Coping with Loss from Adoption Suicide

by Lina Vanegas adopted from Colombia to the USA, MSW.

Artwork by Adriana Alvarez

I have lost two people in my life to suicide, the father of my children who was also my ex-husband and my mom. The father of my children was adopted and my mom was impacted by adoption because she lost me to adoption. Both of them sadly fit the statistics. Adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide. I would argue that moms (first mothers, original mothers, natural moms) also have high suicide attempt rates.

I am a transracial and intercountry adoptee who was adopted from Bogota, Colombia and have lived the majority of my life in Michigan in the United States. Suicide loss is a death like no other. It is not like a car accident, heart attack, or cancer where there is a clear explanation of how someone died. People who die by suicide are struggling immensely. There is no closure with this death. Suicide is also highly stigmatised, people do not want to talk about it, and many judge the death. Suicide loss for us as adoptees is further compounded and amplified with all of the loss and grief that we have already experienced and it can trigger many of the issues we suffer with related to adoption. 

If you are reading this and have lost someone to suicide, I want you to know that you are not alone and that I am so sorry you are experiencing this horrendously painful loss. I also want you to know that it is not your fault. There is nothing you could have done or should have done. The person who died was in so much pain. You may also be reading this and have been shocked by the person’s death because you had no idea that they were suffering and maybe they seemed happy and like everything was okay. It is still not your fault. Please do not blame yourself or hold onto any guilt. It is extremely painful to know or learn that our loved one was suffering so much.

One thing that I have learned is that some days are harder than others. It  has helped me to know that I can break up my days and I can take it moment to moment, minute to minute or hour to hour or one day at a time as the famous Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) slogan says. The first year for me was a complete blur. It seemed to drag on forever and I was in a hurry to put it all behind me because it was so painful and difficult. Honestly, I cannot remember much because I was in so much shock. Please be patient, kind and gentle with yourself if you have experienced a suicide loss. Suicide loss is such a painful and life changing loss. The first year of loss was really hard because everything becomes a first without them. 

Some of the hardest days for me are, the person’s birthday, anniversary of their death and the holidays. I have learned to sit with my emotions and feel them. I give myself permission to cry and mourn if that is what needs to happen.  If something was too hard, then I created a new tradition or decided not to do it. Then there are times where I just break down because something triggered me and I am back to feeling my grief. Grief is a journey, it ebbs and it flows. It is not linear and there is no expiration date. Please do not let anyone tell you differently or push you to get over it or heal in a certain amount of time. We all grieve differently and grief is not a one size fits all thing experience. 

Artwork by Nicholas Down

It has been a real journey for me to figure out ways to cope and begin to heal. Suicide loss has really changed the way that I have looked at life. I now see that life is short and fleeting and that each day is not promised. I have chosen to use the loss of my mother as momentum to help me live my life in honor of her. I strive to turn my pain into purpose, a path, and power. There have been many ways that I have found to help me cope which I want to share with you.

For me, sitting with my feelings and truly feeling them has been so helpful. Crying, bawling and literally losing my breath sobbing and having that deep soul cry have helped my grieve and mourn.  Therapy has also been instrumental for me. It is really helpful to have a safe and non judgemental space that is just for me.  It is important to find a therapist who works solely with trauma and ideally someone who is adoption competent. Many therapists honestly have not studied adoption so it is hard for them to truly understand us.

I am an avid reader and for me reading and researching gave me answers and helped me gain understanding.  I threw myself into reading and researching suicide. For me it was important to understand suicide so that I could make sense of things. I read a lot from other suicide loss survivors which was really essential because I could relate to what they were saying and I could learn how they coped and healed. The other group that was really important to read and listen to was, suicide attempt survivors. It helped me to be able to gain a deeper understanding of suicide and mental health struggles. It also gave me insight into how I can help people who are suffering from suicidal ideations.

 I joined a grief support group and a suicide survivor loss support group.  Both of these groups allowed me to connect with other people who were experiencing the same things as me and I did not need to explain myself.  I made friends, I cried, I laughed but most of all I realized that I was not alone and I felt seen, heard and validated. I also attend an adoption group which has been helpful because many adoptees are also dealing with suicide loss. It has been helpful to talk with other adoptees about suicide loss. You can look for a group online and accessibility should be easier now that most groups are being done virtually. 

Attending events such as walks that raise money for suicide prevention or attending International Suicide Survivor Loss Day which is in November have also very helpful.  Again, I was able to realise that I am not not alone and I felt like part of a bigger piece. It is inspiring to see money being raised to help prevent suicide, fund research, and also cathartic. 

