More Pieces of Life’s Puzzle

‭ “More Pieces of Life’s Puzzle Obtained”‬
by Mary Anne Mcmillan

‭ I received a message on social media from a cousin I had never met before. She‬ informed me that my birth grandmother was in the hospital, in critical condition. It was‬. unlikely that she would survive. My cousin expressed her wish for all the cousins to‬ attend the funeral as an opportunity for us to meet. This was the first time I would meet‬ any relatives from my birth father’s side of the family. I was placed in foster care at 5‬ months old and then adopted at 6 through an open adoption. While I had some‬ connection with my birth mom’s side of the family, I always had doubts about my‬ biological connection to the man they claimed was my birth father. A few years ago, I‬ took a 23andMe test and finally connected with this cousin, confirming that he was‬ indeed my biological father.‬
‭Receiving the invitation to the funeral left me feeling overwhelmed. I couldn’t help but‬ wonder, “How could I attend the funeral of someone I never knew? How would I feel‬ being in a room full of strangers who are supposedly my family? What would they think‬ of me? Would I even fit in? Where were they all these years when I was in foster care‬ and later adopted?” Since my birth father wouldn’t be there, I questioned what it would‬ be like for me to go without him. My mind was filled with a whirlwind of thoughts,‬ insecurities, and emotions. A few days later, I received the news that my birth‬ grandmother had passed away. I discussed my decision not to attend the funeral with‬ my therapist. It simply didn’t feel right, and I knew it would have been uncomfortable‬ for me. In the past, I hadn’t been able to attend the funerals of other members of my‬ birth family due to work commitments, living abroad, or other circumstances. Despite‬ this, I couldn’t shake the feeling of guilt for choosing not to go.‬
‭ Adoptee guilt often goes unnoticed, arising from desires such as attending the funeral of‬ a birth family member or spending time with that side of the family. Being adopted‬ presents significant challenges. I have struggled with the burden of keeping the peace‬ and concealing my emotions about missing my birth family or feeling guilty about my‬ siblings not being adopted. Every decision I make feels like a balancing act, an attempt‬ to satisfy various family members. It is an ongoing struggle that drains me and lingers‬ throughout life. In this particular situation, I made this choice based on my current‬ feelings.‬
‭ A week after deciding not to attend the funeral, I asked my sister, with whom I was‬ adopted, if she was planning on going. She shared that she wasn’t sure at the time. I‬ shared with her my decision not to attend and explained my reasons. The next day, I‬ woke up with a strong feeling that the Lord was urging me to go. After thinking about it,‬ I realized that it could be a unique opportunity to meet the other side of my family, as‬ they may never have gathered like this before. I immediately called Delta Airlines to‬ book a bereavement fare ticket, reached out to my cousin to let her know I was coming,‬ and contacted my sister to let her know that I would be in town for the funeral and‬ invited her to go with me if she wanted. Although I was nervous about attending the‬ funeral, I reasoned that since it was in Georgia where my adopted family lives, I could‬ spend more time with them if I changed my mind about attending the service.‬

Atlanta Airport holds a special place in my heart as one of my favorite airports to fly‬ into. I am convinced that every employee there is Black. Living in a predominantly white‬ area, returning home to Atlanta always feels comforting. While walking through the‬ airport, I couldn’t help but wonder if any of these individuals might be my long-lost‬ family members. As I observed the diverse crowd, I silently questioned each person,‬ “Are you my family member?” The experience felt unreal and reminded me of the‬ children’s book “Are You My Mother?” by P. D. Eastman. In the book, a young bird‬ searches for its mother by approaching various animals and asking, “Are you my‬‭ mother?” However, even though I was hoping, none of them ended up being my family‬ members.‬
‭The night before the funeral, I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned all night. The next‬ morning I picked up my sister, and we went to the viewing and funeral service together.‬
‭We arrived before the rest of our family and nervously waited patiently. My sister had‬ already met this side of the family, so she recognized them. When they arrived, I‬ introduced myself to each of them. They were all kind and welcoming and hugged my‬ sister and me as if they had always known us. The funeral was a beautiful tribute to my‬ birth grandma. Afterwards, we attended the repast‬.
During the repast, I saw photos of several family members and several pictures of my‬ birth father at different stages of his life. It was amazing to see him as a young boy and‬ teenager. Being in the same room as my biological family stirred up emotions I hadn’t‬ felt since the day before my 18th birthday, which was the last time I saw both of my birth‬ parents. Throughout the event, I listened to numerous stories about my family and their‬ upbringing. Some of these stories were difficult to hear, but they also brought a sense of‬ comfort. I firmly believe that the Lord had a plan for my life. Although my journey has‬‭ been challenging, I am grateful to have been adopted, while also appreciating the‬ opportunity to know and connect with my birth family. It truly feels like the best of both‬ worlds.‬
‭Processing grief and loss is interesting. One moment, you’re going about your life as‬ usual, and the next, you’re consumed by tears as you process the pain and sadness. On‬ that particular day, I somehow managed to hold back my emotions. However, when I‬ returned home to California, the following days were filled with tears. I tend to process‬ things slowly, so I knew that eventually, a wave of tears and emotions would come. I‭ couldn’t even get through a therapy session without crying. I started to question how I‬ could grieve people I never even knew. I wondered why the Lord chose to remove me‬ from that situation and place me with another family. Many questions remain‬ unanswered, but I am grateful for the new puzzle pieces I have acquired for my life.‬ Although there will always be missing pieces, I treasure the new ones I gain with each‬‭ passing year.‬
A few days after the funeral, I wrote a text message to one of my uncles to share my‬ appreciation for his kindness towards my sister and me, and for allowing us to attend‬ the funeral. His response deeply moved me. He said, “You are sweet for writing this, but‬ you are FAMILY! You are supposed to be here.” I saved that message and read it often.‬ These strangers whom I have wondered about for so long are now my family.‬

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