I didn’t expect my adoption post this month to be centered around the news of a funeral. But as I’ve processed the passing of my daughter’s birth grandma last week, there’s no better way to advocate for adoption right now.

We met Ms. Linda shortly after we adopted Mae. She helped care for the child that became “mine” during the four months of her life I didn’t know her. Linda was a behind-the-scenes supporter, especially during our 3-week adoption story.

Once our paperwork and logistics finalized, our families were introduced and I got to know her.

This is common in open adoption - you don’t just connect with the birth mom, but you build relationships with some of the extended family members, too.

For us, this included our birth mom’s parents.

Establishing a relationship

We called her “Ms. Linda” not because she asked us to, but because I wasn’t sure what else to call her. There’s unfortunately not a playbook on adoption, and especially open adoption, so we fumbled our way through most of it.

Although she was “Ms. Linda” by nickname, Mae always knew her to be her “birth grandma.” And she was nothing short of a grandma over the years. A few months after Mae’s adoption, she bought her a yellow-and-blue-striped Easter outfit that matched her older birth cousin’s. It was adorable.

Many times over the past eight years, I’ve come home to boxes of books, puzzles and dress up clothes on our porch and immediately knew they were from her. It wasn’t uncommon for outgrown toys and furniture to wind up at our house.

One Christmas when Mae was really young, she gave us a gently-used doll house that ended up being Mae’s “big gift” that year. The toddler bed she slept in also came from her birth family.

Not only was Linda a grandma to Mae, she was an encourager to me.

She happened to be an adoptive mom herself, and I often felt her empathy as I navigated foreign waters. On more than one occasion, she offered me insights and wisdom from her own life experiences. She was avidly aware of boundaries between adoptive and birth families, and she was quick to honor them.

Because she was so aware of boundaries, we actually grew quite close.

Becoming family

Over the past eight years as we’ve raised our little girl, her birth mom’s family has become our family. We’ve gotten together for Mae’s birthday and Christmas each year. We’ve supported each other through many diagnoses and surgeries.

They even let us use their lake house one fall to host our small group, and insisted we go again. A few months ago, we went to a party for their 50-year wedding anniversary.

We were all together just a little over a month ago celebrating Mae’s birthday. Right before we left the restaurant, Linda flashed her red nails at me that spelled out “R-O-A-D T-R-I-P.”

She and her husband were leaving for a long U.S. road trip the next day. She was beaming with delight.

Saying goodbye

I didn’t know the evening we walked away from the restaurant would be the last time we caught up. I was shocked and saddened, along with everyone else, when I learned her road trip was cut short. Lung cancer returned with a vengeance and a few short, chaotic weeks later, she took her last breaths. Fortunately, peacefully at home.

Last week we navigated the waters of not only taking our daughter to a funeral, but to her birth family member’s wake.

When we walked up to the casket to pay our respects, I noticed Linda’s nails were still red with “road trip” painted on them, and I pointed them out to Mae. She had a perfect response.

“Well, she took a road trip to heaven.”

I couldn’t have said it better.

Legacy of love

I wanted to share this story as a tribute to Linda, and also as an encouragement during National Adoption Month. I feel it’s an important side of an often untold adoption story - the potential of relationships with extended birth family members.

There’s inevitable questions that come up when you plunge into the scary waters of open adoption - not only between you and the birth parents, but also between you and the extended birth family:

Will we see each other? Should we get together? What will we call one another? Should we be connected on social media? Do we exchange gifts? Should we call and text?

The questions are in surplus, and unfortunately, the answers are in short supply.

There’s no “right” way to do open adoption - it's different for each family, and it's also dependent on each family member involved.

But, if there was an ideal way for adoptive and birth families to relate, Linda exemplified it.

She loved our little girl, and she honored me as her mom. She played a major role in helping us connect with and see Mae's birth mom over the years.

Understanding healthy boundaries, she respectfully set and upheld them for our two families. She wasn't threatened by our tendency to create space, but she honored our needs and wishes.

In turn, it built a lot of trust.

Linda’s legacy is one of love and family. We’re blessed to have known her, and we plan on seeing her again when we take our own road trips to heaven.