When your body remembers: Adoption and grief

I’m not sure if it’s the smell in the air, the feeling after the holidays or the letdown of post-Christmas that makes it hit me every January.

But every January, without fail, a weight settles in.

I wrestle with it for days, even a week or two, and then it finally dawns on me: Oh. My dad. He died January 25.

Even when my conscious brain isn’t registering the reason, my body remembers. She remembers and she starts preparing for grief, for shock, for pain. It’s been 13 long years, and it still hasn’t faded. Every January, the familiar, bewildering weight. The depression. The fog.

And when I realize what it is at last, there’s nothing to do but to sit with it. I just have to let myself feel the loss again.

* * *

Three years and three days ago, we brought an African baby home to cold, dry, unfamiliar Minnesota. We brought him from Uganda — land of red dirt and stunning beauty; of honesty and pain and wonder and staggering contrasts. Of warmth and light. The only land he had ever known.


In the jubilant homecoming airport scene, he was scream-laughing and making everyone smile so hard it hurt. His body was electric, shaking, excited, overstimulated, overtired. He was just 9 months old. It was a lot to take in.

Now we are three years later and I swear to you: His body remembers.

These last weeks have been full of heightened anxiety, of acting out, of impulsive action, of tantrums and neediness. There have been many more questions about “my ‘nother mommy” and of Uganda, of his beginnings and identity and story. We’ve looked at pictures of our days together there, of kicking in the bath basin, of walking around the guesthouse grounds, of his auntie. He looks at the pictures and tells me he was sad.

He’s only 3. This is the first year there have been enough words to explore the feelings, I think.

And I want to give it all to him, I want to fix it, I want to reach the hurt places and wrap them in love, love, love.

But I can’t touch all of it, because it doesn’t belong to me. I have to let him sit with it. I have to let him feel the ache of loss. It’s only after he feels it, explores it, gives it a name before we can get back to the ordinary business of gradual redemption.

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3 comments on “When your body remembers: Adoption and grief

  1. Somehow, I managed to discover, lose, and now re-discover your blog (apologies for the losing part). But I am delighted to have found my way back again!

    I love the connection you’ve drawn between your grief over the loss of your father, and your own child’s grief over moving away from his homeland. Grief takes so many forms in so many seasons.

    I also really appreciate the way you’ve acknowledged the need to let things sit and just be. As someone who also lost their father in a way that didn’t really make sense (although really, when is there any sense in death?), any attempts I’ve made to figure things out just haven’t been helpful.

    Thanks for this excellent post!

    • It’s OK Christie — I feel like I lost it for a while, too. 😉

      I’ve been learning so much about being open to my own vulnerability if I want connection. It’s just one way to connect with my kids’ early experiences. It’s not the same grief, of course — but at least I can sit with him in it. Just as death defies sense-making, so too does adoption. Such loss and heartache before redemption is possible. In both scenarios, I wish the redemption wasn’t necessary.

      Thanks for coming back to this space! I promise to do so more regularly, too.

  2. Stephanie Friant says: