My Friend’s Story – Leukemia: Rosh Hashanah & Remembrance

Rosh Hashanah Happy Jewish New Year to Old Friends & New Family

September 24 was the first day of Rosh Hashanah this year, which ends at sundown tonight. As noted in my 9/24/14 post, it was also my 62nd birthday—the first adult birthday I have been truly grateful for.

Sadly, my childhood friend, Sandee, did not live to see her 62nd birthday. As detailed in my previous posts about her, as well as in the story of finding my sister after 50 years, Sandee and I met when we were seven—just at the time I “lost” my baby sister. My Sister’s Story – Adoption & Reunion had a happy ending. My Friend’s Story – Leukemia did not.

Sandee died four years ago tomorrow, on September 27, 2010 (at age 57) of an insidious blood cancer— just after Rosh Hashanah had started that year. And just one year after my sister came back into our lives. No one was more gleeful about that event than Sandee—especially when she learned that my sister had been raised Jewish! 🙂

But Sandee’s story is only partially tragic. She lived joyously, and one of her sisters told us that, as she lay dying, Sandee said that she had loved her life. She was truly blessed and gave everyone who knew her big dollops of her happy life energy.

One of the proofs of the gift that was Sandee is her legacy of four beautiful grandchildren. Just yesterday, right in the middle of the new year, I received this card from her daughter in Israel:

Sandee & Mitch's Grandchildren

As hard as it is to mourn the passing of my childhood friend, it is easy to rejoice in the part of her that lives on through her and her husband, Mitch’s, children and grandchildren.

Happy New Year 2014 to my Jewish friends and family. May you know as much joy as Sandee did during her shortened life on earth. And may you leave as wonderful and inspiring a legacy as she did.

Please also visit Mitch’s Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Fund-Raising Page.


Life Giveth, Life Taketh Away . . . and It Giveth Again

Spiral Clock

All things exist . . . somewhere in the misty, mysterious spiral of time.

Five years ago today, August 15, 2009, a Saturday, I met my sister for the first time after a 50-year separation. My Sister’s Story – Adoption & Reunion tells it all.

A year later, on that same Saturday, I visited my friend for the last time at Johns Hopkins University Hospital. She died just weeks later. My Friend’s Story – Leukemia relates a bit about our 50-year friendship and the powerful connection my friend had with my sister.

Yesterday, I posted My Son’s Father’s Story – Lung Cancer. He never knew my sister, but he did know my friend, back in a time when we were young.

After a week in which I’ve contemplated personal loss (as well as the precariousness of my own health), and a week in which the world lost two luminaries, Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall, it bears remembering that we live in a circle of life. Honoring my former husband and our son, his legacy . . . keeping in touch with my friend’s expanding family, her legacy . . . finding a sister after half a century of separation, destiny’s legacy . . . all are happy reminders of the cycle of birth, death, and life again.

These personal stories interconnect in a deeply meaningful way that, to me, seems cosmic . . . somewhere in the misty, mysterious spiral of time.

My Sister’s Story – Adoption & Reunion: Epilogue–The Wonders of Sisterhood & Synchronicity


 Mother & Sisters

My Sister’s Story

Part 1—Adoption

Part 2—Recognition

Part 3—Communion

Part 4—Reunion

On September 15, 1959, my sister was born, “died,” and started a new life. On August 12, 2009, she returned to her origins.

By that September 2009, the month in which both Vicki Sue’s (on the 15th) and my (on the 24th) birthdays fall, Susan Mary had found her birth family and a part of herself she thought she’d lost forever. What a 50th birthday present—and what a reward for an impulsive telephone call. . . . Or maybe it was a case of “spontaneous inspiration”?

* * *

I hope you have enjoyed reading about my sister’s path from adoption to reunion with her birth family. Although our story has a happy ending, I recognize that each adoption story is unique and may follow a very different path. Nevertheless, I offer this story to all those who yearn to reconnect with their beginnings in an effort to feel whole again—and return home.

