I’m in the midst of losing my grandmother. Losing her to a wicked disease that has transformed her body into a prison from which she cannot escape. Not being able to turn a key became not being able to hold a fork, which became not being able to walk. Now, she cannot speak. But I look into her eyes, a color of brown that Maeve’s crayon palette would deem Burnt Sienna, and I see a world of things she wants to say but cannot. I see a life of experiences she can no longer share with those around her. Recipes and rituals once rote to her are now outside her reach, and outside of ours for posterity. Her body has turned on her.
I watch all this play out before me like a car accident, tires screeching with urgency, yet seemingly in slow motion.
I am not unique, I imagine, in having the childhood memory of riding in the front seat of the family car when a parental arm suddenly flings out, steady and firm against the child’s chest, as the car brakes to avoid an accident.
Today, dear mirror on the wall, I see that I am my parents after all. My arm now instinctively reaches to Maeve, as if I can somehow protect her from the tragic scene unfolding before us. Yet I know that as the matriarch of the family slips away, I must loosen that grip and expose my daughter to certain pain.
As little as two weeks ago, Maeve could run into her grandparents’ home to greet her great-grandmother like countless times before. She’d sit near my grandmother’s chair and they would chat, Maeve bringing to life my grandmother’s pale blue plastic statues of the Virgin Mary in skits of domesticity or glamorous theater like only a young girl can.
Those rituals are no longer; my grandmother has slipped further away from us. My grandmother was there the day we arrived home from our three-day stint in a hotel as new parents. She has since attended her dance recitals, kid-centric birthday parties, and even watched from the front row as a cap-and-gown clad Maeve graduated preschool.
Her presence over the years has taught Maeve to be gentle with her touch, to recognize when someone might need extra help. Like “helping” Gram-Gram to the electric lift chair along the stairs that Maeve not-so-secretly wishes was her own plaything, installed not to give mobility to an ailing parent but rather as a grand gesture purely for a granddaughter and her visits! Or the birthday candles Maeve proudly “helps” Gram-Gram blow out on her birthday cake — this despite my grandmother’s germ-concerned pet peeve about the whole candle-blowing ritual to begin with.
While their lives have overlapped just a handful of years, the two generations are now forever linked by these memories, these threads that when woven together create a tapestry of family history and heritage.
The grief in eventually losing Gram-Gram will eventually be outweighed by the gift of them knowing one another. Each flavored one another’s existence in some unchangeable way that is unique to them — all the while without a shred of shared DNA.
So exactly why is it that so many seek to keep others — with actual genetic proprietary rights! — from living so authentically?
Sealed birth records take what is splintered and force a fracture. As manila files replete with long-sought answers sit in dark, dusty storage units, life outside moves on, time takes its toll and key characters in each story can be lost forever.
Blacking out identifying information weakens the thread of family heritage, to be sure; but such black-lining cannot erase a story that’s already begun. There is no ink dark enough.
Now, I have no pie-in-the-sky notion that every birth mother, birth father and child will link arms, sing Kumbaya and skip into a forever full only of familial bliss. (Do you know any family like this?) Still, we each deserve the opportunity to write our own stories with its full cast of characters. No one should have their story written for them, missing chapters be damned.
Yes, Maeve will hurt when she loses her great-grandmother. Yes, my parental arms will instinctively reach for my daughter, trying to lessen the sting for us both. Yes, I will seek solace in knowing it stings because we were lucky enough to know her, to love her, and to share life with her.
Not everyone gets that chance.
The Adoptee’s Birthright Bill permits access to original birth certificates. A-1406 awaits a posting before, and vote by, the full New Jersey Assembly. Encourage your legislator to support access to original birth certificates. Call 800-792-8630 for your legislators’ names and contact information, or log on to http://www.njleg.state.nj.us for contact information and a full text of the bill.
This is my latest column from Adoption From The Heart’s Adoption News.