Going Back To Mrągowo

For years we’d dreamed of taking Casey to Europe to show her the sights. The high point – revisiting Poland, where she was born and where Erika’s family is from; a number of Erika’s cousins still live there. Unfortunately Casey had zero interest in her birth mother, her birthplace or Poland in general (unless of course Casey had found that she was descended from King Casimir himself.) So Erika and I made that journey without her.

Though writing a book helped enormously in learning about the attachment issues that could’ve led to Casey’s demise, it didn’t dispel our obsession with learning everything we could about the first year of her life that predated us, including her daily care in the orphanage, the community she was born into and her biological family. Unfortunately, like so many adoption records, these are under lock and key, virtually impossible to access, but we had to try. I’d obsessed over her mother, “Katarina”, her siblings, family and the town they lived in, imagining an impoverished, backward village (see photo below.)

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Actually a photo I took in Yugoslavia ca. 1976

I was fixated on where Casey slept in the orphanage. For lack of any reference, I pictured her in something like a sterile hospital ward (see photo below.)

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Source: sjog.org.au

We made email contact with the director of the orphanage in Mrągowo, in Poland’s Lake District, and were stunned to learn that the director, Jolanta, actually remembered Casey from years before!

Landing at Warsaw Chopin International Airport on May 3rd – Casey’s birthday – we drove north to Mrągowo, marveling at how much Poland had transformed from 50 years of Communism, and how much stayed the same. Town centers had been spruced up, the lakes and yellow rapeseed fields were inviting, and Polish drivers were as impatient and aggressive as always (Photos below L-R Mragowo, rapeseed; below center, Warsaw traffic.)

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Driving through Sulimy, where Casey’s birth mother and family lived, we discovered a place quite different from my images of poverty. It was a pleasant hamlet of small farms and Alpine style houses with well-tended gardens and nice cars parked outside. We might’ve driven right past Katarina’s home.

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We met Jolanta at the orphanage, since re-purposed and renovated as a home for the disabled. (Photos below L-R orphanage in 1991 and 2018.)

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She took us on a short tour, showing us the room where Casey slept with the other babies. Unlike my Dickensian image, it was a warm, cozy room. A large window opened to a courtyard outside. Erika and I just stood and drank in the surroundings, imagining Casey sleeping there peacefully with several other babies. IMG_1073

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We followed Jolanta back to her office where she showed us a photo on her phone that she had downloaded from our remembrance website. It was a picture of her, as a young aide, holding Casey in 1991, just months before we arrived to receive her. That was mind blowing. The photo of them together was our first image of Casey!

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She still had the handwritten notes of Casey’s intake from years before. There were a couple of big reveals even in the limited data that was provided by the state. In 1991 we understood that Katarina had 2 other children before Casey, when in fact she had 3. What happened to the other children and had Jadwiga had other pregnancies afterwards? Jolanta read another notation that described Katarina as an “invalid of the second group.” She apparently had a mental disability that made it impossible for her to live alone or hold a job. This was mind blowing because we thought that Jadwiga was just a simple country girl. There was much more to the story. Knowing this, Jolanta said that she was amazed that Casey had advanced as far as she had because she likely inherited at least some of Katarina’s ailments. If she did they never showed.

So we left the orphanage with more fragments of Casey’s infancy, but even more questions and regrets. If we’d known years ago what was now revealed, would we have followed a different course of action that could’ve saved her? Was there any way to pierce that veil of secrecy in the Polish family services system to learn more about Katarina and her other children? Did we even want to know? And if we ever made contact with them, what would we say?

We Are Now Published In German by Beltz

A different book jacket and title that translates roughly into “The Car Is Parked At The Bridge. I Am Sorry. A Father’s Search For Answers To His Daughter’s Suicide.”

With over 80 million people, Germany is the largest country in Europe.

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Re-Post of “Adoptee Voices – Why Do We Search”

Pamela Karanova posted this very good piece on her blog, Adoptee In Recovery, where she features adoptees’ experience searching for their birth families. My teenage daughter Casey never showed any interest in her family from Poland, something I heard from other adopted teens. But as they got older, I learned that they were desperate to know, almost without exception.

REMINDER: Girl Behind The Door Launch at Book Passage Corte Madera Tues. Feb. 9th at 7PM!

Please join us for the launch of The Girl Behind The Door, published by Scribner, at Book Passage Corte Madera on Tuesday Feb. 9th at 7PM, co-sponsored by Buckelew Programs.