Here I present a timeline of events in an effort to illustrate the synchronicities underlying our story:

  • September 15, 1959: Susan Mary was born and was adopted a few days later
  • September 1959: Pam started second grade in Northeast Philly and met her “friend-sister” Sandee Crespy (Kline)
  • December 29, 2008: Our father died; Wayne found Susan Mary’s registration of birth in our father’s papers, planting the idea in Pam’s mind of looking for their “long-lost” sister
  • Winter 2009: Pam received an email from Sandee seeking help for some of her family members; this inspired Pam to sign up with a family-matching registry to try to find her sister
  • July 2009: Pam told her Aunt Ceil the story of her lost baby sister; somehow, her aunt had never heard the story before
  • August 12, 2009: Pam received a phone call from her father’s second wife, Emily, who had received an earlier call from someone named “Vicki” saying she had been adopted; her birth date was September 15, 2009; and her birth name was Susan Mary, a fact she had just learned seven years before when she found her adoption papers following her adoptive father’s death (she had known she was adopted, but not any details)
  • August 15, 2009: Pam and Vicki Sue met at the Stockton Inn to exchange papers and photos to confirm that they were indeed sisters–which they did! Vicki told Pam that the whole time she was growing up her favorite names were Susan and Mary, a fact that astounded her when she’d discovered her adoption papers seven years before
  • August 16, 2009: Pam announced the “rebirth” of her third child to their mother; later that week, the nervous-but-happy birth-mom called her “reborn” nervous-but-happy daughter
  • August 22, 2009: Wayne, wife Anne, daughter Lindsay, and husband Doug met Vicki Sue and family–husband Howard, older son Dan, and younger son Jason–at his and Anne’s, house
  • August-September 2009: The mother-child reunion finally happened in Mom’s apartment; Pam and husband, Farok, met Vicki Sue’s family for a luncheon at Olive Garden; Pam and Mom visited Sandee’s Mom in the hospital and told her and Sandee’s sister, Ronnie, Vicki Sue’s story, complete with photos; tears of joy and happy babbling ensued
  • September 15, 2009: Vicki Sue turned an elated 50 years old
  • October 18, 2009: We held our first family-reunion “Oktoberfest”; attending were Mom and her friend Joyce; Aunt Ceil and her other niece Nancy; Wayne and Anne; Lindsay and Doug; Pam, Farok, and Matt (my son); Vicki Sue, Howard, Dan, and Jason; Phill and Noelle (our step-brother and sister-in-law); and, of course, Sandee, who came to meet her soul-sister, Vicki Sue; sadly, they never met again
  • November 2009: Our father’s house was sold and his phone number was disconnected–had Vicki Sue waited much longer to dial that number, we may never have been reunited
  • January 2010: Sandee became ill with recurrent afternoon fevers after returning from a trip to Israel with her husband, Mitch, to visit their daughter, Malka, and her family; Pam drove to see Sandee in her home for what turned out to be the last time
  • August 14, 2010: Pam and friend Sue visited Sandee at Johns Hopkins–exactly one year after Vicki Sue and Pam met; it was our final girl-time together, and it was good
  • September 27, 2010: Sandee died of leukemia

* * *

As I’ve told you in this story, Sandee became “Susan Mary’s” replacement in my seven-year-old world, which had been shattered by a temporary parental separation and a private agreement to give the third child up for adoption. Sandee lived just long enough to meet my sister, whom we call Vicki Sue to honor her adoptive and birth names, after her remarkable re-emergence in 2009 from the shadows of our past. Other than my family, no one was more moved or jubilant that I’d found my sister than the one who’d taken her place all those years ago. Sandee and Vicki Sue met at our family’s first Oktoberfest on October 18, 2009, 50 years after we had lost Vicki Sue and 11 months before Sandee died, at age 57, of the leukemia that was starting to leach the life out of her–and that she didn’t yet know she had.

