by Kevin Hoffman
Below is a letter I recently wrote to my birth mother and below that is what I learned from writing it.
I call you Helen because calling you mom just doesn’t feel right.
On October 24, 2009, I found after 21 years of searching and then I lost you. I found out from an adoption angel via a text message that you had died in 2003. Sitting on the cold metal bleachers at our local high school watching a football game I found out you died in May of 2003.
I searched my heart to find the right emotion to feel and couldn’t find it. To that point, you were a stranger to me and I wasn’t sure how I should mourn the death of a stranger. I really didn’t feel sad. I was more disappointed than anything.
Over the last year, I have had some time to sort things out, but the right emotion still doesn’t register. When I think of my wife or my boys, I immediately get powerful emotions that fill my heart. When I think of you, it just goes blank.
Part of the reason I think I was so hesitant for many years to look for you was because I feared being rejected by you…again. I think even in death I still feel that. I feel rejected because you never spoke about me to ANYONE. When I ask your daughter/my biological sister, or your best friend what you said about me, they both say the same thing. You never talked about me.
It is my understanding your death was not a sudden death. I can’t help but wonder why in those last months, weeks, and days, you didn’t speak of me. How come you didn’t leave a message for me or tuck away in a private place something that you wanted me and only me to have. How come you didn’t take 30 seconds to tell someone that I mattered?
There are days when I think the separation from me was just too painful to talk about and I try to spin it in a positive light. Then there are days when I think, that you just didn’t care. As a father, I can’t understand that. I can’t conceptualize how that is possible; how you can have a child roaming the earth somewhere and not care or think about them. I have no evidence that you did and more evidence that you didn’t.
In this past year, I have struggled with telling myself over and over that I matter; that I am important; that I am worthy. I artificially construct and build up my self esteem that could have been raised to an all-time high if you would’ve taken 30 seconds to whisper to someone your regret. Instead, I am left to do as have always done from as far back as I can remember; fantasize.
My imagination fills in the holes created by you that you were meant to fill. My creative mind tells me you suffered in silence and thought about me on my birthday, and on Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, The 4th of July, and again on my birthday in August. Reality tells me I have nothing to support this fantasy.
Like a child on Christmas looking for that one special gift that isn’t there, I still wait and hope in some chest, some book, in your personal belongings somewhere, someone will find a letter written to me that kills reality and awakens fantasy.
These are the feelings, that surround me today and guilt drips from my fingers as I type these words. As an adoptee, I have learned really well to protect others around me often at the expense of my own feelings and thoughts. So I wrestle with guilt and push it into the nearest closet so I can express what I need to protect me. I needed only 30 seconds and I have a right to those 30 seconds.
When I posted this to my blog, many parents commented about what they thought my mother was thinking or how proud of me she would be, or how they felt my pain in the letter.
I sat back, as a parent and understood why so many felt the need to comfort me and encourage me. As parents, we want to erase any hurt and pain our children are experiencing and through the many comments I received I saw that and understood it.
I also learned as a parent sometimes our children just want to be heard and understood. In this letter that is what I wanted. I appreciated the desire from so many to make me feel better but I really just wanted someone to acknowledge that the joys of adoption can also bring pain; pain that has to be worked through not fixed today. I learned that sometimes, as a parent we just have to hold our children and agree that the circumstances of life just plain suck and we can’t do anything about it but try and understand.
Kevin Hoffman is the author of GROWING UP BLACK IN WHITE, the poignant memoir of a mixed-race child adopted by a white family in Detroit during the country's turbulent times of racial unrest, and the joy of embracing his identity. Learn more at http://www.kevinhofmann.com