Movement such as running, biking, walking, and yoga have also helped me cope because they are an outlet where I can release and channel my emotions. Meditation has been great because it has allowed me to slow down and be present in my body. Journaling and writing have been my creative outlet for processing and coping with suicide loss. Making sure that I am eating a balanced diet and getting sufficient sleep has also been really beneficial. The self care piece is really important and it will look different for everyone. Please do something for yourself that you enjoy doing. 

Social media is also a great way to connect with other survivors of suicide loss. There are many groups and organizations that one can join. There are also many blogs, podcasts and articles on mental health issues that discuss suicide which are great resources. 

It has been almost 7 years since my first suicide loss and just over 2 from the death of my mom so it has been a decent amount of time and not a long period of time. I am at a place where I want to share my story whether it be to one on one, to a group, or through writing. This is not something I could have done early on as it was so painful and I was still processing everything. I find now that sharing my story has really helped me cope and be able to help others.

I have made an effort to  incorporate the people that have been lost into my everyday life. I have purchased ornaments in honour of them for my Christmas tree, framed pictures of them for my house, I purchase flowers regularly in honour of my mom, I light candles, and make their favourite food on holidays or any other time. I am thinking about getting a tattoo in honour of my mom so that she is always symbolically there with me. It has been soothing for me to incorporate them into my daily life. Some other ideas I have thought of are, planting a tree or plant for the person, you can set a place for them at the table, you can buy or create some kind of art that can be in honour of them, you could buy or make a scarf or something to wear that symbolises them. 

I want you to remember that the suicide of your loved one is not your fault. You are not alone in losing someone to suicide.

Please take care of yourself and remember there are resources to help you cope. Be kind and gentle with yourself.

Other Resources on Adoptee Suicide

Dealing with Adoptee Suicide
ICAVs Memorial Page
Adoptee Remembrance Day
It’s a Black Week for Adoptees in Europe

It’s a Black Week for Adoptees in Europe

by Soorien Zeldenrust & Dong-Mi Engels who write this article on behalf of the Adoptee & Foster Coaching (AFC) team, Netherlands.

Image: Charlie Mackesy

Standing still with today, with life, surviving and giving up. You’re tired and you don’t want to feel anymore. You wish to find a path, away from the pain and sadness.

A day where 6 suicide reports of intercountry adoptees, which all took place on and around New Year’s Day, have now arrived to our Adoptee & Foster Coaching (AFC) colleagues. One from India, two from Korea, all 3 adopted to Netherlands; one from India, one from Chile, both adopted to Belgium; one from Chile adopted to Germany.

Making the unbearable bearable

Your body is broken the moment you were separated from your greatest commitment: your mother and your origins. Once in a new family and another country you will be obliged to attach yourself to this. Not only from the environment, but also from yourself to survive. As a child you can only stand with yourself by adjusting. When “problems” come later, it will be downplayed or your surroundings try to “fix it”. After all, you were so neatly adjusted (read: devastated).

You’re getting older, the unforgettable feeling and being different from your surroundings remains present deep inside and slowly rises to the surface. Soon it gets to the point that you can no longer ignore (recurring) relationship problems, workplace issues or health issues. Where should you look for it and who should you be with? Is there someone who can really understand what you’re going through and what you’re feeling? Usually not in your immediate vicinity and not from the regular professionals either. And yet you want an end to the intense pain, the unprocessed sadness and (the double) grief. You wish for an end to longing for a home or a place, that desire for hiraeth, a deep homesickness.

Some of us reach a point where they don’t want to feel all of this anymore and can’t handle confrontation anymore. They also feel guilty towards their adoptive parents because they can’t handle the pressure of being “happy”. They’re over it.

By sharing these hopeless looking thoughts and greatest fears with like-minded people, you can break through this and you will feel that you are no longer alone. It really does get better. You can handle this pain and learn to embrace it because you will understand it and never have to wear it alone again.

We as AFC coaches unfortunately can’t prevent what happened last New Year’s Day. There are adopted people who see no way out. All we can do is be there for you when you are ready to reach out and ask for support. By giving recognition and sharing, we want to let you know that you are not alone and there is a place to learn and be yourself, with all your questions, sadness, fears and thoughts. Make yourself known and be heard. We provide a listening ear, the correct aftercare and the necessary awareness in the outside world.

Contact us at AFC or any adoptee professional located around the world if you would like support.

You can help raise awareness of the increased risk of suicide amongst adoptees by sharing our post. Also see the ICAV Intercountry Adoptee Memorials page.

Worldwide, intercountry adoptees commit suicide 4-5 times more than the average non-adopted person. This occurs especially when adoptees can’t find their first parents and relatives and they are very vulnerable during the holiday season.

For the thousands of fellow adoptees who are no longer in our midst, we share Bach’s double concert in d minor 2nd movement in their honour.

Hilbrand Westra, AFC Founder