After Sandee’s funeral in September 2010, Sandee’s sister Ronnie gave me a hollow, ivory-colored ceramic heart with a separate, smaller solid heart in the center–the image that appears above. The idea was to bury the small solid heart with the beloved deceased and for the bereaved to keep the hollow heart as a remembrance of both loss and eternal connection. Although I helped carry my childhood friend to her grave, I did not place the solid heart in her coffin. Instead, I gave it to Vicki Sue. Sandee would have loved knowing that my broken heart actually has a living center. You can read a little more about Sandee in my December 6, 2013, post commemorating her birthday.

* * *

As I experienced the events I’ve related in this story, they felt very much as if they were somehow being inspired–and perhaps even influenced–by powers beyond those available to us on this side of the veil. Back in the winter of 2009, my first intuition was that, from wherever he was, my  recently deceased father made amends for his part in the family separation by somehow inspiring in me an impulse to find my sister. This impulse was further reinforced by Sandee’s “rescue” email on behalf of her family. Within months, my sister–after 50 years–had an impulse to try to find her birth family and dialed my father’s number, which would be disconnected within three months. Shortly after they finally met in 2009, my friend-sister, Sandee, met the birth-sister, Vicki Sue, whom she had replaced in my life in 1959; sadly, Sandee died less than a year later.

And Vicki Sue, not knowing her birth name until adulthood, announced that her favorite names since she was a little girl were Susan Mary.

You, of course, may draw your own conclusions. I have drawn mine.

Postscript: Vicki’s adoptive mother recently died on Sunday, November 10, from complications of emergency abdominal surgery; she had been living in a care facility. Happily, Vicki Sue now has us, her old-but-new extended family.

* * *

I will end by deferring to a great poet, who says in few words what I have tried to say in many:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring 
Will be to arrive where we started 
And know the place for the first time. 

From “Little Gidding,” the last of T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets



Part 1—Adoption

Part 2—Recognition

Part 3—Communion

Part 4—Reunion

Epilogue – The Wonders of Sisterhood & Synchronicity

My Sister’s Story – Adoption & Reunion: Part 4–Reunion

Part 4—Reunion

How do you tell your 79-year-old mother that she now has three children–and two more grandchildren—to buy birthday, Christmas, and Chanukah gifts for?



Click for:

Part 1—Adoption

Part 2—Recognition

Part 3—Communion

“Congratulations! It’s a girl! You have a lovely new 50-year-old daughter!”

My mother is fond of what sound to me like silly aphorisms. When I’m worried or can’t sleep, I get, “Think of a lovely rose garden.” Nice thought, but die-hard neurotics and insomniacs like me usually need something more, like . . . say . . . pills, not petals.

On August 16, 2009, a lovely summer day, I called my mother and said I’d like to come see her. “What’s wrong!?” True, I usually don’t call to say I want to come over. “I have something to show you.” “What is it?” “A surprise.” “What kind of surprise?” “Let’s just say it’s something old that’s new again.” Later I found out she thought I’d bought a pre-owned car.

After meeting with Vicki Sue the previous day and exchanging papers and photos, I hastily assembled a portfolio for our mom. Searching on the Internet for an appropriate picture to put on the cover, I found the one above. It looked just old-fashioned enough, and just cute enough, to serve my purpose. My husband drove me to my mother’s place that day because I was too nervous, but he planned to go off to the pool and do errands while I went up to do the deed. During the entire trip from NJ, about an hour’s drive, I tried to think of an opening line. I had nothing.

When we arrived, Farok dropped me at the back door to my mother’s apartment complex, where I contemplated how to announce the rebirth of my mother’s third child. The building happens to have quite a lovely pink rosebush beside the door, which reminded me of my mother’s penchant for aphorisms. Then one of her favorites came to me: “You never know when you get up in the morning what’s going to happen to you that day.” Hmmm. I’d lead off with that.

Down she came to let me in. She looked around, noticing I had something in my hands, but she saw no husband and no car. “Where’s your new car?” “What new car?” “The one you came to show me–you just bought a new used car, didn’t you?” “What are you talking about?” “That thing–that thing that was old and is now new again. It’s a new used car, right? And where’s Farok?” OK, I played along for the two minutes it took us to walk upstairs. “Yes. You figured it out. Farok loves the car so much that he decided to tool around in it for a while–he’ll be back later.”

