My son recently turned four-years-old and each year I feel like he’s getting more sophisticated with the kinds of questions he asks. Like the other day while we were driving in the car, we drove past a cemetery and he noticed the plots and asked why the stones were sticking out of the ground. I explained that when people die they are buried and the person’s name is written on the stone so their family knows where they are. Then he asked, “Why do people die?” I told him that we get old and our bodies aren’t meant to live forever. The car went silent and I was relieved because I’ve never had to explain what death is to anyone before, much less to a four-year-old on a Monday morning.
As he gets older, he is also asking more questions about about his adoption. Recently, he asked, “Why can’t omma (foster mother) come and visit me?” I could tell that he was confused and wanted to cry. I was crushed but I held back my tears and told him that I wished she could come visit right now. I asked him what he would tell her. I tried to remain hopeful, but I was frustrated that I didn’t have an answer. I felt angry that I couldn’t take away his sadness and in that moment the burden of his loss felt too heavy to carry.
I felt emotionally overwhelmed and doubtful that I said the right thing so I checked in with a brilliant group of Korean adoptee mothers who like myself are parenting a Korean adoptee. We discussed how the adoption talks are going and they reassured me that I wasn’t alone. One mother said that having these nuanced conversations with our children is like using a muscle. The more I use it, the stronger I become. I was reminded that I can’t take away my son’s grief, but I can hold space for him. I don’t always know how to answer his questions, but I can walk alongside of him on his adoption journey. And in the meantime, I’m learning how to let go of the rightness and wrongness and just be.