9781501128349About The Girl Behind The Door:
Early on Jan. 29, 2008, Casey Brooks drove from her Tiburon home to the Golden Gate Bridge and jumped. Why?

Winner of the Benjamin Franklin Silver Award.
Winner of the Kindle Award for Non-Fiction.
Recommended as an Elaine’s Pick.
Recommended as a Marin Magazine Local Page Turner.
Featured in Books Inc’s non-fiction titles.

 

 

 

About Scribner:
A premier imprint of Simon & Schuster founded in 1846.

About Book Passage:
One of the Bay Area’s leading booksellers.

About Buckelew:
A North Bay non-profit dedicated to enhancing quality of life in our community.

STAY TUNED FOR MORE EVENTS. NEXT MARCH 2ND AT 7PM AT THE SAN FRANCISCO FERRY BLDG.

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Scribner Picks Up The Girl Behind The Door!

the-girl-behind-the-door-9781501128349_hrI’m excited to announce that Scribner has picked up **The Girl Behind The Door: A Father’s Quest To Understand His Daughter’s Suicide**.Our book launch and reading is Tuesday, February 9th at 7PM at Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd, Corte Madera, CA.

Book Passage is Marin County’s premier bookseller.

My deepest gratitude goes out to all of you who supported me when I self published and needed support the most. For anyone who hasn’t read the book, now is your chance! It is available at most bookstores, retailers and online where books are sold.

We’ve received wonderful accolades to date:

* Winner of the Benjamin Franklin Silver Award

* Winner of the Kindle Award for Non-Fiction

* Recommended as One of Elaine’s Picks

* Recommended as a Marin Magazine Local Author Page Turner

Please come join us on February 9th at 7PM at Book Passage and bring your family, friends, neighbors, parishioners and coworkers!

The Girl Behind The Door Wins The Silver!

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I’m excited to announce that The Girl Behind The Door has won the Benjamin Franklin Silver Award for Parenting and Family Issues. The Benjamin Franklin Awards are regarded as one of the highest national honors for independent and self-publishers. Casey’s story was one of 55 finalists selected from 1,400 submissions.

Not bad for a rookie.

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Join Me For My Next Author Event, San Rafael Downtown Public Library Wed Dec 17 @ 6:30P!

Dear Friends and Neighbors – The San Rafael Public Library – Downtown Branch – has been kind enough to invite me to speak and read from my book on Wed Dec 17 from 6:30P-7:30P. My first event went super well and I have more planned and hoped for in Tiburon (Mar 2) and Mill Valley and San Francisco (TBD).

San Rafael

10 Painful Lessons I Learned Too Late As An Adoptive Father

blackboard_iStock_000016212764XSmallLately I’ve been stumbling across various blog postings about things people have learned about [fill in the blank], things they want you to know about [fill in the blank], things you wish you could say to [fill in the blank.] They come from adoptive families, adopted people and others within and outside the adoption triad. I mean no disrespect, but I thought I should add my own painful lessons learned too late about adoption since my precious daughter Casey’s suicide.