* * *

When we were finally settled on her sofa, she looked at the folder in my hand. “What’s that?” “This is what I’ve come to show you.” She started staring at me a little suspiciously. “You know what you always say to me–‘You never know . . .'” ” . . . when you wake up in the morning . . . yes, so, what happened to you today? And what’s that in your hand?” “I’ll show you in a minute. Just one more thing I have to tell you first.” She’s not a patient woman, and I knew I was about to drop a beautiful bomb on her and didn’t know how to prepare her for it.

“OK. Remember I went to see Matt last week? Well, as I was stepping onto the plane to come home, Emily called me on my cell and said she’d just gotten a weird phone call from a woman named Vicki.” “OK, and . . .” “OK. Well, so, Vicki told Emily she’d been adopted.” Stares. “And that her birth date was September 15, 1959.” Widening eyes. “And that her birth name was Susan Mary.” Eyes bigger than any deer’s in any headlights ever were. My mother put her hand to her heart, and barely forced out a hoarse whisper: “My daughter!? You found my daughter!?”

“Well, she sort of found me. And this is what she looks like.” I showed her one of the photos I’d taken the day before and printed out. “How did you get that?” “I took it with my phone.” “You met her!?” “Yep. Just yesterday.”

Hands shaking, heart pounding, eyes unable not to be as wide as they would open, Mom took the portfolio, and I walked her through it–adoption papers, birth registration, baby pictures, growing-up photos. “And you have two grandsons–and they’ve both been bar mitzvahed.” “Really!?” Pause. “Wait ’til Sandee hears that!” Of course, she already had. And was barely hanging on waiting for me to report back about how my mother took this monumental news.

* * *

Over the next two hours, we looked at the photos, and I told her as much as I knew about VS and her family. Then it was her turn to tell me the whole story of what had happened 50 years ago, which she did. Some of it she had trouble remembering, but not the heart-rending scene in the hospital on the day she left without her baby. This was a privately arranged adoption through family doctors. For some reason, PA law back then required that the birth mother hand over the infant to an agent of the adoptive mother on the steps outside the front door of the hospital. A lawyer was waiting outside; the new mother was in the car.

On the only day in her life the child would almost be in the presence of her two mothers at the same time, a nurse brought in a yellow outfit that the adoptive mother wanted to take her new daughter home in. At first the nurse asked my mother to dress the baby herself, but Mom couldn’t see through her tears to get the job done. So the nurse dressed the little girl and handed her to her mother, who was unable to look into her baby’s eyes. The nurse put a small blanket over the baby’s face momentarily as a gesture of kindness. Then the doctor came in and asked my mother about a name. My mother insisted that her baby girl would not leave the hospital without one. Giving away a nameless child would be like casting away a baby that was unwanted and uncared for. Circumstances, not lack of love, had dictated this adoption. So one of my mother’s favorite names combined with a variant of her own first name (Marie) was put on the registration of birth that we later found in our father’s possession.

My mother walked next to the nurse carrying the child to the front steps of the hospital and, according to law, took her baby, face veiled once again by the blanket, from the nurse and handed her over to her adoptive family’s lawyer. The little girl left the hospital with her birth mother’s chosen name in her adoptive mother’s chosen outfit. “Susan Mary” was on her way to her new home, wearing yellow.

And her birth mother was on her way home to tell her other two children the sad news that their baby sister had just died.

* * *

After we were all talked and cried out that August day (you can guess why my brother and husband didn’t want to be in the middle of this), my mother had a decision to make. Vicki Sue–my mother loved that name!–had said she felt only joy, no sadness or anger, and wanted to leave the decision about when–or whether–to meet to her mom.

“Please call Vicki and tell her I love her . . . that I’ve always loved her, every single day of her life. But I need time to adjust to the shock. Maybe I’ll be ready to talk to her by phone in a week or two, and if that goes all right, maybe I’ll meet her someday soon after that. I just need time.”

