As a new speech pathologist in my twenties, I used to spend so much time pouring over my paperwork– creating reports that I felt were “perfect.” It took so much time and energy, and often led to work piling up. It occurred to me one day that the people reading the reports often valued succinct writing rather than superfluous writing. And, if my reports took me so long that they weren’t getting out to the person needing to read them on time, then no one would be needing them or reading them anyway. This got me thinking about the reasons why we do things and the meaning behind them. The reason I write my reports is to communicate with the people who need to know the information — be it the neurologists or surgeons or other doctors involved in the patient’s medical care. If I write a report and no one reads or understands the information, what is the point? Sure, I write shining reports because I take pride in my work. But, my writing means so much less if it just sits in a stack somewhere, unread. This idea translated to more than just the reports I wrote. I started thinking about how incredibly meaningful it is to have someone witness the things that happen in my life.
Within my speech therapy practice over the years, I worked with a very sweet college-aged client who experienced a traumatic brain injury. She saw me for speech-language and cognitive linguistic retraining to regain those skills after her accident. Her memory began to improve a couple of months after her injury. She was really glad she started to remember things, because she said. “It [made her] parents happy, and that [made her] happy.” It was really sweet to hear her say what she said. I could tell she wasn’t worried about recovering just because she was interested in pleasing her parents. It was deeper than that. She was happy to see how relieved they were when they saw her remembering new information because they loved her, and she loved them. Being part of a family takes the things that one experiences as an individual to another level in meaningfulness. The good and the bad things that happen in your life don’t just mean something to you, they mean something for someone else too. And that connection and shared meaning is where true beauty in life happens.
I think that’s why having a partner in life is so meaningful. Not to mention the friends and families in our lives, too. When life gets rough and things go awry, you can rest in the fact that someone cares about you and is there for you, no matter what. When your car breaks down, or your house is broken into, or your health takes a turn for the worst, you can ask someone for help. When something really great happens in your life, you can call him or her and share this awesome news with someone who knows how much it means to you.
There were periods of time in my life where I felt that I didn’t need anyone else in my life. I’ve grown from that and realized how relationships are actually at the core of what it means to be alive. Life is so much richer and more meaningful when you share it with others who you care about and who care about you. As an adoptee, it’s incredibly difficult to not know anything about your past before your adoption. Sometimes it’s like you didn’t even exist before your adoption. Looking at what life looked like before your adoption, it’s like looking into a black hole where all you see is nothingness. Maybe it’s because you don’t know who the people were who were in your life at that time. Maybe also because you don’t know what your life looked like at all.
Last year I reconnected with my Korean American biological family and met family members of mine who remember me before I was relinquished for adoption. This was so incredibly meaningful for me. It’s really amazing to think that these were the people who were in my life during a time of my life I didn’t think I would ever know anything about. Amazing to discover that before my adoption, I wasn’t alone. I was surrounded by family and being taken care of. The first day I spoke to my biological aunt on the phone, I still remember her really meaningful words, “You have a lot of cousins, and they all really want to meet you.”
These connections have been incredibly meaningful for me to make– to tie the baby I was before I was adopted to the people who were in my life at that time. I met a great aunt of mine who was in tears the moment she first laid eyes on me when we reunited when I was 28 years old. With tears streaming down her face, she quivered as she spoke, “I took care of you. I changed your diapers. Your mom was sick. I took care of her too. But she’s in heaven now. So, don’t worry.”
In that moment, I couldn’t help returning her tears with tears of my own. Meeting people who were in my life during the time before my adoption filled gaps in my past that I thought I’d never fill. It’s definitely given me a lot of closure and made me feel more complete. Since my reunion, I’ve kept in touch with my Korean biological family and have enjoyed a lot of firsts together– first Thanksgiving, first Christmas, first birthday celebrations, and many more. It’s been amazing. My adoptive mom, Doris, was totally “adopted” into my Korean biological family. She was there during our first meeting and during all of our holiday celebrations. She’s been with me every step of the way. The day we first met, my Halmoni (Korean grandmother) looked my adoptive mom in the eyes and told her, “Thank you so much for taking such good care of her. You’re my daughter now. So, don’t worry about anything.”
My (adoptive) mom Doris now has a lot more connections and people who care about her. And that means a lot to me. It speaks to the human spirit to be able to share life with other people and to be able to share love and kindness. Not to mention how meaningfulness in life definitely makes life richer. After I reconnected with my bio family, I felt like I regained some long lost missing pieces and am really grateful for these new relationships in my life. They’ve truly meant the world to me.