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Sunday, November 2, 2014

All Souls Day and My Mom

Another post by Jenn, Susan's daughter. Susan passed away in April of 2014 eight months after being diagnosed with Stage IV melanoma and seven months after reuniting with her biological sisters.

This morning, on All Souls Day, a day the Catholic Church has traditionally recognized as one to remember and pray for our loved ones who have died, I cleaned out my dresser and put it out on the curb. Our house was burglarized two weeks ago (You can read about it HERE), and the robbers, in their rush to pull out all the drawers and look for treasures, actually broke them (the dresser was an inexpensive Ikea piece that I bought 12 years ago, when I first got married, so no surprise there, just some annoyance). Among my clothes I found some folded pieces of paper, and I discovered, when I opened them, that they were journal entries from last fall, scribbled just after my mom's diagnosis. I wish I could have kept a journal of every day, of everything that happened and everything that we said to each other from her diagnosis in late July to her death in early April, but even now I know that it was impossible. These scraps of paper are all that I could do. Finding them today, it was enough. Here is the first one, from September 4th, two days before I sent a letter to Carol, her biological sister, and five days before she, Carol, and Joanne, her two sisters, were reunited:
I know I wrote "too" wrong in "Because I asked her to(o)!" That is just a reminder of how crazy last year was, trying to be there for my mom, my own children, and my students. "The whole thing cut me to the core." Yes, it did. 
When my mom's diagnosis was still new, I felt like I couldn't breathe. Sometimes at night I would have to get out of bed and go sit on the front porch to stare at the stars and wonder how we could get out of this. Please, please, please, I would pray. Not my mom. It was during this time that I asked my mom's blessing to write her sister, who didn't know about her (or so we thought). My mom had known about this sister for a few years but hadn't written for many reasons. Her original mother, when my mom had finally found her years before, had told my mom that she was a secret from everyone, even her own daughter, and asked her not to make trouble. My mom was not a trouble maker. Neither was I, really, but the only answer I could discern from all my fervent praying for my mom was Send the letter. It didn't make sense, really, when there were so many other things to be worrying about, but that inner voice, Send the letter, just wouldn't go away. So I sat down late one Thursday night and wrote a letter to my mom's older sister. I tucked in two pictures, one of each of my daughters, to help soften what I imagined would be quite a shock, and included a letter my mom had written herself, several years before, but never sent. I mailed it the next day.
It is strange for me to read "half sister" here, since my mom's older sister, once reunited with her, became a "full sister" in every way, as did her younger sister. 
That weekend, my mom got really sick. My dad called me when I was on the way home from my sister's and asked if I would come over. I did. My mom and I lay in her bed together, the full weight of what she was facing upon us both. We cried a bit, and we laughed, too. Please, please, please, I prayed, Not my mom. I wasn't thinking at all about the letter I had written to her sister. I was thinking about her, and how I wasn't really sure if I could live without her.
This was written two days before talking with my mom's older sister for the first time. "We've been desperately searching for her," my mom's sister told me, when we did talk, explaining that they had found a birth record two weeks before.

Monday was my first day back at school with students, and my first day ever taking Joseph, my then two-year-old, to day care. I had no idea how I was going to get through the day, let alone the week, or the year. And it was at the end of that day, right after I picked up Joseph, that I received the phone call from my mom's older sister (I've written about this day in a previous post -- Click HERE to read). I might as well have had an actual angel come sit down beside me in the car, I felt so comforted. I knew that this was a miracle, and I think that my mom and her sisters did too. They had found each other, despite everything. They had found each other.
The miracle of my mom's reunion with her sisters helped lift my heart, and my mom's heart, at a time when it was needed most. To this day, it helps me keep my faith in a God who is loving and merciful, one who held my mom (and her siblings) in the palm of His hand, and holds her (and them) still. 
My mom was soon speaking with her sisters herself, and they were making the drive down to see her as often as possible. They e-mailed her, too, every single day, with little funny stories, words of encouragement, and words of love. They were my mom's angels. They were mine, too. And I need to hold on to this goodness, this reminder, when I am made crazy by everything else.

Today, on All Souls Day, I did not go to church. I simply couldn't. The Catholic Church has been so adamant in its opposition to allowing adoptees access to their original birth certificates, and so disingenuous in its arguing, that I find it currently impossible to attend, despite the goodness of so many I know who do attend (and usually know nothing about this scandal). Instead, my husband and I ourselves read the story of Mary and Martha mourning the death of their brother Lazarus to our children, and we prayed for the souls of those we have loved. I do not know what we'll do going forward. I can only follow my heart, and my earnest prayers, and do what I believe to be right.

