Her Absence filled the world

Her Absence Filled My World

by JoeSoll 조살 Author of, Adoption Healing… a path to recovery (1 for moms, 1 for adoptees, 1 for both)
Co-author of Evil Exchange and Fatal Flight.

Recently, one of my clients made me aware of a painting by William Kentridge entitled “Her Absence Filled the World.” I Googled it, found it on line and it moved me greatly.

It is a black and white scene, desolate, figure standing on a hill, almost at the top, an animal, perhaps a cat at her side, faint shadows of other people off to the side.  Through therapy I came to know that on some deep level the absence of my mother was always on my mind, too terrifying to be aware of except for fleeting moments which were then repressed. One member of my support group referred to it as her background sadness.

I now think it is more than that, much more. Just as the world of someone whose loved one is missing in action is constantly aware of their absence, their hearts and minds filled with worry, despair... obsessed with thoughts conscious and unconscious of the missing person, finding it difficult to think of anything else, so too do we who have someone missing in adoption have their absence filling our world.

There is a big difference however. Those who have a loved one missing in action have their concerns acknowledged by society, their friends and relatives. On the other hand, those of us who have someone missing in adoption do not have our losses sanctioned by society. We are encouraged or instructed to “Get Over It” or make believe we do not have anyone missing. This lack of sanction or disenfranchisement of our grief makes it worse.

Imagine being in an accident and having a compound fracture of you leg, bone sticking out through the skin. You are taken to the hospital in excruciating pain, put on a bed and forgotten about. No pain killers, no treatment. What would you feel? Rage at not being tended to? (Which literally make your physical pain worse.) Feelings of despair, helplessness, sadness? And somewhere in your mind would be the most spoken phrase when someone is dying, “I want my mommy!”

When we adoptees and mothers of adoption loss are not allowed to grieve, do not have any acknowledgment of our pain, anger and sadness, the emotions will seek other outlets. Our inner world is filled with the absence of our other and we have to shut down emotionally to survive. This contributes to what can look like ADD or ADHD. We can lose our basic sense of self. We can lose our ability to experience our emotions. As Kathryn Asper put it in, “The Abandoned Child Within”, we may experience ourselves as living in the depths of hell.

We must acknowledge to ourselves, the enormity of this absence. We must do this in support groups, therapy, chat rooms, journaling. We must find safe ways and places to soul cry about our missing other. Being with enlightened or loving witnesses, those who have had the same experiences, the same losses will help us grieve. We can be validated, comforted with words and perhaps held while we cry. We need to be able to say, scream, yell, “I want my baby!”, “I want my mommy” and soul cry as much as and as often as we can until the need subsides. It takes a long time to grieve but it will be a life time of suffering if we do not.


Her Absence filled the world