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Loss is a four-letter word.
If anyone knows about loss, I would be first in place. The one with the big blue ribbon standing on a stage with that glaring spotlight devouring me. I understand that loss is a part of life we all have to visit—like unwanted chin hairs or your mother-in-law and her surprise visits. The loss comes with the itinerary, and for some, it’s a more frequent bus ride.
I guess my first bout of loss came when my birth mother gave me up at two months. I don’t remember, but neurologists and psychiatrists alike will tell you a mother-child separation can produce neurobiological vulnerability into adulthood, separation issues, intimacy obstacles, amongst other personality disorders. A baby only knows their mother’s smell, voice, and touch. To be taken away must be terrifying.
I wish I could hug my baby self and tell her that she will be okay and her world will be safe.
My birth mother was young-ish, naive, not married, and came from a devout roman catholic family from Sicily. Now, you’d think they would’ve had her marry my biological father, so they can appease God, extend their family, and have a new son to lay guilt on, but there was no such thing when the father was 12 years older, a Middle Eastern divorcee, and a pious Muslim.
He wanted to make it official, but she didn’t. He wanted her to live in Turkey, but she wouldn’t. He was much older, and their views and religious beliefs would get in the way.
She also worried about raising me in Turkey, becoming a citizen, and saying goodbye to my American roots. It was a, “Not Without My Daughter” Sally Field moment that came to life.
She made an excellent choice to put me up for adoption. And as a mother myself, I can’t even imagine how heartwrenching, painful, and selfless this must have been for her, which goes out to all the birthmothers making this difficult, life-changing decision.
Soon after, I was placed in foster care with a lovely family who gave me my name and wanted to adopt me legally, but they weren’t considered the best candidates because of their age. They were in their late 50s, and this was 1970.
So, the adoption procedures went on, all while I was learning to sit up, crawl, and stand up. Then, one day, I arrived at my forever home with my little suitcase filled with tiny dresses and shoes that had delicate silver bells adorning the laces. The social worker carried me on her hip as she knocked on the door—just like she did with all the other tiny children year after year.
My mom would later tell me I cried all day, and nothing would get me to stop. How scary, once again, to be in a strange, unfamiliar home, passed around like a Thanksgiving entree from one hysterical woman to the next.
Where were my foster parents? Are they coming to get me? Another loss.
“Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form.” ~ Rumi
Over the years, the loss came in different forms. My parents separated, my sister moved out to live with my father, my mom was diagnosed with Lymphoma, my friends drank and drove around winding roads feeling alive and invincible, then crashed into their early deaths. Nothing is more horrific than going to a child’s funeral and witnessing their mother’s grief. I mean nothing.
At age 19, my mom passed away from cancer. She was 46. Nothing prepares you for this life-changing tragedy.
Why do all the moms leave in my life?
Can’t one of them stay and watch me grow up?
Who was going to be with me trying on wedding dresses? That was a hard day for me.
Who would be with me in the hospital driving me crazy when her grandchild is born? That day was even harder.
“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.” ~ Vicki Harrison.
Mother’s Day pissed me off with all the sappy Hallmark commercials and florists rushing around the streets, the brunches, and dinners my friends had to attend. I was that “motherless child,” and my friends felt obligated to invite me to all their family events for years to come. I was the odd one out once again. I do remember my therapist telling me that this feeling would change once I become a mother. She was right.
Years later, I would lose two of my best friends to suicide, my beloved grandparents, and my 49-year-old sister to brain cancer. Compared to most of my friends and acquaintances, I have endured loss my whole life.
I remember telling God (note: I’m not a religious person) during the start of COVID-19 last year, “Listen, do you think this year you can give me a break? Can we shake on this?”
So, with all this loss, have I learned anything? I have.
I am known to be incredibly resilient—more than most, definitely more than my peers. I’ve had no choice.
Obviously, people who have undergone trauma are much more resilient. However, some may develop maladaptive coping skills, like my younger sister and her perpetual drug use. I guess mine would be my overspending so I could fill the void. I have also learned to live in the moment and not to care much about “things.” Ask my girlfriends, and they will tell you with absolute amazement that I have less than ten (10) pairs of shoes, and my closet looks as barren as Trump’s inauguration was.
Things are just things. I don’t need to hold onto them like I need to hold on to memories. That is what really counts when you experience so much loss—the beautiful, unforgettable memories. I remember my grandmother telling me this as we walked down the crystal aisle at Macy’s years ago. She said to me, “I have all this stuff. It’s just stuff, and you cant take it with you. It’s not important, not one bit.” She spoke as she waved her arm around the delicate vases, pushing her tiny self on her walker.
“You know what’s important, Lisa?” she said, looking at me, “The memories. Now, those you take with you.”
Well, Grandma Helen was right—she always was, according to her. I have more memories than shoes, and I’m taking those with me and keeping them in my heart, where they will live forever.