Saturday, November 28, 2009

My Adoption Story: Part 8 Sounds Like Life to Me! (Daryl Worley, Sounds Like Life to Me)

What I saw as so cut and dry twenty-nine years ago, find my birth family and my life would be complete, has turned out to be a journey with many twists and turns, triumphs and failures, lessons learned.

I haven't intended any of this story to be a diary, a tell-all, a poor pitiful me story ... but rather a recording of one aspect of my life - being adopted - with all that that entails, and those lives that have intersected with that story along the way. The details are similar to many other life stories whether the word 'adopted' is used or not. That's why this next part of the story has been so hard to write - there's too much of it, and trying to summarize it was much harder than I thought it would be. I've re-written it a dozen times, with a result that it 's still way too long. But how can I tell the complete adoption story without telling how and why things turned out with the family I worked so hard to find? So, if you're in a hurry and want to skip thru the middle section to the end, you have my permission!

Aunt Helen died in 1995, and Uncle Sonny not long after. I never saw either of them again after the 1980 reunion, though Aunt Helen and I did talk on the phone and exchange long letters a couple of times a year, and I was so grateful for her in my life and for the stories she was able to tell me. I have never had any contact with her children (my cousins). She called me at Christmas 1994 and told me that she had congestive heart failure, and we had a long talk, which would have been our once or twice a year talk. I didn't really know anything about congestive heart failure at that time, so it never occured to me that that would be the last time I talked to her. Next thing I knew, I got a call from Kathy that Aunt Helen had died, but her children had taken offense at my not coming to see her when she was in the hospital and dying, even though no one called to tell me that she was dying. They told her to tell me that I was not welcome at the funeral, and I also was not to be included in the obituary. That part really hurt, because in that final summary of her life, I was not included. The thing is, they didn't even know me, had never met me! Well, I was living in Georgia at the time and could not have afforded the trip anyway.

Not counting the time she lived with or near us in Colorado for that four months, I've only seen Kathy one other time since 1980, when Melody and Garrett and I met her in Florida for a quick visit while she was there in 2003. Two of her kids came to live with us the summer of 1989, and as nice as it was to have them be in my life for a while, I ended up having to send them home early as Amanda (whose birth I had attended back in 1979) was acting out in an inappropriate manner, and it turned out that she had been molested by one of Kathy's boyfriends. Kathy and I talked on the phone every once in a while, and exchanged emails, but for some reason I just haven't been in touch with her the last several years, even though she has emailed a time or two. It's nothing she did or didn't do...I have no explanation. I just don't feel an attachment to her. Isn't that odd? She has three children and several grandchildren, and none of them are part of my life. One of her sons is in prison for life, for alledgedly molesting a male cousin who was a minor, when he himself wasn't much older than a minor. Life in prison in Florida. With no chance of parole. And in his 20s. She herself lives in New Mexico, and I'm here in Georgia, so the distance factor is a huge one. Let's see: one extended visit, two others in the thirty years since.

Lawrence and I actually became quite close for a while, talked several times a year, and I was able to drop by to see him a couple of times when I used to drive from Georgia to Texas to see my adoptive dad. He had started out pretty screwed up, and was always screwing up. He lost the best thing to ever happen to him - a wife and three kids - by skipping out and never looking back. He lived to regret it, though he now has another wife and a step-family that he loves and who clearly loves him. His children haven't been part of his life in well over twenty years, the youngest two having virtually no memory of him. I haven't talked to him in a year, my fault and not his. I just forget. Really. I know he's there in Texas, all I have to do is pick up the phone. And I just forget. He tells me that he was diagnosed as manic depressive, which I guess means that all those times when he screwed up his life were during a manic stage. Well, who knows. I'm trying to figure in my the 30 years since I first met him in 1979, 1989, 1985, 1987, 1995, 2000, 2002, and 2004. Eight times in 30 years. None of those visits was more than a couple of hours, but I have seen him more than the others. So why can't I remember to call him?

