My Complicated Grief

My Complicated Grief

Being an adopted kid is weird. I didn’t realise until high school, when a classmate asked about my family. Having two sets of parents didn’t seem strange to me. It wasn’t like a Lifetime movie with sudden revelations in the second act. I’ve always been fully aware who my biological parents are, and love them although they didn’t raise me. Was it always easy? No, even though my biological and adoptive mothers were sisters. In some ways, that made it more complicated. However, they’re precious to me, and I’m blessed to have had them all in my life. That’s also what makes losing them all the worse. The woman who brought me into this world was first to leave it on January 22, 2014. It broke me as a person.

I’ve been in the US caring for my adoptive mother who’s recovering from a brain injury. Anybody who’s been a primary caregiver can tell you, it’s not the kind of commitment that allows for trips abroad, so I missed the funeral.  Nobody held it against me, but I did. My mother and I never saw eye to eye. We were too similar and at the same time too different. I was always an outspoken child and pretty smart for my age, not unlike her. We both loved crafts and fixing things around the house, instead of dress shopping. Yet we never built on those similarities, or anything for that matter. It never stopped me from loving her.

Ultimately we weren’t on good terms when she got sick. My father and brother kept me updated on her progress whenever I called, but we never spoke. For weeks, I begged God for her to get well, but instead He took her home to be with Him. “Honour thy father and mother” isn’t a throwaway commandment to me. My “grand plan” was to go home someday and work as hard as I could to make things right between us. In actuality I will never see her again in this life, and it wounds me deeply.  Almost losing my adoptive Mom in 2008, and then actually losing my mother six years later, was a horrendous message from the universe: four parents, four funerals. Heartbreak arithmetic represented in a simple sum: 4 – 1 = 3.

Sadness from grief isn’t like getting dumped or fired. You can find another relationship or job, but this wonderful, flawed, wise and silly human you love (probably more than yourself) is gone forever.  Your brain has to go from, “I wonder how they’re doing today?” to “they’re gone.” I couldn’t adjust and threw myself into the motorsports world, Mom’s care, gaming, anything within legal reason to distract my brain from “she’s gone.” Poor eating and sleeping habits, almost zero exercise or motivation to change any of those things took a toll.  I’m not as healthy as I was or should be. Being the least healthy at almost forty is dangerously stupid. I know better and own that now.

One thing heartbreak arithmetic drove me to do was strengthen relationships with my fathers: Daddy and Papa. Frequent, long telephone conversations about all sorts of things: news, sports, politics, childhood, adulthood, money, love and of course, my mothers. I started exercising again and although the heart sickness was still there, I got used to it. This must be what “getting over” feels like. Then suddenly and without warning my adoptive father, the embodiment of my first spoken word – Papa, left this world on May 30, 2016.  He was happy, healthy, talking, laughing and then gone. Just like that the sum reads 4 – 2 = 2 and mostly broken me is now completely shattered.

A couple months after his funeral (which I didn’t attend), my sister pointed out that since 2014, I didn’t laugh as much and any outward exuberance was muted. Hours would go by and I wouldn’t talk. This site, which I love dearly, had gone neglected. Sure, I started crafting and got satisfaction from making things for friends but would also cry at random moments, or be consumed with rage. She felt that deep down something was wrong and I wanted to prove her wrong. As it turns out, she’s right, and my grief is complicated.

“During the first few months after a loss, many signs and symptoms of normal grief are the same as those of complicated grief. However, while normal grief symptoms gradually start to fade over time, those of complicated grief linger or get worse. Complicated grief is like being in an ongoing, heightened state of mourning that keeps you from healing.” – Mayo Clinic

Although certain criteria laid out in the Mayo Clinic’s treatise on Complicated Grief didn’t apply to me, the majority did and I’ve taken their suggestions to heart. I’m trying, really trying. My family’s been helping a lot but it’s tough. Recent medical issues with Mom including a hospital visit among other personal things have been quite taxing, but I do want to get better. In Beka Lamb, Zee Edgell’s titular character likened grief to a watermelon growing in her chest. A tiny seed planted deep inside that grows into something large and heavy. It crushes your insides to make room for itself. The weight throws off your balance and all you can do is get used to it because that watermelon isn’t going anywhere. This is the best description for how I feel on a daily basis.

I look back at my social media activity before my birthday (May 31st) and the posts might as well have been written by a stranger. The words and sentiment were familiar but they don’t inspire the same emotions. The jokes are still funny but they don’t make me laugh like before. On the other hand, I still sob while reading kind words friends posted on Facebook after Papa passed. The gamer communities I’m in have been amazing. They’ve made me laugh against my will at times, offered shoulders to cry on and some knew exactly what I was going through because they were dealing with profound loss, too.

Some days the numbness creeps in, and occasionally I’ll wonder what it would be like to break everything in sight, but then I’ll talk to somebody or maybe ask for a hug. The heartbreak arithmetic deeply terrifies me. I know those numbers are going to change again and again.  The result will eventually be zero because that’s how life works.  This is my new reality and I promise to do my very best to thrive in it.


“God grant me the serenity 
to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time; 
enjoying one moment at a time; 
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; 
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it; 
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will; 
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.