They say everything can be replaced/Yet every distance is not near
When I got back from a recent trip, I didn't check the mail for a few days. When I did, I found the card that I'd sent to my daughter - the one who I relinquished for adoption and who I'm estranged from - in the mailbox. There was a yellow sticker on the bottom right hand corner of the card that read, "Return to Sender. Not Deliverable as Addressed. Unable to Forward." I was so upset that I barely touched the card and threw it, unopened, on the table with the other mail. I was upset because a previous letter that I'd sent came back with a slightly different message: "No mail receptacle." That was a message I'd never seen, so I phoned my daughter's local post office, located in a small town near her rural home. They told me that my daughter was having her mail held or forwarded for a year - I don't remember which - and, then, assured me that if I sent the card back in a new envelope, addressed as the first one was, they - i.e. the post mistress - would make sure it was forwarded. I believed her and did what she said, only to discover upon my return home, that it had NOT been forwarded.
I was sad when I made the discovery, but even sadder a few days later when I realized that for the first time since my daughter and I were reunited thirteen years ago, I couldn't send her a birthday card. It didn't matter that I haven't spoken to my daughter in three years. (As of yesterday, July 25.) Somehow it didn't seem so final if I could send her a birthday card, as I've faithfully done on the previous two birthdays since we've been estranged. See more about the story of our estrangement by clicking on the link: Estrangement - telling our stories. Yesterday - July 25th - was the 42nd anniversary of the first time I lost my daughter and the third anniversary of our estrangement. I guess that means that I've only been in touch with my daughter for about ten years of her life. Not for lack of trying or lack of hoping. No, that's the way adoption was done back in the 60s and 70s and, today, both my daughter and I are still living with the aftershocks of the day we parted. We both left the hospital alive on that long ago day, but something died: the normal relationship between mother and daughter was lost forever. Does that make me sad? Yes, yes, yes! More than I can find a way to convey. However, the deepness of the sorrow and frustration I felt yesterday, frightened me. It's appropriate to grieve, but I know that I have to let go of the hope that someday my daughter and I can be a mother and daughter again.
Letting go of that hope feels so painful that it's hard to think of a metaphor. The best one I can come up with is imagining that the roots of a tree called sorrow are growing around my heart. Pulling this sorrow tree out feels like it would kill me, but I have to try. "Don't let your grief hold you hostage," my therapist said today, when we talked. Amongst other things we talked about what letting go might look like and we also discussed suggestions for a personal ritual of closure. Letting something go into the ocean - which I live near - was one of the things we discussed. I immediately thought of a small creek in a nearby botanical garden. The woods are deep there, a small wooden bridge crosses the creek, and it's a quiet spot, perfect for such a ritual. Right now, it's too dry for there to be any water in the creek, but come fall and the rains, I can plan a ritual that involves a close friend or, if he'll participate, my son. After all, my first daughter is his half-sister. I can picture the flowers and how they will twist and turn in the current before heading along their journey to the sea. I like the ideal; it's a place to start.
Meanwhile, I still have the card sitting here on the table in front of me. It was a beautiful card, carefully chosen, telling my daughter that I would be in Michigan for a few weeks where I thought she was - indeed, may be - living and suggesting we get together for coffee. Of course, she never saw the card. I'll probably put it in the box with the mementoes I've collected over our decade of reunion. Only time will tell whether someday in the indefinite future we'll be back in touch again. For now, though, I have to get on with my life, and set at least part of this heavy burden down. It's time.
In the years that my daughter and I led separate lives and neither knew where the other was, I often kept the words of one of my favorite Motown songs in my mind. "There ain't no mountain high enough/Ain't no valley low enough, ain't no river wide enough/To keep me from getting to you." I never imagined that my daughter would be the mountain or the river - that she would be the one who wouldn't let me get to her. More on why adoption reunions fail and how to cope in a future post.