Today, we took a drive. And our drive took us past that exit—the one that holds the hospital where I met Zoe for the first time, where my heart grew more full than I ever knew it was capable of.
It’s also where my heart broke.
It’s funny how an interstate exit can hold so much of my life’s experiences.
Someone asked me the other day if I was still grieving our failed adoption, or if getting Riley had ended my grief process. I appreciated the question a lot, mostly because it’s something I’ve tried to avoid thinking about and sometimes the things we avoid are the things we most need to face.
Like everything grief-related, it turns out that there’s not a simple answer. But here’s a start to an answer and some of what I’ve been mulling over: in my mind, these events aren’t comparable.
Loving Brianna resulted in great pain.
Loving Riley resulted in great joy.
They are different girls, different situations, but Brianna wasn’t an overture for Riley—she holds her own story, and so does Riley.
Riley isn’t a solution or answer to my grief. She is a completely separate blessing. I appreciate the gift of having her as my daughter all the more because of what I experienced on the way to her, but that’s MY story—not hers. Her story doesn’t begin with my pain, but with her birthparents’ selfless decision to have her and love her in the best way they could think of.
Riley was born at a different exit of a completely different interstate. Literally, and figuratively, this is the truth.
And that exit is where I’ll start her story when I tell her about it. We didn’t adopt her to heal our hearts or to replace “the daughter that got away.” We adopted her because we wanted and loved her.
But for those of you who have been following MY story, I will say this: for months after our failed adoption, I felt like I moved through life with a painful and gaping emptiness. I tried my hardest to embrace and be filled by the blessing of Zoe, and was never NOT filled with joy by God’s goodness in giving me her and David to love. But I felt, very keenly, every day, the absence of the family member we had wanted and planned for. I felt this way before Zoe, too—I tried my hardest to embrace the life stage I was in, but I just knew that I had more love to give and so badly wanted another person to spread it to. The emptiness was something I felt every day, through breakfast and lunch and evening walks and bedtime, a constant message beating in my heart even when I told it to shut up and go away: there should be another person here to love.
I don’t feel that way anymore. My heart is fuller and happier these days; it’s a companion I don’t mind having along. And that’s a wonderful, wonderful gift that I humbly and gratefully gasp out thanks to God for.
But am I “healed?” Am I “over it?” The unbidden thoughts and feelings that came as we drove by the exit today tell me, no. I’m not. And I don’t know how that works in this type of situation, honestly. Maybe full healing comes with time. Maybe it comes with reconciliation. Maybe it comes with answers. And those last two aren’t dependent on me, so maybe it doesn’t come.
But in case you’re where I was, in the emptiness…I thought I’d send you this message from the other side…ish of emptiness:
When you get here? The pain of the loss you’ve experienced doesn’t negate the joy of God’s grace. The existence of grief doesn’t diminish the gift. Just because there is darkness, doesn’t mean it wins forever (“the light shines in the darkness, and the the darkness can never extinguish it!”) It is scary now to think about opening your heart again, but when you do and it’s right, you will be able to cherish and love as if there was no in between.
Crowder sings, “Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can’t heal.” I cling to that, not my situation, not the child in front of me. And here, the writer in me would like a nice ending statement here, but the real-life-liver in me is finding out that, like all things grief, there isn’t one. It’s a journey and an annoying one at that.
But you’re not alone on the journey. And there is joy that you can’t picture still to come.