Yeah, right.

The next day, the “new mom” told her friend at the hospital where they both volunteered. That’s when apprehension started turning into excitement. Within days, Mom called her third child on the phone. Vicki didn’t pick up, so my mother left a strained message: “I don’t know how to say this, so I’ll just come out with it: I’m your birth mother, and I’d love to talk with you.” When they finally connected, somehow between sobs and tumbled words they agreed to meet very soon.

That weekend, Wayne and his wife, Anne, invited Vicki Sue and her family–husband Howard, older son Dan, younger son Jason–to their house for dinner, where they also met Wayne and Anne’s daughter, Lindsay, and her husband, Doug. Dan couldn’t stop staring at his uncle Wayne, who responded to this by throwing a fork at his new nephew, saying: “Stop staring! It’s not my fault that we look alike!” And that they do. Laughter ensued. You can imagine that if Vicki Sue and her sons couldn’t stare at my emailed photos hard enough, they certainly had a stare-fest on meeting their new bro/uncle in person. To this day, they seem simply fascinated to find family resemblances.

I had yet to meet my sister’s family. And Mom had yet to meet her daughter.

* * *

But the following week, unable to postpone the inevitable any longer, the new arrival decided it was time to go meet her mother. And her mother agreed, with her whole heart. We all thought it best that they meet on their own, just the two of them, for the Mother-Child Reunion.

Mom went down to the back entrance to let her daughter into her apartment building, but she saw only a delivery truck parked in the lot across from that rose bush. She kept calling, “Vicki! Vicki!” Then a tousled, reddish-brown head peeped from behind the truck, gradually revealing a wide smile as Susan Mary caught her first glimpse of her birth mother, who stared back at her “baby” in awe. The mother-child reunion happened first with the eyes . . . again, those eyes.

Hugging and crying and laughing, they went upstairs. They talked for hours and hours, still crying and laughing, looking at photos, staring at each other. Vicki Sue finally went home later that night with emotions that I dare not try to describe. Maybe she will do that herself someday. But she left behind a very peaceful and happy Mom–who couldn’t stop smiling and crying as she looked at the beautiful roses her “new” daughter had brought her: yellow. Just the color of the last outfit she’d seen her in 50 years before, when she’d thought she’d never see her again.

A week after that, my mother, Farok, and Vicki Sue and family all got together for a happy, question-and-answer-style reunion luncheon at Olive Garden. This was not so much the beginning of a new family as it was the enlargement of a previously invisible family circle.

By that September 2009, the month in which both Vicki Sue’s (15th) and my (24th) birthdays fall, Susan Mary had found her birth family and a part of herself she thought she’d lost forever. What a 50th birthday present–and what a reward for an impulsive telephone call.

* * *

Or maybe it was a case of “spontaneous inspiration”? I have a few more anecdotes and thoughts about that, which I’ll share in tomorrow’s Epilogue.


Part 1—Adoption

Part 2—Recognition

Part 3—Communion

My Sister’s Story – Adoption & Reunion: Part 3–Communion

Part 3—Communion

Click for Part 2—Recognition

Click for Part 1—Adoption

Willow Tree_Sisters by Heart_50%  “And . . . oh my God. You have a mother!” That’s when it hit me: who was going to tell “our” mother?!

“I think you should do it.” Ah, spoken like a typical “baby sister.” Of course. I was the oldest. I was supposed to be the “responsible” one.

I suggested to Vicki that we meet that coming Saturday, August 15, 2009, to exchange copies of papers and photos. She was utterly fascinated with what we all looked like–or more particularly, whether she looked like any of us. After we decided that “the middle” was the Stockton Inn, just across the bridge from PA in NJ, I emailed her some photos. She said later that she couldn’t stare at them hard enough. I think she was looking for parts of her lost self in our faces.

And speaking of middles. . . . After Vicki and I hung up, a first-step plan in place, I called “our” brother to give him the momentous news. “Great. Now I have middle-child syndrome.” After I stopped smirking on my end of the line, I said: “Well, I used to be the older child–now I’m the oldest!” He’s the comedian; I’m the grammarian.

