Adoption has typically been perceived as a one-time event, but we have come to realize that the opposite is true: adoption is life-long. Adoption often impacts life experiences. One of those experiences is death—of pets, of people.
In death we do a number of things. We look back, revisiting memories we had with that person or animal. We process the finality, grieving that that we will never again interact with them. We examine ourselves with a heightened sense of our mortality and vulnerability. And we are reminded to not take life for granted.
For the child who has been adopted, death is a trigger, a reminder that she has already suffered a kind of death: the loss of her birth mother and all that might have been. When someone or something dies, do not use terms like “went away” or “gone to sleep,” especially with the younger child who thinks literally. They may believe that if they or you “go away” they or you may never return.
The concept of “going away” can tie back into the core issue of rejection and to having been abandoned—by their birth mother, birth family and possibly others. Many children who have been adopted fear being rejected and/or abandoned again.
Encourage your child to talk. Explain that people respond to death and dying with emotional, physical, and spiritual reactions. The strength and depth of their reactions can vary, and this is okay. Tell your child that this is okay.
Talk about adoption and how your child is feeling about death. Help her name her emotions and validate her thoughts and feelings. Consider using the pebble method. Focus on quite time and activity together. Your child is hurting, as are you, and you need one another.
Parents: What ideas do you have to help your child process death, loss and rejection?