After all of the press about my mom and adoption last year, I have been approached by so many in the adoption triad who have shared their stories with me. I listen very, very carefully. And what I have learned is that most of us would not even survive what birth (original) mothers were made to go through. The very Catholic church that is now using birth mothers as an argument for not allowing adoptees access to their original birth certificates is the one that shamed them (birth mothers) into giving up their children, telling them to "forget about them," in the first place. Women had to pay room and board, and often work, in exchange for their medical care, and then their babies were given away (at a high price) before they ever had a chance to hold them. I cannot begin to imagine the grief.

There is great grief, too, for adoptees, blocked forever from knowing who this mother was. I saw this clearly enough with my own mom, even as she loved and cherished her own adoptive parents. And I know that there is often grief for adoptive parents, before the adoption, as they deal with the excruciating pain of miscarriages and infertility. Please, please, please, we have all prayed at one time, our hearts filled with grief. Sometimes, it feels as if there is no answer. Sometimes, we wonder where God could be. I do too. But I have had it confirmed in my heart, in the deepest seat of my soul, that a God of mercy, and tenderness, and love, and TRUTH, does exist beneath the madness, of which I can still make no sense. In the face of great grief, love and truth are the only answer. Secrecy, shame, and fear are not. Don't you agree, dear Catholic Church? For you are worth so much more to me than an Ikea bedroom dresser, and I would rather not take you to the curb. But if I must choose between Love and Truth and you, I will choose Love and Truth, for that, of course, is God.

My Ikea dresser on the curb


  1. Jenn, thank you for expressing so beautifully the feelings that many of us experience but lack your skill in expressing. So glad that you speak for many of us.

    1. Thank you. I know my mom was so honored to be a part of this community, and I am too.

  2. This goes straight to my heart, Jenn.....

  3. Jenn, again, thank you for continuing your mother's blog in her stead. I was thinking of her just yesterday, on All Souls Day, in part because I was reading "Lost Daughters". I miss her even though I never met her. I am sorry for your continued loss.
    And thank you for writing to her sister when you did. Today I will be there when an elderly friend will again meet her niece, this time without the niece's mother, my friend's half-sister, who we brought together with two letters and a bit of luck after a 70+ year separation. (Due to divorce, not adoption, but a severed relationship nonetheless.) The sisters met once, and spent several days together. The elder was in her late 80s, the younger in her mid 70s. It was the younger who died suddenly last spring. Her shocked children mentioned the found sister in the eulogy, saying she was so glad to have found her sister when she did.
    Thank you for writing to your aunts. Thank you for continuing to be your mother's voice. I miss her.
    ~Elle Cuardaigh

    1. Elle, thank you for continuing to read my mom's blog and for thinking of my mom. Thanks for your courage, as I know those my mom met through this community gave HER courage because of their bravery, their integrity, and their compassion. She spoke of this often. And thank you for missing her. We do too, of course. We miss her immensely, but it is nice to know how many people were affected by her life and her work. She would have been astonished.

  4. "folded pieces of paper" - little pieces of your heart... we try to be brave and we are brave. Thank you for your words, the pieces of your heart. "In the face of great grief, love and truth are the only answer." Amen!! (((Jenn)))
    Cully Ray

    1. Cully, thank you for reading, and for being brave!

  5. I honestly don't get the RC church's position given their "every sperm and egg is sacred" mantra, and the fact that they consider every conception intrinsically important, a child of God. How can they deny people the right to know these origins, then? I somehow feel the current pope would be very open to open records, though. At least, I like to think so. With all the other things he's willing to go out on a limb for!

    Thanks for sharing these wonderful, if heartbreaking, stories of your mother.

    1. I know. As a Spanish teacher, I have always been very aware of the "two churches." One works for justice and love and truth (i.e. Romero in Central America, the nuns in El Salvador) and one works for oppression and control (i.e. the Catholic Church working with Francisco Franco in Spain during the civil war). Those who work for justice and truth come from a place of love; those who work for oppression and control (like the opponents of adoption reform) come from a place of fear and anger (or they've been brainwashed by the people who come from a place of fear and anger). It makes me really sad. I KNOW someday the Catholic Church will apologize for its roll in adoption, but my personal experience, as well as observation, has shown me that it will be too late, and way too little, for many. Maybe, maybe the current pope will do something ... I hope so.

      Thank you for reading, and for posting this reply.

    2. I am so impressed that you are taking up your mother's work and letting her presence live on. Just keep doing what you're doing and something good will happen.


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