I find myself intrigued by the television shows dealing with adoption and finding family members. I often wonder how many of these reunions end in new relationships being formed. I wish there were follow up shows that would shed light on the journeys taken to establish or re-establish relationships. Some reunions will be healing, some not. Some will be filled with joy, some not.

So what does this have to do with dealing with loss? More than you might think. The other day I was visiting with the woman I commissioned to make a mantel for my fireplace. Her talent is incredible, making beautiful creations from reclaimed wood. I asked how she got started and she replied that her craft became her passion when her daughter placed her grandson for adoption. A decision she feels in her heart was the right decision for her daughter and grandson, but that doesn’t ease the pain of losing all those “grandma” moments she hoped to share with her grandson.

She said the grief her family felt upon learning the decision to place a child for adoption is a grief that many don’t want to acknowledge. With adoption there can be feelings of loss. We tend to focus on the blessings of the adoption and the joy experienced by the adoptive family. But with all of those blessings, there is another family experiencing the opposite reality.

She felt she had no one to turn to for support. Many of her friends didn’t even know her daughter was pregnant, as she lives in another state. When she did approach her friends for understanding and support, they didn’t really acknowledge that she was experiencing a loss. She wasn’t able to see her grandson to hug him and kiss him after his birth. She won’t be able to read stories and rock him to sleep, celebrate birthdays, or first days of school, or give advice…she feels she has lost a lifetime of love and commitment to her grandson.

I mentioned that what she was experiencing was a disenfranchised grief. This type of grief is defined as grief that is not acknowledged or validated by society. Those around us may feel that you shouldn’t be grieving, so you feel like you can’t talk about what you are experiencing. You may start to feel isolated and that your feelings of loss are somehow wrong. She looked me square in the eye and said, “Yes, that’s exactly what I feel! No one wants to acknowledge that I have experienced a loss. They feel that because my grandson didn’t die and has been adopted by a wonderful family, I am not experiencing grief. I’m tired of hiding my grief. That is why I make these beautiful creations. I have an opportunity to create and mold something into a beautiful creation, to see the beauty that comes from something so raw, like my grief.”

As we see families reunite, hopes and dreams may become a reality. For those whose reunions don’t work out, what happens to the loss they will experience? As with so many first steps in helping someone work through their loss, being a good listener is a priority. Be open to listening to their stories. Don’t be afraid of the silence when the story ends. Most importantly, remember that grieving a loss isn’t always due to death, but can be a product of many different life events!

Once the mantle is installed, I know I’ll rub my hands over that beautiful piece of wood brought to new life by this incredibly talented woman. I also know I will say a prayer for her continued healing.

By Maria Farrell, Director, GriefWork: A National Servite Ministry of Compassion