I don’t think one ever recovers from losing a parent, no matter the nature of the loss. Losing anyone important to us comes with grief, and since parents are meant to be our foundation both biologically and socially, we mourn their loss most profoundly. In my case, both my biological parents are alive yet they are not part of my daily life. They are missing from my life, as if they’d mysteriously disappeared, though I do know now where they are.
I’ve been dealing all my life with grieving ambiguous loss, though I’ve only recognized this over the past several years. Recently I read a book called Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief by Claire Bidwell Smith, and was struck by an observation she recounts from the research of psychologist J. William Worden who developed the widely referenced Four Tasks of Grieving. Smith notes that Worden discovered that “grieving individuals experienced the most healing and peace when they were able to find ways to stay connected to their loved one.”
Perhaps this is what I’ve been doing. Since 2018, I’ve been intent on building out my entire biological family tree. Thanks largely to the internet and genealogical websites and digitized public records, I’ve been able to “find” a large number of my ancestors. My husband and children would tell you I’m obsessed, and they only partly understand why. I’ve only partly understood it myself. That I’m wanting to find a way to stay connected to my biological family rings true, because I didn’t only lose my parents after I was born; I also lost the link to my ancestors, and I’ve been grieving that loss, too.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve been on a journey to regain what I lost through my relinquishment and adoption. We often think of reunion as being the endgame, but for many of us it doesn’t turn out to be so. I’m coming to understand that, not only am I on the next phase of my journey, this may be my life’s purpose, the thing I’m meant to do, the elusive meaningful work I’ve been seeking for decades. I have a feeling of every previous season of my life leading me to this moment. All the skills I’ve accumulated over many years and occupations are perfect for the job I’m realizing I’ve already taken on.
I’ve long felt a need to document life, to keep a historical record for my own children. But over the past several months, I’ve become aware that the research I’m doing could very well be valuable to many more people outside my personal acquaintance. For the first time, I can conceive of some good coming out of the tragedy of my beginning. And I sense my ancestors guiding me on this next phase of my journey.