Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Trying to Understand

My mother was adopted as an infant. This something that was never a secret. She never sought out her birth-parents for reasons of her own. After her death I found all the paperwork related to her adoption, including information about her birth parents that would have allowed me to track them down. Still, I did nothing out of respect for my mother's wishes, and for their privacy.

Many years after my mother died, I gave birth to my first son. He was born with a terrible genetic disorder that took his life at just two days old. I was devastated and terrified. This was the time that I decided I needed medical information at the least.

A bit of genealogical sleuthing quickly led me to their graves, and from there to a nephew of theirs. Contact with him, led me to contact with a cousin. Good news and bad- no known connection to medical history, but they had never had another child so who really knew? Years passed and I was able to find other distant cousins, none with direct knowledge of my birth-grandparents.

I've had my healthy son, but my curiosity remains. Recently, a distant cousin came in contact with another cousin who had a close relationship with these people I so wanted to know about. Hope sprang to life. Could I finally see their faces, hear something of the people they were?

I sent an e-mail and a Facebook friend request (ah modern life). Two long and anxious weeks have passed in silence. Deafening, heart-breaking silence. Tonight I wrote a follow up e-mail and wanted to publish it here. I know what this person is going to say (or not say) and I admit it breaks my heart. I don't think I am asking for too much, but perhaps I am wrong.

What do you think? Here is my letter, redacted to protect the innocent:

Mr. XXXXX- A couple of weeks ago I wrote to you about my birth-grandparents, Dorothy and William XXXXXXX. I have not heard from you, not have you responded to my Facebook friend request. I have to take that to mean that you wish no further contact. I will honor that wish, but please know that should you ever change your mind I would love to talk to you. Since you grew up surrounded by blood relatives, perhaps you don't understand why I would want to ask questions. Let me be plain, I loved my adoptive grandmother with all my heart. To this day I credit her with saving me from a rough family situation and allowing me to live a life I can be proud of and happy in. I can't imagine her not being in my life, I can't imagine a more perfect grandmother for me. That said, in my family my grandmother was the photographer. I am the family historian. When my grandmother passed away I inherited all of her photo albums. These were albums packed to bursting, well loved, and well worn. I can remember hours spent by her side as she turned pages and told me stories of the people in the pictures. Her relatives, my grandfather's relatives, my mother growing up, me growing up. I loved the stories and very strongly identify with that heritage and history. Since her death I have done the research to trace those family trees back as far as 1638. Though not my blood, they are my people still. Even so, as I look through those photos on occasion I will come across a photo of my mother as a child and she so resembles my son that it takes my breath away. Sometimes the same thing happens when I see a photo of myself as a child. There is a certain smile, tilt of the head, glint in the eye, even a way of curling up in a chair that tells me how much of me (and my mother) lives on in my child. This got me to thinking about how I never get that experience with my mother. Nowhere had I ever seen a photo of a relative that so looked like my mother that it amazed me. Only once in my whole life did that happen, when I saw the picture posted with the obituary of John XXXXX on oldchesterpa. He is my mother's blood uncle, but he could have been her father, older brother, grandfather. I burst into tears to see my mother's face, smile, eyes staring out at me from the computer. My husband happened upon me and he had to sit down when he saw the picture. It was stunning, humbling, and so unbelievable. I understand if you want no further contact. I respect that. I will ask one favor of you, and if you feel you can't fulfill it, I will find a way to live with your choice. I have never seen a photo of either Dorothy or William. I have gone to historical societies in the hopes of seeing a high school photo but Dorothy had no photo, and I haven't found William's yearbook yet. I know something of Dorothy exists today. In her yearbook she said she liked sports and history- my mother planned to be a gym teacher, and I am a history teacher. This scant bit of info, along with the bare facts my grandmother jotted down at the time she adopted my mother are all I have to build a person in my mind. If you could, I would love to see some photos of them- from the 1940s when they had my mother, and from later on. I would love to know something of the people they were. Were they happy? What did they do for fun? Did they seem content in life? Did they want a family in later life? Please try to understand and respect my curiosity as I am working to understand your silent request for privacy. Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. Thank for even considering my request. Whatever your decision, I'll try to understand. Respectfully Terri Hansen

1 comment:

  1. So, it has been more than 48 hours and I have heard nothing. Guess I am going to have to start trying to understand this person's silence. My heart is breaking a little, but I guess that is what I have to deal with. It is as much his right to want privacy as it is mine to want information. How do I do this?