I've seen Karen twice since the 1980 reunion, in 2000 and 2004. She's nice, and we get along fine when we see each other, and talk easily. But there just is not a connection. Melody and I stopped by to see her when we were through Texas four years ago, met her two now adult kids and a grandchild, and I haven't talked to her since. No reason. We just don't make the effort. Visiting her was like just visiting someone I met casually along the way, but have no vested interest in. Tally: three times in 30 years.

Stephen. Oh, Stephen. The most damaged of them all. We met only one time after that few minutes in 1980. A few years later, in June 1984, he was in Colorado for some reason and stopped by to see us. Melody and I were home alone, and he was only there for maybe thirty minutes, but he could not leave soon enough for us. Melody told me afterwards that he gave her the creeps. He married and had one son, then ended up in prison for alledgedly molesting his step-daughter. We corresponded for awhile, but he turned to God and kept writing letters about Jesus and enclosing literature, and wanting me to send him money. I stopped corresponding with him. He eventually got out of prison, only to end up there again for some reason or other. I felt really bad about deserting him, about stopping even written contact, because I had told him early on that I would always be there for him - and thought at the time that I meant it! He even asked me if I could 'sponsor' him when he got out, but I was afraid that he would show up at my door here in Georgia, and I did not want that to happen. Tally: two times in 30 years, for a total of maybe forty-five minutes.

There are a lot of cousins for Melody - Kathy's Jacen, Branden, Amanda; Lawrence's Christina, Jennifer, Robbie; Stephen's Ryan; Karen's Jennifer and James. Don’t know if they’ll ever be in contact with each other, but I would like for them to at least be aware of each other’s existence. I think that at a certain stage in everyone’s life, they at least have a curiosity about aspects of their ancestry and heritage other than what happens in their own immediate personal life - and it’s to these extended family members, past and present, that we can reach out. I have been fortunate to have actually found my niece Christina, Lawrence's daughter, and we follow each other on Facebook! We're not thisclose, but she has given me a chance to show her that some of her dad's family are not so bad. And I've been able to share all the information I've found with her so she, also, has been able to fill some of the void. She, Jennifer, and Robert James have been fortunate in that they had a mother and her family who gave them a life to be proud of.

Which brings me to my own genealogy research since first finding my maternal family. I started doing some research online in 2000 when we got our first computer, and I found several relatives, who led me to other relatives, each of whom were able to add another piece to my puzzle. One, Mary, was a cousin to my grandmother, Rhoda Irene, and she had a wealth of information to share with me, as well as photos (including a priceless photo of my grandmother as a child sitting with Mary’s father for a photo!). The daughter of a cousin of my mother’s, Jennifer, lives close to me here in Georgia, and we’ve met once (her son also suffers from mental illness). My favorite contact has been with Gladys of Galveston, my mother's cousin. She had information about my mother as a girl, and it was horrible to hear. Lillian was raped by several men at a fire station next to her home as a grade school girl, and her father was physically and emotionally abusive to his wife and children. Is it any wonder she turned out the way she did? Gladys and I have seen each other several times and talk on the phone. She will be the last contact I have with my mother’s generation, but that’s secondary to the genuine affection I feel for her!

I talked about lessons learned. One thing I've learned is that every family has some level of dysfunction and skeletons in it's closet! Child abuse, drug addiction, rape, alcoholism, mental illness. Brought into our lives by people who we had no choice in, and oftentimes by people of our own chosing. What's that old saying about being able to pick your friends but not your family?

And not all family members are or have to be connected at the hip or even be good friends. Some family members fall by the wayside due to time and distance, some from a poor relationship to begin with or a falling out, some from lack of nurturing. It just happens. In every family.

