A Vigil for Christian Hall, 1 Year On

On 30 December 2021, 7-9pm CST we gathered in social media application, Clubhouse to participate in an online vigil, created and led by Vietnamese adoptee Adam Chau. The event was organised in conjunction with Christian Hall’s family who created the physical in-person vigils at various cities around the USA. The purpose of the vigils was to honour Christian’s life, raise awareness about and bring the impacted communities together in solidarity to seek Justice for Christian Hall. You can read their latest articles here and here.

A number of adoptee guests were invited to share our thoughts for the online vigil: Kev Minh Allen (Vietnamese American adoptee), Lynelle Long (Vietnamese Australian adoptee), Kayla Zheng (Chinese American adoptee), Lee Herrick (Korean American adoptee).

I share with you what I spoke about in honour of Christian Hall.

My name is Lynelle Long, I’m the founder of Intercountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV). I’d like to thank you Adam Chau for organising this online event today in honour of Christian. Thankyou Nicole, Christian’s cousin who is on our call, for allowing us to join in with this vigil. I’m so sorry for your family’s loss! It’s a privilege to be able to speak. I am a person with lived experience of intercountry adoption and like Christian Hall, I am of Chinese descent … except I was born in Vietnam and adopted to Australia, whereas he was born in China and adopted to the USA.

The common thread that unites me with Christian Hall is that we both experienced abandonment as an infant. No matter what age we are, for an adoptee, loss of our first family as abandonment/relinquishment is a raw and painfully traumatic experience. It stays with us throughout life in the form of bodily sensations and gets easily triggered. When this happens, these sensations flood our body as fear, panic, anxiety.

Worse still is that when our abandonment occurs as an infant, we have not developed a language as a way to understand our experience. We are simply left with pre-verbal feelings (bodily sensations). It took me over 20 years until I read the first book, The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier which changed my life in terms of coming to understand how abandonment and adoption had impacted me. That book was the first to help give words to the experience I felt up until then, as an entirely somatic experience, as uncomfortable sensations in my body, that I hadn’t understood, which I’d spent my life running away from every time they re-emerged.

The other common thread that unites me with Christian Hall is that we both experienced suicidal ideation and attempts. For him, it tragically meant the end of his life by police officers who did not understand his traumas. For me, after numerous failed attempts and ending up in ER, it meant a long process of awakening to the trauma I had lived. 20+ years later, I have spent most of this time helping to awaken our society to what adoption is really about for us, the adopted person.

Being adopted never leaves us. We might try to escape and pretend that it has no impact but deep down to our core, our abandonment wires almost every aspect of our being – most importantly, how we connect or not to others around us and to ourselves. At its core, intercountry adoptees experience loss of identity, race and culture. Unless we have supports around us that understand and help us to overcome the trauma of abandonment early on, we stumble in the dark, completely unaware of how our abandonment impacts us. Many adoptees call it “being in the fog” until we become awakened. Today, decades after Nancy Verrier first wrote her amazing book, we now have many, many books written by adoptees who are THE experts of our own lived experience. These books are a written testament to the complexities we live through adoption and how this impact us.

In the past 2 months, I have worked with others to speak out about the impacts of abandonment and adoption trauma and the direct connection to risk of suicide. I acknowledge that Christian’s family do not relate his tragic death to suicide, but I suspect his feelings of abandonment were triggered as key events led to him being on the bridge that day. I hope that more adoptive families will educate themselves about the complexities we live as people who get disconnected from our origins via intercountry adoption. There are almost 2 million of us worldwide and we are speaking out en-masse to help the world understand it is not a rainbows and unicorns experience. We require lifelong supports from professionals who are trauma and adoption trained. In America alone, there are hundreds of thousands of intercountry adoptees – America remains the biggest receiving country in the world. Too many are struggling emotionally every day, yet in the USA, there is still no free national counselling service for intercountry adoptees and their families. There is also NO national post adoption support centre in the USA funded to help intercountry adoptees grow into adulthood and beyond. Isn’t it a huge shortcoming that the largest importer of children in the world has no lifelong supports fully funded, equitable, freely accessible – how can America expect positive outcomes for children who are amongst the most vulnerable if we don’t fund what we know they need?

I never knew Christian personally. I only discovered him through his death. I wish I had known him. From the many intercountry adoptees I connect to, I know we gain so much emotionally from being connected to others just like us. Being connected to our peers helps reduce those feelings of isolation, helps us understand we aren’t the only ones to experience life this way, helps connect us to sources of support and validation that we know has worked. I wish Christian had met our community. I’ll never know if it would have made the difference so that he wasn’t there that day on that bridge. As an adoptee, I suspect Christian most likely wanted help that day, help to ease his hurting soul, not death. 

Also, let’s take a moment to remember his biological family in China. Whether they ever truly had a choice in his relinquishment, we’ll probably never know but from my knowledge in this field, it’s most likely not. Christian’s adoption was likely the result of the 1-Child Policy era in China where thousands of families were forced to relinquish their children, many of them ending up intercountry adopted like Christian. Please take a moment to consider that through adoption, his biological family don’t even have the right to know that he has passed away. 

