Thursday, October 17, 2013
Deeper Wounds & Grieving
Ever so slowly, we are starting to see how deep Cava's wounds are.
We were driving back from Red Wolf Farm and everyone was in a great mood, Danelle and Benjamin were singing "Sweet Caroline" at the top of their voices with Neil Diamond playing on the radio. Then we heard Cava sobbing. Not crying. Sobbing. He had his body turned towards the door and his face covered. I turned off the radio and asked him what's the matter.
"I miss Trevor," he sobbed, his small body shaking. Trevor is his best friend at school and he'd been out for a couple of days. When Cava had told me this when I picked him up from school, I could tell he was upset. I told Cava, "Maybe Trevor's sick, but I'm sure he'll be back on Monday."
"Can we pray for him?" Cava asked.
"Sure we can pray for him. That's a great idea." And we did.
I thought Cava was okay, but now, as we were driving home from picking out pumpkins, it was obvious that Cava wasn't. The fact that Cava was expressing his emotions (i.e. sobbing) was a huge step for him, as well as his telling us what was wrong instead of telling us, "Nothing." Danelle and Benjamin worked to comfort Cava, while I drove the car.
On Monday, Trevor was back at school. His mom had given birth to a baby boy and Trevor had been out of school so that he could go and see his new brother and that hospital.
It is a huge step that Cava has made a friend at school. They play tag and other games on the playground together, as well as bond of their love of superheroes (Spiderman for Cava and Superman for Trevor). But whenever a classmate or a child from Sunday school is out, it really affects Cava. We have attributed this to the loss he's experienced in orphanages. How many children has Cava seen go and never come back? A child who already feels abandoned by his parents is now going through that same sense of loss with kids he is growing up with.
Donna O'Toole, who is a grief counselor and is the author of the book Helping Children Grieve and Grow, wrote, "Especially for children a loss may be based on safety, comfort, and familiarity, rather than on what adults speak of as love or affection." This could certainly be the case for Cava, who needs not only regiment and routine, but finds safety in those things and familiarity. If a child is not in class, Cava feels anxiety over this and even asks the teacher about where that child is. Even when that child has only left the classroom to go to the bathroom. At the root of all his fear and unease is the sense of abandonment that he has felt all his young life.
Cava has faced great losses in his life: his parents, caregivers, other children who were adopted, and, when he was adopted, he lost the clothes he wore (all of which stayed at the boarding school), the familiar sites of the boarding school, the tastes of the food, the sound of his own language, and that daily routine he had lived in for so long. He had to come to a new country with new rules, a new language, and a new culture.
Theresa Anderson, who specializes in issues of adoption, attachment, and grief, said, "Children often cover trauma and grief with being perfect, with controlling others, or with being mad." Cava used to swing from the little performer to the little dictator, all in a way to compartmentalize the grief he was feeling. This was how he felt a sense of control. Cava was unable to deal with the great losses his eight year old life had already experienced.
Ms. Anderson writes, ""Grief is THE core issue that adopted children deal with...grief and terror.
Think about international adoption... You can't take a child from home, put them into an airplane, cross the world, surround them with 1000's of people at the airport, have them met by strange people, smells, textures, foods, and voices, and not expect them to be traumatized."
For a long time, Cava would not admit he felt a sense of loss. He used to do all he could to distance himself from his past in order that the intense emotions he was feeling would not come out. Or they would just come out in anger and aggression.
It's only recently that he has begun to share even tiny glimpses of his life back in Ukraine (telling me how the little girl Zana used to tickle him or how she, Sergei and he would play tag on the playground, or about how Sergei made him laugh by being silly, or the one puzzle the boarding school had that was of Thomas the Tank Engine). Many times, however, if one of us asks him about Ukraine, Cava still shrugs and says, "I don't remember." I never push him but sometimes I will just sit in his room, while he's working on a puzzle, and ask him questions. Sometimes he'll answer me and sometimes he ignores my questions. He is more open to talking about the present than the past. Like when I ask him what he likes about Trevor, Cava smiles, "We like the same things."
"And what things are those?"
"Spiderman, superheroes, tag, hide n go seek . . . And he's funny."
"Like Sergei?" I ask.
"Yeah," Cava chuckles.
The key for us is being there for Cava: whether it's talking with him about not only his losses, but those we've experienced in life (my wife lost both her parents and I've lost my mom), that it's okay for him to miss Ukraine and the people there (like Zana and Sergei), letting him see us cry and to know that it's normal to do so when one's sad or experienced a loss, and allowing him to open up when he's ready and not pushing him when he's not.
The fact is, we are at just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the trauma, grief, and loss Cava has experienced. There are wounds there that will never, ever go away. We just have to love him and accept him, wounds and all, and to help him love and accept himself.