!"

Last week my sister-in-law and her family stopped by for a visit and we talked about the increase in grief episodes lately. She lost someone very close to her last year and when comparing Claire's grief to that of losing someone she said that her grief peaked out about six months after he had passed away. It was about that time that she realized that the person she lost was really gone and not coming back.
Claire has been with us for 5 months now and I think the same thing is happening. The honeymoon is wearing off and she's really here to stay.

I always thought that we'd have the most grief at the beginning and then the time between episodes would get longer as time went on. This is not what has happened. We saw very little grief in the beginning and it really snuck up on us around the 4 month mark.
It's happened at home, at the houses of our family members, at a restaurant and most recently at the amusement park; grief doesn't care where we are.

I hope this is helpful to parents adopting older children. I read as much as I possibly could before we traveled to bring Claire home and thought I knew what to expect. While I do think we were fairly well prepared, there have been a few things that I wasn't expecting and this is one of them.


  1. I know it can be hard to do, Cristy...but thank you for sharing.

  2. Thank you for sharing. I've been following your blog since you were in China and your openness and honesty have been so helpful. I especially appreciated this post.

  3. This was a very touching post and hit home with me. I can relate to Claire in the grief as my dad was very ill and died on December 1. Those few weeks in November/December were so very traumatic. Then we got word we would be in China soon to bring Elijah home. So began the busy preparations and our grief got shuttled to the back. Much like her grief maybe took a backseat to her excitement of receiving her forever family and travling to her new home far away.

    However, in China, on the way home, and right after we came home, the grief of losing my precious dad came out in wave after wave. I got motion sick on the way home, my neck injury (sustained in a car wreck in the fall starting surfacing, and I had such a difficult time with Elijah rejecting me all the way home even though I knew in my brain that this was completely normal and would go away once home).

    The flight home was so hard in so many ways, but the worst part was stepping off the plane with Eli and Dad not being there. This was 2 1/2 months after losing Dad! Then the long recupartion and adjustment to our new family was compounded by our extreme grief over Dad's death. Whew! I can feel now that we are on the other side at times, but still it comes in waves.

    My heart breaks for Elijah, Clarie, and all of our other sweet children who are so young and do not understand this cycle. Eli tended to rage at first and has now settled down. It was interesting that being so young, his grief surfaced at first and is now calming down.

    This journey is so difficult for these kiddos. They are so very brave and they don't even know it.

    Janet, Kevin, Ted, Philip, and Elijah Bourke

  4. WOW.. You are so amazing to have gone through a full year of paperwork and heartache and everything else just to be able to go to CHINA.. Adoption on any frontier is difficult, but ours seems pretty easy in comparison. Do you still have to do the finalization in the states if you adopt from abroad? We are still in the finalization stages with Helena, which is proving to be challenging as well. Much luck with Clair and her grieving.. many hugs from afar!