Then I told him the story and asked him the same question: who should tell our mother?

“I think you should do it.” Ah, spoken like a typical younger “middle child” brother. Of course. I was the oldest. I was supposed to be the “responsible” one.

Discussing names–it felt odd to us that we had a “new” sister named “Vicki”–Wayne decided how to work around the “but our sister’s name was Susan” problem: “I think we should call her Vicki Sue.” And so we did–and still do.

First things first. I had to meet our sister before I could tell our mother we’d found her–or, rather, that “Vicki Sue” had found us. I felt it was vitally important to be sure there were no sad mistakes before we made the big announcement.

* * *

I did make a couple of more phone calls that night. First, I called Emily, my deceased father’s wife. She was so happy for us: “God bless you all!” Emily passed away last year, never having had the chance to meet the Vicki she’d spoken to on the phone that August day in 2009. But I’m sending her a posthumous thank you through this story for helping to bring us together.

Another call I made that evening was to . . . you guessed it, Sandee. Her life was so busy that she rarely had time to talk on the phone unless she was in the car. I caught her as she was driving home from work. “Sand! You’ll never believe what just happened! I found my long-lost baby sister!” “You wha. . . .” Her phone battery died. She couldn’t call back until the next day, rampant curiosity and nervous excitement notwithstanding. That’s just how full Sandee’s life was.

When the phone rang the following day, she just picked up where she’d “dropped” off: “You what!?” As I told her, I heard more giddy laughter than I’d ever heard come out of her before. Oh, and I heard plenty of caterwauling about her dead phone. “Serves you right,” said I. “You talk too much!” (Long-time friends can say these things to each other.) I resumed: “And guess what else? She’s Jewish!” Well, the happy squeals and “I can’t believe its” on the other end of the line competed with gleeful laughing as we both remembered that, when we were kids, Sandee used to say I was more Jewish than she was. This wasn’t true, of course, but it was our longstanding joke. Between giggles and gulps, she said: “When do I get to meet her?”

I told you this part of the story in last Friday’s post–they met at my house two months later, at our family’s first “Oktoberfest,” a truly happy event. They never met again.

* * *

Saturday, August 15, finally came. Last evening, my husband and I drove through Stockton, NJ on our way to PA to see my mother, and all the memories flooded over me, washing away the past four years. And I’m remembering them so clearly this morning as I sit watching a light snow turn our landscape into a Christmas card.

On August 15, 2009, armed with “Vicki Sue’s” birth registration and lots of photos, I headed off to the Stockton Inn. I often misjudge driving time, so I was a few minutes late. When I entered the restaurant, I told the hostess I had a reservation for two–and she started crying. Then a waitress approached the reservation desk–and she started crying. Uh-oh. . . .

“What happened!?” “The other lady got here early. She was pacing and looking so nervous and as if she was about to cry, so we asked her whether she was all right. She told us the whole story!”

They led me to the garden waiting area, where I beheld my baby sister–who would be turning 50 exactly one month later–for the first time. The Willow Tree picture in these posts–the “Sisters by Heart” statue–captures the essence of that first reuniting embrace. Vicki Sue gave me that statue at our first Christmas together, four years ago already, in 2009.

After we hugged for some indeterminate moments, we went to our table, where a tearful waitress brought us some wine for a toast. Even though it was only the two of us, we had each brought with us, in spirit, 50 years of family and life that we would soon reveal to each other, words tumbling over bites of food and sips of wine, spilling out through smiles, splashing past happy tears. The occasion felt as profoundly important as any ceremonial day I’d ever experienced.

