Total Pageviews

Friday, October 25, 2013

My o-mother passes on, and my sisters lift me up

My original mother passed away earlier this week at the age of 90.  Several weeks ago, she suffered what appeared to be a minor stroke, but all of her organs seemed to break down rapidly, and my sisters tell me that she passed peacefully and rather quickly in the hospital, saying, "I just want to go to sleep."

I was not with my sisters because my o-mother never became comfortable with the idea of publicly acknowledging my existence.  As I said to my sisters Janet* and Eileen,* she always remained kind of a ghost for me, someone I could never really get to know.  The sisters tell me that she was emotionally closed her entire life through and kept many details of her life private, even from them.  For example, my older sister Janet has no idea who her father is -- her mother told her that it was none of her business, and that she didn't need to know.

I don't know who my father is either -- my o-mother told me in a phone conversation ten years ago, "I can't tell you anything about your father.  He was a married man."  Whether she still thought she was protecting people (my o-father has long been deceased), or just protecting herself, I have no idea.  As Janet told me in our first phone conversation, "Our mother was always looking for love in all the wrong places."

My sisters had a long and rocky relationship with their mother, but she was their mother, and they remained loyal and loving caregivers for her until the end.  Following her stroke, Janet came to stay with her Mondays through Fridays, and Eileen took her to her home during the week-ends.  Both sisters and other extended family were with my o-mother when she passed.  And rather than send me an e-mail, Janet picked up the phone and called me when she died.

I admire my sisters so much for caring for their mother, even though she could be difficult and often fell short in caring for them.  They saw her limitations clearly, but they are loving souls who also see that life is what it is, not always what we would like it to be.   They recognized that their mother had some mental difficulties, and still kept sharing their love and caring, even when it was not reciprocated.  Sometimes in life, the strong must step up to help care for the weak.

                          My two granddaughters -- the sister bond can be so very strong!

I am so blessed to call these two women my sisters.  They express so much concern for me even amidst all the emotional turmoil they are now experiencing.  For example, following my o-mother's passing, Janet sent me this message late at night:

"Dear Susan,
I am lying here in bed hoping Mom has finally found peace and happiness she never found in life.  There is so much about Mom that she would never share and now we will never know.  The thing Eileen and I are most upset about is that she didn't let us make the decision to contact you ten years ago.  There was just so much that we could have shared with each other and our families.  I can't begin to thank Jenn (my daughter) enough for sending that letter (introducing herself, her children and me, and asking if Janet would be open to contact).  It was the beginning of something so special I still can't find the words.  You have a place in our hearts forever.  Please take good care of yourself and I will keep in touch.

I wish every adoption attorney, agency official, legislator and religious group that opposes adoptee rights would read this post and then tell me to my face why they think it is their right to deny me my own original birth certificate and make it difficult for me to ascertain the basic truths about my own life. How can they not see how discriminatory it is to treat an entire minority group differently by law than we treat everyone else -- especially now that we have hard data to show that adoptee access bills without restrictions work best for all concerned parties?  This is an intensely private subject that should interest only those people who are directly involved.  Adults must be trusted to handle their own affairs competently, just as they are in every other area of life.

If the naysayers had had their way, and had I not taken active steps to circumvent the archaic and completely discriminatory adoption laws now in place, I never would have experienced Janet's or Eileen's love.  In a short and poignant message, Eileen sent me this note after her mother's death:

"Thank you so much for your love and kindness.  Not knowing you was definitely our mother's greatest loss.  Praying for great results on Friday (I had a CAT scan this morning) -- love you.

Could anyone ask for more supportive and loving sisters?  What a gift they are to me, especially now, as I am facing a challenging medical situation.  They truly lift me up, and I am blessed.

*I am using pseudonyms in this post, as it contains some private communications and information that I prefer not to air publicly.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Gifts My A--Parents Gave Me

As many of you know, I had an unexpected, exhilarating reunion with two sisters recently -- a meeting that gave all of us many hours to review and reflect upon our respective lives, mine as an adopted child and theirs as the daughters growing up with my original mother.  As I pulled out photos and mementoes of my life growing up, I found myself thinking often about my a-parents' special qualities and the security of love I always felt in our home.

