As a refresher to us all, there are five stages of grief. You do not necessarily move through them unilaterally. You do not have to go through them in order. You may spend more time in one stage than you do in others. You might gloss over one stage and then be caught off guard to find you have returned. There is not one set way to experience grief. You can't grieve in a way that is right or wrong. Hannah was blessed to be in a foster home. Her grief is a very real reflection of the life she lost there--the people, the home, the love she experienced there. We were warned that foster care kiddos grieve a lot deeper and harder, especially in the early days, but that on the other side of things, the bond and attachment would be just that much deeper and true. We are finding this to be true of Hannah, as well. So as a reminder, the five stages of grief:
1.) Isolation and Denial
We have seen many of these from Hannah. Her energy seems to be more focused on one stage over the others, but we have seen glimpses from each stage with her. Her denial was very short lived and lasted probably the first 24-36 hours in China. She was able to giggle and play with us those first few minutes and days, but it was as if she thought we were just simply babysitters. Once she realized we were there to stay (and she was too) things took a drastic turn and the grief began.
I have mentioned several times to people that China was hard for us. Very hard. It was hard in a myriad of ways--the culture shock, the jet lag, the lack of access to food (regardless of what kind, it was hard to get to and find in province!), hotel dwelling, living out of a suitcase, feeling isolated and alone, missing our kids, missing our families, missing home (no, LONGING for home), feeling judged for making cultural parenting mistakes, feeling somewhat incompetent as a parent altogether. I could go on and on. All of those things made China hard for us (and many of those things likely make America hard for Hannah, now). However, probably one of the hardest (scratch that--it was THE hardest thing) part of China was experiencing Hannah's grief with her and not knowing how to respond. I will be honest. We expected grief from her like most of us picture it. Tears. Sadness. Lack of appetite. Sleep disturbance. General lack of happiness. While we did have some of those issues (certainly not the lack of appetite though!), Hannah skipped right on ahead to stage two of grief almost immediately. She was angry. Very, very angry. Angry in a 23 month old child in ways I had no idea were possible. And the anger was hard. And shocking. And also at times, intimidating, to me. At first, your response to anger is compassion. After a while, it draws out shocking emotions within yourself, as well. And compassion is dwindling. And annoyance is brewing. And you are losing sense of why you are here or what you have done and you seriously wonder if any of you will come out of it okay. It is in those moments that you have to be totally secure in your call to adopt. You have to trust that God called you directly to the spot you are in and that He will certainly not leave you there alone. Hannah is a fighter...an angry fighter.
Look at it like this. She isn't quite two yet. She doesn't understand what is happening to her. Basically, in her mind, she has been abducted. A much wiser, seasoned adoptive mama reached out to me while we were in China to bring me comfort about Hannah's rage. She reminded me of things I knew in my head, but needed to get to communicate with my heart. Rage is a good sign. Rage shows she doesn't want to be there, that she wants to get back to the people she loved. It shows she was bonded. In the world of adoption, bonding is a huge issue. A child who was once bonded has a fairly good shot of transferring that bond to the adoptive parents. Her rage showed us she was and is capable of bonding. Once we earn her trust, that bond will transfer to us. And our relationship will be far more secure than it could be otherwise. Think of it also like this. If someone came and took Grace from us....put her in a van, showed her pictures of her new mommy and daddy and then within a 20 minute appointment left her with these people who look nothing like her or speak her language or eat her food....and then locked her in a hotel room with them for days. What would we want her to do? Warm right up to them and climb in their laps and just simply accept her new circumstances? No way! We'd want that girl to fight and do the meanest, nastiest, ugliest things she could dream up to do to them to get them to get away from her! We'd want her to do things she would never do here at home (or has never done). Anything! To get away! That is precisely what we saw (and still see to some degree) with Hannah.
None of what Hannah does (or did) is shocking or alarming. It is hard to see these things come out of a 23 month old child. It is hard because we know we can do nothing but remain patient and present. I share her grief, not to embarrass her down the road, but to show how deeply wounded she was and how far we know she will eventually come. She loved her foster family and loving us would not come without a fight. She did (and does) all kinds of things to us, against us, in front of us, to try to drive us, her abductors, away. She had no self control....at all. Temper tantrums were always brewing just under the surface. We could not say no or redirect her in anyway without some form of consequence. She would hit us...often. She bit us (thankfully we left that little goodie in China). She can't really spit on us because she has a cleft lip, so she did the next best thing and filled her hands with spit and would fling it at us. She would scream (like out of body, loss of control, no sense of where she was of what she was doing) screaming for no apparent reason. She would throw things and food. She pulled hair. She cusses...in this uniquely Chinese cultural way (no words, more actions--think of the American version of giving someone the middle finger---it is on the same level). She would thrash around on the floor and kick, intentionally trying to get close enough to kick someone or something. She would go ballistic with massive emotional meltdowns each and every time we returned to the hotel room (her jail cell, we assume is how she viewed it). Grief is hard. Ugly. Necessary..... Experiencing grief alongside the child you have prayed for, longed for, and worked so hard to get to is hard. Ugly. Necessary.....
Three weeks home and has Hannah's grief ended? No. Is it as bad as it was in China? Not presently. Could it return at any given moment? You betcha'. Dealing with grief is like dancing. We take one step forward and then go two steps back. Negative behaviors disappear and then magically reappear out of nowhere. New issues crop up (like sleep disturbance....had none of that in China and we are now seeing it here at home). When will Hannah's grief end? I don't know. Only God knows. We will likely face various parts and stages of grief for all of Hannah's life. Will it be an everyday occurrence? No, but there will likely be times and stages of her life that it will come bursting out. We make strides each day to help her overcome her grief and find that place called acceptance. The only prescription for that is time. And trust. Lots of building trust. Which is why we are doing this thing called "cocooning" (another post on this later). Cocooning is just giving us dividends into that trust bank, the security bank, the safety bank. Routine and security here will make it possible for there to eventually be security and safety outside our home.
Grief is so hard. It is hard to experience. It is hard to witness. It is hard to live through. It is hard to be on the receiving end of her grief, but we serve the most awesome God....the God who heals and brings joy each morning. We know none of this is outside His realm of power. And we know that one day soon, Hannah will experience the depth of peace that can come only from Him. Peace that passes all understanding.
Would you please continue to pray for our girl? Pray for all of us as we play our role in helping her dance her way through the stages of grief. She is a fighter and we have the power of Jesus on our side. She is brave and strong. She will overcome and she will know peace....and joy. We already see the joy coming in.
Hannah four weeks ago on Gotcha Day in China.
Hannah now. This was taken at two weeks home, three weeks in our arms.
God can do mighty things! Even in the midst and depth of grief. He can and is working. Through all the ugly and hard. We are so blessed He chose us to be the ones to dance this dance with her.