The travesty in adoption is that trauma is experienced by all in the triad (the adoptee, the adoptive family, the biological family) yet the traumas continue to go largely unrecognised and unsupported in both our adoptive and birth countries. We must do better to prevent the unnecessary separation of families, and where adoption is needed, ensure that families undertake adoption education, learning about its complexities in full and having free equitable access for life to the professional supports needed.

My huge thanks to his extended and immediate family for being brave and opening themselves up thru all this trauma and allow these vigils where his life and death can be honoured for the greater good. I honour the pain and loss they’ve lived and thank them immensely for allowing our intercountry adoptee community to join in with them in support.

Thank you.

If you would like to support Christian’s family and their push for justice, please sign the petition here.

If you would like to better understand the complexities involved in intercountry adoption as experienced by adoptees, our Video Resource is a great place to start. Wouldn’t it be amazing to create a resource like this to help educate first responders to better understand the mental health crises that adoptees experience.

Demystifying the stigmatization of adoptee suicide

By Lina Vanegas, MSW and adopted from Colombia to the USA.

It is shameful that suicide is so highly stigmatized by society. Religion and the law have contributed to the stigmazitization of  suicide. The law has perpetuated their stances by creating laws that make suicide illegal. There are 26 countries where suicide is currently illegal including Kenya, Bahamas and Jordan. It is completely wrong to criminalize, shame and stigmatize people who are struggling and suffering. Religion and the law are not the only institutions or systems to do this but I use them as an example to demonstrate how much impact they have on society.  All of these thoughts are absorbed by society which doesn’t inspire or create empathy, compassion or understanding for people who are suffering.

The shame and stigmatization around suicide is evident in the language that we use to discuss suicide. When we say “committed suicide” we are likening it to a crime. It’s truly not a crime. We do not say a person “committed” cancer, a heart attack, a stroke, or Covid, We do say someone “committed” murder, a robbery, an assault, or rape. Those are crimes.. The crime around suicide is that someone died because they were struggling so much internally, mentally, and emotionally. Let’s also stop saying they “killed themself.” What killed that person was a mental health struggles and they died by suicide. It is essential that we create a paradigm shift where we lead with empathy, compassion and understanding. 

When people use this terminology, they are stigmatizing suicide. A person who died by suicide has friends, family, neighbors, acquaintances and loved ones. When they hear this choice of words it hurts them—and they are already grappling with the stigmatization of a suicide death. You may know them, but they will probably not talk to you about their loss after they hear you use such hurtful and insensitive language.  

Western society stigmatizes and shames those who struggle with mental health issues and mental illness. There are a myriad of expressions and things that use suicide in the name/title that are offensive and cruel to those who have (or are) struggling with suicidal thought/ideations, have attempted suicide, and for those of us who have lost a loved one to suicide. People will use the expression quite freely “I am going to kill myself” and “I will just kill myself” and “Go kill yourself.” These are daggers for those who have been impacted by suicide. These comments are completely tone deaf, insensitive and cruel, and reflect the general lack of understanding and empathy around suicide.

We need to make the discussion around adoptee suicide an ongoing and regular conversation. It is not enough for us to talk about it sporadically. This conversation needs to be had three hundred and sixty five days a year. Adoptees are struggling and suffering twenty four hours, seven days a week and three hundred and sixty five days a year. The statistic that adoptees are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide is from research published in 2013 by the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

We need current research done on adoptees all over the world. I am writing from the United States so the ideal organizations to fund and conduct this are the American foundation for Suicide Prevention and the American Association of Suicidology. These studies would help inform prevention, awareness and education. Until society realizes the mental health crisis that adoptees are facing, we will continue to be struggling in silence. We are an invisible and oppressed community literally fighting for our lives. We desperately need support and suicide prevention. 

I wanted to pay tribute and honor the two adoptees that have died this month. They were both transracial intercountry adoptees. It’s is key to highlight that there is a link between this and mental health struggles, racism and suicide. Many of us experience microaggressions and racism due to us not being white. These experiences impact our mental health . Adoptive parents have no idea what this is like as they do not experience this incidents and many prefer not to see our race so that does nothing to help us. Some adoptive parents perpetuate racism and microagressions which take a toll on our mental health. 

Alejandro Gobright died June 2. He was adopted from Guatemala to the United States. He is described from a tribute I read as “a great singer, poet and incredible friend.”

Seid Visin died June 4. He was adopted from Ethiopia to Italy. He played at the youth academies of AC Milan and Benevento. He explained in a letter before his suicide death how he was suffering from constant racial abuse and treatment. It is essential to point out that his adopted father went out of his way to point out after Seid’s death that racism did not play a role in his death. This is a clear example of an adoptive parent ignoring, not listening and not wanting to deal with the struggles Seid was dealing with.

I am extremely sad and angry every time I write about adoptee suicides. These deaths impact the entire adoptee community. Alejandro and Seid are a part of all of us. There are roughly five to seven million adoptees in the world and it’s time that we begin to talk about adoptee suicide. 

Read Lina’s other articles on Adoptee Suicide, Part 1 & Part 2.

Other Resources on Adoptee Suicide

Dealing with Adoptee Suicide
ICAVs Memorial Page
Adoptee Remembrance Day
It’s a Black Week for Adoptees in Europe
In Memory of Seid Visin

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