Friday, July 11, 2008

Heart-Breaking

My birth-mother was nearly 20 years old when I was born. Having surrendered me for adoption, she eventually got on with her life. She was professionally successful, but I was (and am) the only child of her womb. She didn’t marry until her late 40s. In fact, I have been married longer than she has, and I like to tease her husband that, without knowing it, when they were married, she was already a grandmother.

On an ‘existential’ level, though, she dearly wanted to be a mother, and they set about trying to adopt a child of their own. Sarah came into their lives when my birth-mother was 50 years old, and was immediately a tremendous joy for them.

When I first met Sarah, on my first visit to my birth-mother’s house after our reunion, she was three years old. By an odd coincidence, in the weeks/months before reunion, Sarah started telling her parents that she wanted a brother. Which left them in a bit of a quandary as to how to tell a three-year-old that, much as they’d like to give her a brother, it wasn’t going to happen. Then, suddenly, I burst onto the scene, and - voila! - Sarah had a brother. Just not a baby brother; in fact, she had a brother who had children of his own, who were older than she was. I vividly recall, from that first visit, while the three of us were in the car one day, Sarah singing a little song to herself – “I don’t like it / when Mommy likes Desmond / so much.”

As the years passed, Sarah became as much a part of our family as my birth-mother. Which isn’t terribly surprising; she came along virtually every time my mother came to visit us. She and 2F became especially close, being closest in age of any of our kids, but the two of them also shared a strong-willed temperament, and seemed to understand each other on some intrinsic level. Because of the large difference in our ages, and her closeness in age to our kids, Sarah never really ‘functioned’ in my life as a sister; more like a niece.

As our kids got older, and we became immersed in our troubles with 3M, and then 1F, my conversations with my birth-mother took on a darker tone, as Sarah started having troubles of her own. She went through a succession of schools, as her parents spared no effort (or expense) trying to find one that could get through to her, mostly without success. Her friends were of a nastier sort than her parents were comfortable with. And there were hints that she was doing more than dabbling in recreational pharmaceuticals.

Sarah was a talented musician (she played the violin) and actress, and through her teens, she landed several good roles, for which she had to compete with other talented kids drawn from a large metropolitan area. And she just loved to perform.

She did finally graduate from high school, and before long she had moved out of her parents’ house. Her behavior became increasingly wild and erratic (although she talked to her mother on the phone every day, without fail). Her boyfriend eventually broke up with her, because he simply wasn’t willing to go with her any further into the Wild Side that she seemed determined to explore.

Finally, a little over a year ago, a month shy of her 21st birthday, Sarah didn’t call home. She died of a fatal drug overdose.

My heart just breaks. It always seems like a tragic waste when anyone dies so young. I was looking forward to a mature, adult Sarah, who might someday come to seem more like a sister to me.

But even more, my heart breaks for her parents – my birth-mother and her husband. Parents should never have to bury their children, much less their not-yet-21-year-old children. I can’t help thinking, too, of the sacrifice they made in adopting Sarah in the first place. Her parents were both over 50 when they adopted Sarah; they signed on for raising a child during years when most of their peers were coping with their empty nests. When most of their peers were traveling, or volunteering, or otherwise enjoying their freedom-at-last from the rigors of parenthood, they were just getting started, signing on for a term to last into their 70s. All parents, I’m sure, see their children, at least in part, as their legacy – a part of them to live on after they’re gone. But there will be no legacy here. Without meaning to say it crassly, they’ve got nothing (except their own memories) left to show for 20+ years they invested in raising their daughter; an investment no one forced them to make – they did it freely, even generously. It just breaks my heart; I can’t think of another way to say it.

9 comments:

lime said...

oh! heartbreaking really is the only word for this. just so deeply heartbreaking.


(been following along since you re-entered the blogosphere and very much appreciating everything you have shared)

C-Marie said...

That's incredibly sad. I don't know what else to say here or how to say it...

I feel for you Mr. Desmond.
xo

for a different kind of girl said...

This is truly as succinct as you describe it - tragic. I think no matter what the age of our children, we look at them with the potential contained within them and the fight we want them to have. I'm too young in my parenting yet to know what things could transpire to, but I hope as my kids age, and I age as a parent with them, that they, too, see the same potential for good that I see in them.

XI Summit said...

It is an incredible undertaking to have a child, and adoption takes a special kind of parent. It is one thing to love automatically from the experience of birthing, it is another thing entirely to CHOOSE a child to love. While there is no inherent genetic bond, that sort of chosen bond is every bit as strong.

I have personally never experienced this kind of loss nor has anyone near to me but I do recall the state of my inlaws at the time of Queenie's accident and I hope to never feel whatever they were feeling at the time.

Tragic. Heart breaking. Just wrong, ya know?

Therese in Heaven said...

It is always a tragedy when the young die. I am so very sorry.

FTN said...

That is horribly sad. What you said rings true -- Raising a child is a huge investment in time, love, and resources, and for that child to die as a young adult is heartbreaking... There is really nothing to show for the 18 years you spent getting the child to the adult stage.

I'm sorry to hear all of that.

Desmond Jones said...

Lime - Hi! Good to see you here! Glad you like it. . .

Because our children are of similar ages, my relationship with my birth-mother has a certain sort-of 'peer' aspect to it. And seeing her relationship with Sarah has given me a whole different insight into the whole adoption phenomenon. . .

CM - Thanks. As Sarah's 'troubles' kept getting deeper, we would more and more say to ourselves, "where there's life, there's hope" - if she could just stay alive, there was always the possibility that she could get her shit together and have a grown-up life. And that's a large part of the sadness of it. But - where there's life, there's hope.

DKG - "as my kids age, and I age as a parent with them"

That's really a pretty sharp insight. We're 'grown-ups', but we parents are 'works in progress' in our own right. I'm a lot smarter now (maybe even wiser, but I'm less sure about that) than I was the first time I had to raise a teenager. . .

XI - You get what I'm saying. Most of us didn't exactly 'set out' to have kids; we, uh, did what came naturally, and voila! kids. And the whole 'shared DNA' thing (or probably moreso for women, the 'carried you nine months in my womb' thing) sort of enhances the bond in some helpful ways. But there's a whole 'voluntary' aspect to adopting a child that just seems to add layers to the tragedy.

And I hadn't made quite the connection to Queenie and her parents; that had to be awful for them. . .

Therese - Indeed. 20 is way too young to be writing the final chapter. . .

FTN - We've wondered a time or two if that might not be us, sometime. Without meaning to be appallingly flippant, having eight kids provides us with a kind of 'consolation' that my birth-mother doesn't have. Which is yet another aspect to the tragedy. . .

Bunny said...

I can't imagine their devastation. Or don't want to, truth be told. I'm so sorry for your and their loss.

Desmond Jones said...

Thanks, Bunny; it's been over a year, and I can still hear the sadness in their voices. . .