In the world of adoption, there are so many issues that parents and children face. Whether the parent is adoptive, foster, or biological, there are numerous decisions and issue to consider. Open versus closed adoption, visitation schedules, when or if to tell a child they were adopted, what information to share about biological parents and health histories are only a few in a sea of vast choices that families need to make, depending on their particular circumstances.
My older two children were adopted out of the foster care system when they were 4- and 6-years-old. There was never any question they were adopted, as they had and still have vivid memories of their pasts. They are half-siblings, both sharing the same mother but having different fathers. My daughter knows nothing of her birth father – he was incarcerated at the time of her birth and signed rights over immediately. My son, Cameron, however, knew very much about his birth father.
He knew the feel of the man’s belt on his back, legs, and bottom. He knew the signs of drug use and saw first-hand the relentless torment that an addict can inflict on young children. He knew the fear of seeing his pets killed, having his house set on fire, and being abandoned in a hospital – left wondering if anyone would ever be back to pick him up. And he knew the terror of nightmares. Ones that still haunt him to this day, reminding him that he may never, in fact, be safe enough to dream like a regular boy.
And now, my son knows the feeling of confusion. While perusing the online local newspaper, I came across the obituary of Cameron’s birth father. In a state of shock, I jumped up from my chair, my body unsure of where it was going exactly, only knowing that it could no longer stay in its previously seated position. My husband had taken the kids to a local fair and would be returning shortly. I called him instantly, making him aware of the situation. Together, we decided to tell Cameron and his sister the news when they arrived home.
Although some may question our decision to inform our 10-year-old of such traumatic news, it was a choice we came to easily. Cameron may not mentally be up to speed with other children his age, due to all that stunted him in his earlier years, but he knows more about this sad world than most children ever should. In fact, just a few days prior to learning the news of his bio father’s passing, Cameron was in tears at the psychiatrist’s office, reporting continued nightmares and fears that his first dad will return in the night and try to kill him – revenge for reporting the abuse those 4 years ago.
Because of Cameron’s Reactive Attachment Disorder, he often doesn’t process his feelings well. They get lost somewhere inside, convoluted by all the grief, all the loss, and all the unreliable adults he has known. Why should he feel safe expressing feelings, or even feeling them at all, for that matter, knowing that he did for 6 whole years before anyone cared to notice that he was hungry, that he was sick, and that he was being grossly mistreated.
My husband and I sat both kids down at the kitchen table upon their arrival home. It was then that we told them the news we'd learned only an hour before. Wanting this to be a teachable moment for both of my children (as they both struggle with RAD), we talked about how it’s OK to feel more than one emotion at the same time. We talked about how it’s OK to feel sad, even though this man was associated with so many bad memories. We also talked about how it’s OK to feel relieved – happy, even – knowing that this man will never hurt another child again, and knowing that Cameron could now sleep easy.
My son sat there, taking it all in. He went through a few of the grief stages right away, starting with denial. He hit on anger a bit, too. There was also sadness. Confused about this strange amount of biological loyalty suddenly appearing within him, he tried to brush it away before I reminded him that his first dad, although incredibly flawed, was also loved and created by God – the same God that loves and creates each of us. And to feel saddened by his death is very normal. And in the same breath, I told him that he could feel happy, as well. He was allowed to feel safe. Free. He was able to put the past to rest and find new dreams to occupy his sleep.
Cameron and Taylor both peppered me with questions and a wide variety of emotions that evening. Cameron even went as far as to make me promise to read the obituaries religiously, just to make sure we don't miss it if his baby brother dies, the little boy that has been missing from out lives for nearly a year. But what I wanted Cameron to see the most was the obituary itself. In the list of this man’s children was Cameron’s name.
What you have to understand is that my son’s first family was very bitter that he caused them the inconvenience of all the court hearings that followed. Not only had they refused to attend the CYS-scheduled visits with him, but they refused to acknowledge his very presence at each hearing that followed. They would glare at him from across the courthouse lounge or lavish his sister with attention, ignoring my son completely when he would sheepishly try to say hello. They even went as far as to refuse to give CYS the family’s medical history, which has been a significant stumbling block as we’ve faced all the health scares with Cameron’s kidneys.
And as he sat there, slowly reading through the many words he didn’t understand in his bio father’s obituary, he finally came to a name he knew. Seeing his own name in front of him, his head popped up suddenly.
“They remember me? That means they don’t hate me anymore!” he said as tears slipped from beneath long eyelashes. He showed more emotion from the relief of simply being acknowledged than he did at the news of a close relative’s death. Because from the start, that’s what all children want. They want acknowledgement, assurance, care, and love. And from his first family, he didn’t get any of that. So, in one small gesture, a family that could have left his name out of the newspaper, chose to include my son and heal a small part of his heart – a part that I would never have been able to heal.
I don’t know where this man stood with his Maker when he passed. Quite honestly, we had stopped praying for him a couple years back when Cameron made it quite clear that he didn’t want to do anything that would make him remember the man. And as time went on, he was only mentioned in therapeutic moments when being listed as a source of so much early childhood trauma.
Also relieved at his passing, I am grateful to the writer of the obituary. I am overjoyed that Cameron was not passed by once again. And I do pray that this man, Cameron’s biological father, was able to find peace in God at the end.