                       That's my brother and me dressing up cowboy style in our backyard!

I knew that my mother loved me fiercely from a very young age -- I think I was in kindergarten crossing the street with her hand-in-hand when she happened to overhear a member of the safety patrol call me "Bucky."  (I would later need several years of corrective braces to straighten  my protruding teeth!)  She really let that kid have it, and I'll never forget it.  I knew that she always had my back!

                                            My a-mother on her wedding day in 1938

My father was the outdoor guy, the adventurer, always thinking about what fun activity we might try next.  He loved boats, and he loved the seashore.  He taught me how to sail, how to body surf, and how to water ski.  He was a whiz on skis himself -- had little trick skis on which he could perform 360 degree turns and on which he could ski backwards.  I never did master those tricks, although I did become a proficient slalom skier and always loved it.

Besides teaching me how to ski, my dad taught every one of my friends who showed the slightest interest.  He would bring that boat around time after time, patiently instructing the student to keep the arms straight, heels down and knees together.  He was full of life, and he passed that enthusiasm on to all of us.  When we could, my husband and I bought a little ski boat, and we spent countless hours teaching our kids and their friends to water ski.  Now my daughter and son-in-law are taking a look at day boats.  The outdoor traditions my dad began live on!

                          My dad and my brother by Barnegat Bay off Long Beach Island

My mother lived quite a few more years than my dad, and she gave us all a great gift -- she showed us by example how to age gracefully.  I think of her so often now as I'm facing a serious health challenge myself.  When my mom turned 80 -- she lived until age 89 -- I wrote her a Christmas letter listing the qualities I most admired about her, and they are the qualities, I think, that make for a happy life.  Here are some of those traits I always cherished in her:

Her determination to keep forging ahead:   My mom had three hip operations in two years and recuperated in a hospital bed in my living room all three times, cheerfully and in a determined manner.  She suffered a stroke in her 80s, but through sheer determination and willpower, managed to recuperate in time to attend both of my daughters' weddings and preside as the proud matriarch of the family!

Her special gift for setting tables and adding just the right touch of style:  My mother always set a beautiful dinner table, decorated with flower arrangements and illuminated by candles.  She also helped us sell our first house in a day!  She arranged flowers, helped me to reorganize closets, and delivered sweet-smelling potpourri.  The house never looked more beautiful.

Her sense of humor:  My mother loved to laugh, and her laugh was infectious.  She spent years in her later life prefacing every conversation with, "When I go to Medford Leas," ... (a continuing-care community) even though she was someone who loved her home and resisted change mightily.  After a while, we all just laughed when she said it, and she laughed right along with us.  She always enjoyed poking fun at herself.

Her genuine interest in everything about her family:  We could never have asked for a mother more interested in her children, their families and her grandchildren.  She reveled in every achievement, saved every note, commemorated every occasion.  She bragged about the kids' impressive grade point averages and sports achievements, and she helped to finance my daughter's medical school expenses.

Her interest in people of all ages:  Unlike many grandmothers, my mother often invited other young mothers on the street over for coffee, and enjoyed hearing all about their challenges with the schools and their young children.  She was a people person, interested in others, so people always enjoyed being around her.

Her sunny outlook on life and appreciation for her family, friends, fine food, beautiful gardens and panoramic views:  It is a special gift to be able to see and appreciate beauty wherever you are.  My mother had that gift.

My life review as an adopted person has been so fulfilling because I am able to fill in all the blanks now.  Legal and cultural barriers to the truth of our histories remain, but I was able to circumvent them and find two sisters who could not have been more loving and helpful.  I love these sisters dearly, and I love my original mother too, even though she was unable to do more than say over the phone, "I love you in my heart."  She has had her hurts, and she has her limitations.  And how I cherish my a-parents, who have passed on to me a zest for life and a legacy of love that I am proud and honored to pass on to my own children and grandchildren.