Collateral Damage: On Adoption, Beheadings, and Invisible Siblings


Did you know Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig, one of the recent beheading victims of the Islamic State, was an adoptee?

When I first heard it on the news (and once I started breathing again) my first question was: Does his mother know?  Forgive me, it’s a knee-jerk reaction I have whenever I hear of an adoptee’s passing. And by mother, I do not mean adoptive mother. I mean the woman in whose womb Peter was knitted together. Because surely, his adoptive mother knows, since she’s all over the news (and seems like a perfectly lovely woman, by the way.) But his first mother – the woman who bled for him as she labored him into this world – did she know he was gone?

Through some quick Internet research, I learned that Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig had indeed found his first mother soon after his 18th birthday and had become close with his two younger half-siblings.  But sadly, I came across this article of their first interview since their beloved older brother had been tortured and killed: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/11/25/peter-kassig-biological-family/70091378/ Here are some of the words he wrote to his sister, Jana, while in captivity (the letter to her was one of only two he was able to send during the year and two months he was being held captive by the Islamic State). To his sister he wrote:

“Did you know, when I was little, I used to pray for a little sister? I prayed and prayed, but I didn’t see how it was possible. What do you know? One day I found myself staring at a picture of you and all I could think was, ‘She’s perfect.’

“You are the best thing that has ever happened to me: you and your brother.”

To Peter, Jana and Sam were perfect. They were his prayed for miracle. They were, in his words, “the best thing” that had ever happened to him.

And yet, thanks to adoption laws, the federal government does not recognize Jana or Sam as Peter’s siblings, next of kin, or members of his family, regardless of their shared DNA, regardless of their deep emotional bonds. Therefore, the U.S. Government did not and will not provide grief counseling for them as they do for family members of hostages and kidnapping victims, which in the case of Peter means only his adoptive family, not his natural family. Not Jana and Sam, the best things that ever happened to Peter.

Much like my three younger children, Jana and Sam are collateral damage of adoption. They are the invisible siblings, the forgotten of the adoption constellation.

In their first interview since the Islamic State captured, tortured and killed Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig in Syria, his biological mother, Rhonda Schwindt, and two siblings describe a bureaucracy that declined to help a grieving family at its lowest moments. Kassig was beheaded Nov. 16.

When they lost contact with their brother Oct. 1, 2013, the Schwindts say the FBI kept his captivity a secret from them for 5½ months despite extending victims assistance to his adoptive parents, Ed and Paula Kassig. Once they learned of his fate, the Schwindts say they were denied federal assistance in finding grief counseling and the FBI told them to keep quiet — even after Kassig’s parents and friends were encouraged to speak up in an unsuccessful attempt to save him.

More than a week after his death, Jana Schwindt still doesn’t have an exact copy of the letter her brother penned to her in captivity. The original, they were told by the FBI, was processed as evidence and destroyed.

Jana, Sam, Matthew, Luke, Poppy, Lyne, Marie, Teresa, Lily, Violet, Heather, Max, Jane, Kyle, Keith, Mark, Eliza, Spence, JP, Caroline, Phoebe, Margaret, Bonnie, Claudia, Nancy, Melissa, Benjamin, Trevor, Cindy, Steve . . .I could go on and on with their names, but my tears stop me tonight as I think of their collective losses.

These are my friends with whom I have wept when they discovered they have 47-year old sister somewhere out there. These are my friends who have called me at midnight, wondering why their adopted-out sibling has cut off contact with them again after what they had thought was a lovely Christmas holiday to Hawaii. These are my own children. These are the ones who, if their beloved older sibling were beheaded by terrorists, would not be acknowledged as “real” by the U.S. government and would be deemed undeserving of victim assistance.

The fact this cloak of invisibility goes both ways is not lost on me. If it were my son in Peter’s position, Ms. Feverfew would not qualify for victim’s assistance, either. The law does not recognize her as next of kin or immediate family of any kind.

I’ll keep asking these questions until I get a satisfactory answer: Tell me again,  how is adoption, an act that renders my children invisible to each other in the eyes of the law, a loving act? How is this blessing my family “into the eternities” as I was promised it would?

Tell me again, what part of this is about love?

________________________________________

Another article about Kassig’s natural family: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/11/21/kassig-birth-family-mourns-death/19335637/

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5 thoughts on “Collateral Damage: On Adoption, Beheadings, and Invisible Siblings

  1. When I first saw and heard the threats of beheading Peter I looked for and saw what I thought was a family resemblance between Peter and Paula. My mind goes there whenever I hear of a death (or, as in this case, impending death), of a child especially, as I am the mother of a Daughter that is MIA (missing in adoption). I know that I will not be told when my daughter dies.
    That is the legacy of adoption, whether in the era of closed adoptions or in adoptions that have closed. We, the natural family, are not legally next-of-kin. All the lies that are lived to support adoption – the cloak of invisibility, the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’.
    I will find out about my daughter’s death when I do my yearly google search for her obituary. And then I learn of the life she lived.
    Thank you for your beautifull post on this heart breaking loss.

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