Another thing I've learned is that while many people like the idea of finding or being found, they are often only in it for the short haul. I found many relatives of one kind or another online, and we were all woohoo! at finding each other. But after awhile, after facts were exchanged and a few stories shared, they just dropped to the wayside as each got back to living their own lives. That's another thing: after a while, all you have are names and dates on a piece of paper, many times with no story behind the name to humanize them for you. But isn't that the way with any family? Dad had a brother who has a son that had five kids who were lost track of in a divorce when they went to live with the mother's family? They're still your cousins, but just names on a piece of paper somewhere.

You always hear that people want to find their adopted family to find out about health issues. Oddly, that never really entered my mind except for briefly when Melody was born. I did find out that, though there weren't any serious issues like heart disease brought to light, alcoholism and manic depression has shown up in generation after generation. Not that unusual, but still, it's good to know.

One of the biggest and probably most important things I have learned has been something that probably just comes with age. And that lesson is this: SHIT HAPPENS. TO EVERYONE. And, in the big scheme of things, my shit is way down low on the scales of how shit is weighed and measured. Ok, so that's not very lyrical, but I think it holds true. Children of all ages lose parents who have been dearly loved. Parents lose children much before their time. People divorce. Teenagers leave home to make it on their own, and somehow never manage to make it back home again. Parents move to Florida and never see their grandkids. Which of these losses do you think weighs more: me never knowing my parents and not having a relationship with my siblings, or my husband losing a dearly loved sister to breast cancer, a brother to suicide, and a mother to alzheimers? That's where putting things in the proper perspective comes in.

But. The need to know, to fill that void, to find the missing piece, to hear the story of from whence you came, to maybe see a photo or two. That is what an adoptee's story is all about. On my own journey, I unearthed something that I think would ring true for any adoptee: It doesn't matter so much what you find out, it's that you did find out. What you know isn't near as frustrating as what you don't know. I found out that my birth mother was a horrible mother, but at least I know that her name was Lillian, and that she remembered me and had not taken my birth and subsequent relinguishment lightly. I also found out that I'm Irish, and I have my mother's and great-grandmother's thin lips, and my great-grandfather's big ears! I found out that I have child molesters, wife abusers, robbers, murderers, alcoholism, and mental illness in my family, which of course I'd rather not have known about, but there was also a second cousin who was a nurse and a great aunt who was secretary for a congressman!

There was a time in my life when I did feel like poor pitiful me, and in my mind it was all because I was adopted. If my mother hadn't given me away, this and that would never have happened. Really? Life happens, whether you are adopted or not. Do I wish that I was closer to my siblings? Absolutely! Do I feel like I squandered the chance I was given to have the family, the siblings I always dreamed of? Well, yes and no. I tried early on, but they weren't ready. By the time they tried, I had moved on. I feel like the biggest obstacle was the miles between us. I'll always regret how it turned out. But, somehow, just knowing that they are out there matters.

One last thing, a postscript if you will. I've talked like I never had family until David and I had Melody, or until I found my biological family. And that's just not true. I know I always refer to my adoptive dad as, well, as my adoptive dad. I actually don't know why I do that, because he was a dad to me in every sense of the word, even if we were often out of sync. And I can't forget to mention my adoptive mother's sister, my Aunt Jean, who was a stable influence in my life as a young girl, and her daughter, Nancy, who was about eight years old when I was adopted and who remembers it. We actually moved here to Georgia because of her, and she is probably my dearest friend of the heart as well as my cousin, even though nowadays we only see each other a couple of times a year (Christmas and our birthdays in May). And her kids - Patty, Angie, and Kent - who I've known since they were babies. I'm closest to Angie since I've been around her the most and I think we'd be friends even if we weren't related. And her kids Christina, Evan, and Anthony. They are much more my family than the family I've just spent nine posts telling you about. And I'm so grateful for having had them in my life, and for their including me when they talk about family.


Ginger said...

