Posted by Deb Shrier

It has been six weeks since the families and I have returned from our homeland tour to Russia. One concept that came up at our first meeting with the families included a discussion of hoping to find "missing puzzle pieces" during this journey. It's a common theme, which has become more vivid so many weeks later.

During our trip, a journal was offered to the families to write an entry. The families were not given any specific instructions about what to write and as group leaders we simply offered them a chance to reflect on an event or experience that was meaningful. I recently received a copy of the completed journal.

As I read each page, I was deeply moved by the sentiments the individuals so openly shared. Knowing each of the writers, I could almost "hear" their words with their own voices. Children wrote about how significant it was for them to be with other adopted children their age who shared so many of their own birth histories and understood what it meant to feel different at times because of their adoption. They also wrote about establishing a deeper connection to their Russian heritage because of the trip and developing a greater sense of overall pride in their history. They talked about shedding feelings of shame regarding how they joined their adoptive families. The children also graciously expressed how this trip gave them a new definition of "family" because each person they traveled with had now become their extended family. Several teens compared their experiences to finally finding some missing puzzle pieces of their lives. Detailed drawings captured ways that these pieces came together.

The written words of the parents were also quite moving. Interestingly, one of the questions I always receive is how difficult it must be for the adoptive parents to go back to birth country with their child. When I am asked that question, it comes with an assumption that the parent is somewhat reluctant to make a homeland trip – be it the fear of the unknown, perhaps. In reading what the parents wrote, it is obvious that a part of this trip was about their own sense of discovery and joy in their child. It is comparable to the discovery of a gift you suddenly learned you had. The goal, for the majority of these parents, was to acknowledge the missing pieces in their child's life and to help pull some of the puzzle together.

Recently, I heard a rabbi talking about "missing pieces" in a very different way. He did not talk about the pieces we do not have, but the pieces we have that belong to others. He said we might not know where the piece goes, to whom it belongs, or why we have it. What he explained was that we will some day place it where it belongs and that other people carry our missing pieces as well. This concept presented a completely new way to look at missing pieces: specifically, that we need to connect with others to find some missing pieces.

You can read more about this amazing trip in my previous blog post.

Deb Shrier is the DIrector of Post-Adoption Services at JF&CS.