  1. Adoption is a very complex and, in some respects, unnatural arrangement between birth parents, adoptive parents and, most importantly, the adopted child in the middle. Consider this: the animal shelter waits weeks before it gives away a puppy but humans hand over children as early as birth. Unfortunately this is the best system we have for now to help children who need homes find them.
  1. All too often (but not always) raising adopted children can be extremely difficult, a constant tug of war. Just loving them enough may not be enough. The adoptive parents may have to accept that their family experience will be nothing like the Hallmark Moments of their own childhood. They may feel like they’re spilling blood for their adoptive family while getting little in return.
  1. Within the adoption triad, the adoptive parents have choices, whether they’re good or bad. The birth mother also has choices, but they are probably ALL bad. The adopted child has no choice. No matter how loving or lovely her new home and family are compared to where she came from, she didn’t ask for this.
  1. When adoptive parents receive their child – whether in the delivery room or from an orphanage – there is a natural inclination for a fresh start. Give her a new name, new fresh clothes and, hopefully, whitewash the past. That’s what we did all the while meaning the best for Casey. But consider keeping her birth name as that is her identity. Keep something with her from birth or the orphanage, even if it’s dirty or stinky. As one adoption therapist told me, “It’s in the child’s nature to cling to something.”
  1. An open adoption may be uncomfortable for the adoptive parents but may be in the best interests of the child. Like our daughter Casey, as she grows up she may deny any interest in her birth or birth family. But I’ve met many adopted adults who are almost universally obsessed with re-connecting, even if it’s painful. The birth mother may have asked to never be contacted, but how can we know that those instructions were genuine. At least have some channel available to your child if or when that need to re-connect emerges. How can a child NOT think about where they came from?
  1. Parenting an adopted child is completely counter-intuitive if you are to follow the professionals. Adopted children need to know that their new home is safe no matter how badly they act out. They need to know that their feelings are respected. Classic forms of discipline – like time ours and withholds – can backfire. Attachment parenting involves some parts discipline and structure but a much greater part helping the child self regulate her emotions. Remember she didn’t ask for this.
  1. You may find yourself in seemingly endless fights and power struggles as your child navigates through adolescence. Controlling her environment is often vital to an adopted child who came into this world with no control whatsoever. So prepare to lose a lot of power struggles.
  1. While many adopted children do just fine in their new world, there are many who need help beyond just devoted parents. As a group, adopted children are at a higher risk for a range of behaviors and disorders, from never-ending tantrums to self-harm and suicide. How could they not? So consider having your child assessed by a qualified professional early on. Many of their behaviors (like rages and tantrums) seem normal for a two year old, but not for a sixteen year old.
  1. If the adoptive parents decide to seek therapy, it is imperative that they find a professional qualified in adoption and attachment therapies. Oftentimes they are adoptive parents, birth parents or adoptees themselves, and are thus better equipped to gain the confidence of the child as they have lived that experience. They know what questions to ask and how to ask them. We had no idea such specialists existed, and thought that a high priced suburban “expert in troubled teens” was enough. That was a fatal mistake.
  1. A qualified professional should be able to provide a proper diagnosis of your child, and without a proper diagnosis she can’t be properly treated. The professional should distinguish between behaviors that suggest attachment disorder from ADHD, FAS, autism, Asperger’s, etc. Attachment disorder and “RAD” are too often casually tossed around when other illnesses may exist as well.

After reading these it may seem as though I’m anti adoption. Nothing could be further from the truth. Make no mistake, I feel like the luckiest guy in the world to have been Casey’s dad. After her death, I learned the painful way that just about everything I thought I knew about adoption was wrong. So I honor her by sharing with others what I’ve learned about adoption since her death. I want to do what I can to help other families avoid our tragic mistake.

John Brooks is a blogger and author of, The Girl Behind The Door, a memoir about his search for answers to his daughter Casey’s suicide. It is available on Amazon and Kindle.

Please Join Me For An Author Event in Fairfax, Thursday, Nov. 6 @ 7PM!

Dear Friends and Neighbors – The Marin County Library, Fairfax Branch, has been kind enough to invite me to speak a week from today, Thursday, November 6 at 7PM. Our library is located at 2097 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard right across from St. Rita’s Church. I’ll talk about my experience writing my memoir, The Girl Behind The Door, and read a chapter, maybe two.

The library and I hope to see you there!

Flyer

Dying With Dignity Versus Suicide

cover-768Sorry that this is a bit off-topic, but I’ve been following this story about 29 year old Brittany Maynard who was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer. She moved from California to Oregon because she wanted to end her life (legal in Oregon) rather than suffer through a longer and painful death from the spread of this terrible disease. I completely sympathize with her and other victims of terminal illnesses who want to “die with dignity.” If I were in their shoes I’d probably do the same thing.

What bothers me about this is how the media treats it. Let’s call Ms. Maynard’s decision what it is – suicide. The media treats her decision to end her life as something noble and admirable with fawning coverage from major newspapers to supermarket tabloids to morning television. She is very telegenic and, again, I mean this in a very sympathetic way.

Unfortunately, all too often the suicidal don’t suffer from a terminal illness but from an excruciating inner pain for which death seems the only antidote. That was my 17 year old daughter Casey. Unlike Ms Maynard, Casey and so many others who took their lives didn’t get the cover shot on People magazine or interviews from traditional and online media. No, their same decisions were met with scorn and derision, as there remains a cloud of shame and stigma over suicide as opposed to “dying with dignity.”

I’m sure that the media will salivate over Ms. Maynard until her final moments, and I wish her and her family the very best. This is a terrible decision for a young woman to make. I just wish that my daughter and so many other victims of suicide (like, most recently, Robin Williams) were accorded the same degree of respect.