I've enjoyed reading your story and it's a shame that it didn't have a happy ending. Well, happy in the sense that you would have a relationship with your siblings.
But like you said, stuff happens in every family and mine is no exception. As I've gotten older, it doesn't bother me that I don't see my brothers that much or talk to them that much...I think of my 4 kids as my family and as long as they are in my life, that's all I need.

Bernie said...

A real, honest and sad story....I do think you are right, all families have problems at some time or another....I am sure not being raised with your siblings would be a reason for not bonding, but sometimes siblings don't bond anyway. You did what you had to do, learned what you needed to learn and now it is what it is. You are a special lady, strong and beautiful with many just may be time to let this part of your life go and look forward with all the love that surrounds you now.....:-) Hugs

ethelmaepotter! said...

Oh, what a poignant, compelling, and honest story. And you're right - every family is dysfunctional...some more than others, but every family has their troubles.
Your birth mother actually treated you better than all her other children - she took you away from the only life she knew and gave you the chance your siblings never had. Bless her.
And shame on Aunt Helen's children for their abhorent behavior toward you. I've had many relatives with congestive heart failure, and if I'd rushed to their side as soon as they told me of the diagnosis, I'd have been there for literally YEARS. You had no way of knowing Aunt Helen was breathing her last. And I'm sure you enriched her last years.
I'll miss this story; what have you planned for us next?

Carol............. said...

Thank you for sharing your story in such an honest and humble way.

glnroz said...

Amazing. I may know nothing, but I know one thing,,this whole story was amazing.

glnroz said...
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Alice said...

Wow! Are you exhausted?! What a journey. You know, I've heard pieces of the stories over the years, but never got the full picture. I know what a struggle you've had and the incredible loss that you've felt by not being close to "blood" relatives. And I also know that we don't get to "pick" our family, but we do get to choose our "heart family". Sometimes they're the same, but more often than not, they aren't. So please know that you're my "heart family" and I love you dearly! Love, Alice

Lorna said...

Thank you for sharing your journey with us. I love that you decided that after all, shit happens! So true. To all of us. None of us are more virtuous than others in any respect--sooner or later, no matter how much we strive to do things "right" or the "best" way, shit happens. Life is not fully lived until we've experienced only the 'good' things. But for most of us that's the way we want it, lol. Good on you for looking back with perspective, and enjoying the life and family you already have. Best!

Lorna said...

Ooops, meant to say, life is not lived until we've lived both the good and the bad. That's a whole life. And the gifts we get by experiencing all of it...priceless.

Michele Renee said...

I was on the edge of my seat with my heart pounding, as usual, while reading your story. You have definitely learned a lot about yourself and families and life. I was not adopted but related to some of the things you said such as choosing to not pick up the phone, etc. Despite being from the blood of those who have had issues, I bet it makes you very very proud (as you should be) of yourself for making a good husband choice for yourself and providing such love and nourishment to your own offspring.

glnroz said...
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glnroz said...,, I just suggested that you compile all these post, along with selected pics and make into a book.

Missy said...

I have really enjoyed reading your Adoption Story, even though things did not work out as you thought. I perfectly understood and agree with everything that you said...your lessons learned. I am the type of person that gets pre-conceived notions in their head about reunions of long lost friends - and you are right. Most are not in it for the long haul. And shit does happen to everyone...which is a comforting thought to me sometimes when I feel that I am the only one in the world with sadness and grief. You are an amazing woman who accomplished what you set out to do. :)

Midlife Jobhunter said...

I'm so sorry I didn't comment on this earlier. A little behind. Linda, this last piece of the group is so very touching. Shows such maturity and a healing. A recognition of what is important that you've discovered on your journey. I think you should put all these pieces together into a collection. So many sentences I wanted to site, but the work as a whole is complete. I hope that doesn't make it seem trite, but I can't think of a better word at the moment. Full circle, no. YOu learned too much to come back where you were, other than you do come back to those who matter most in your life. Anyway, I'm rambling. Impressive post.

And I don't think you need the postscript. We gather from you that you've had excellent influences in your life - and joy.