The Delicate Dance of Grief and Joy

The email we had been waiting for years to receive finally came. They were ready for us to travel. The passports were ready, their medical exams were finished, their birth affidavits were complete. Now it was up to us to book our flights and bring our girls home.

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Friends squealed and hugged us, praised God and loudly proclaimed how excited we must be. Wanting to rejoice with them, I spoke of how we were preparing our home for their arrival. But the joy I expected to feel never came. Yes, the timing scared me, but I knew that we could nonetheless power through and complete this final leg of our adoption journey. Weak in body and aching to hold my beloved newborn, I knew I could persevere through the ten day trip needed to bring all of our children under one roof.

But before true rejoicing could enter my soul, I found it necessary to grieve the losses that brought our family together. Our sweet girls had lived in this orphanage for the past 19 months. Their father worked tirelessly as a day laborer to provide for them after their mother had left, but when he realized he couldn’t make ends meet, he was forced to take them to the orphanage and sign away his rights. How old were our daughters when their mother left? Do they remember the day? Do they remember the hour? Will the memory be forever seared into their minds? What about the day their father dropped them off, never to return? What were those first few hours like as they were shown their new beds, got acquainted with the children their age, and given their first mass-produced meal?

For Queen, we don’t even know the circumstances surrounding her two and a half years in the orphanage. We know only that she was baptized before being dropped off and given a name in Amharic that means “She is loved.” The orphanage was never even aware of her serious medical condition and thus it went untreated until she was home with us at three years of age. Are her birth parents still live? Where was she dropped off, and by whom? What emotions did she experience as an infant during that time of transition? Will a sense of abandonment always reside in her soul because of her early life experiences?

For Mr. Man, we were in the hospital and we held him five minutes after he was born. We helped give him his first bath and stayed in the nursery for the routine infant medical tests. We rocked him in the hospital room, fed him his first bottle and took pictures of him so frequently that he soon became accustomed to the bright light of the flash. But his courageous birthmother first had to decide that she was unable to care for him before we could have the privilege of being his mama and papa. She had to suffer through a difficult pregnancy and make the hard choice of giving him to parents who could more adequately care for him. A part of her mother’s heart had to die in order for me to become his mama. Suffering had to occur before the joy of mamahood in my life could be made complete.

With four of our children, we had to witness tremendous grief before our family could expand. Before we could stand in court and testify and before we could be the ones meeting our children’s daily needs, we had to watch worlds crumble and birth parents surrender their own rights so our rights as parents to be instated. While this seems to be the biblical pattern, and the way of the Cross, this paradigm does not normally hold true for the creation of family, the birthing of children. Most children come into this world surrounded by parents who love them and who are able to meet their basic needs for nourishment, shelter, and clothing. But when these necessities are not there and separation from the mother who birthed you becomes the harsh reality, large worlds are shattered and tiny ones are destroyed. Grief chokes and tears spill forth. Children both large and small are forced to live the rest of their lives with the reality of pain from a destroyed bond that God never intended to be broken. For the relationship between mother and child is the most basic and formative of bond; it is a bond that exists at the very cellular physical and emotional level.

So we step in as the mama and papa to our children knowing that this was never the best plan for them, but it was God’s redeemed plan for them. We step in knowing that we can never replace our children’s original mama and papa nor fully understand the deep-seated grief that our children carry knowingly or unknowingly. We can never fully heal their broken hearts, nor should we expect to be able. That is God’s job.

But we can be His arms hugging them. We can be His hands serving them meal after meal. We can speak His words of love over them. We can point them to Him who heals their hearts and repairs the damage that this loss has made on their souls. When we walk into the orphanage tomorrow and take our girls home, they may not be thankful. And that is okay. Because we are here to grieve with them for as long as it takes for their souls to work through the loss. We won’t ask them to grieve alone. We won’t question their tears. We will simply cry with them through the dark days until God shines light on their grief and makes them whole.

Many expect that the rejoicing should begin on the day we first hold our daughters in our arms. Yes, we will rejoice in the fact that God has given them to us, that they are special gifts that we do not deserve. We will rejoice over their smiles, their laughter and the light that they bring into our family. We will shower them with gifts, and take far too many pictures, and delight in the personalities that God has given them. But we will do so knowing the need to balance their grief with our joy. We cannot fully rejoice now because we know we need to enter their grief and walk with them through their healing journey. As we look to the months ahead, we recognize that at times we will grieve with them, and at times we will rejoice with them. This delicate dance of grief and joy will be led by our daughters in the safe surroundings of our home until their hearts rest in a place of safety, healing and wholeness that their Creator alone can bring.

David Vosburg