In case you’re wondering: Yes, the information on the papers matched. Her adoption papers and “my” birth registration contained the same data. But by that point, I didn’t need facts. As Vicki Sue took off her glasses, I looked into the eyes of my much younger mother from deep within an early childhood memory, still such an integral part of my adult mind. It was a strange, eerie feeling. VS didn’t look that much like my mother, just a little. But when she removed those glasses, it was our mother’s eyes I was looking into, the long-ago mother-child bond impossible to recall at will–and equally impossible to destroy by time. Although Vicki Sue would not look into those same young-mother eyes, she would look into the windows of her biological mother’s soul. Soon. Very soon.

Yet Vicki Sue’s eyes aren’t even the same color as our mother’s. My parents, brother, and I all have hazel eyes. But my mother’s sister–Aunt Ceil–has very pale blue eyes. And these are the color of Vicki Sue’s. Interestingly, VS resembles Aunt Ceil, who has lots of nieces and nephews, but no children of her own. And I almost forgot yet another coincidence, which I was reminded of last night when I stopped in to see Ceil on the way to pick up my mother for dinner: That summer of 2009, just a couple of weeks before Vicki Sue appeared from the ether, I told Ceil about my long-lost baby sister, just after she’d finished telling me a wonderful story about her long-lost high school friend.* Believe it or not, Ceil had never known about her sister’s “lost” child. About two weeks later, my aunt and I both felt as if we’d manifested Vicki Sue just by talking about her!

By the end of that lunch at the Stockton Inn, my sister and I–no DNA test could make us any surer that we were just that–had made a plan. She would meet our brother and his family the following week. But in the meantime, I had a very important job to do.

How do you tell your 79-year-old mother that she now has three children–and two more grandchildren–to buy birthday, Christmas, and Chanukah gifts for?

* * *

Part 4—Reunion tomorrow.


Part 2—Recognition

Part 1—Adoption

My Sister’s Story – Adoption & Reunion: Part 2–Recognition


Part 2—Recognition

Click for Part 1—Adoption

Willow Tree_Sisters by Heart_50%After the chills shot through my body, I had just enough time to say, “Oh my God, that’s my sister!” before we were instructed to put away all electronic devices. The plane was taking off.

I was traveling with a colleague. At the time, my son, Matt, was working with us remotely, and Rob and I had gone down to Greensboro to meet with him. But even quick trips can be exhausting, and Rob just wanted to nap on the flight home and get back to his family. So I sat on the plane staring at my switched-off cell phone with no outlet for my mounting anxiety mixed with excitement. Good thing it was a short flight; but it would take an additional hour-and-a-half or more to drive home from the airport.

Finally, in the early evening, I was back home. I called my father’s wife, Emily, to continue our truncated conversation from earlier that day. She was a bit giddy, but also cautious. Rather than give this “Vicki” person my number, she took Vicki’s number and said she would have “Bob’s daughter” get in touch with her. I lost no time making the call. It was a wrong number.

I called Emily back to check the number. I had written it down correctly. Now what? Emily said “Vicki” had sounded nervous and that she wasn’t sure she’d ever call back. I said, “Don’t you have caller ID, or can’t you do *69 or something?” “Wait a minute. Let me hang up and look at this phone.” So, I hung up and waited . . . and waited.

Almost half an hour later, the phone rang. “Pam?” “Yes?” “The lady at the number I called gave me your number.” “Vicki?!” “Yes.” Pause. “We thought we’d lost you. What’s your number?” It was one digit off what Emily had given me. 

“Hi.” “Hi.” Obviously, we shared a creativity gene. When in doubt, I let my “business” persona take over. “Why don’t you tell me what you know, and I’ll answer any questions you have.” So “Vicki” read me the information from her adoption papers, and I compared it with the birth registration Wayne had found. Date of birth: check. City of birth: check. Parents’ names: check. Birth name: check. And she knew the name of the hospital where she’d been born: check. “That information exactly matches what I have. I think you’re my sister.”

When we recovered our voices after the moment of emotional overwhelm, we talked for almost an hour. She told me about her adoptive family–father deceased, mother then living, older brother (biological son of adoptive mom and dad) grown and living out west. Then she described where she’d been brought up–at one point she lived practically around the corner from my first married home, and she had always lived in the vicinity of Philadelphia, as had I. (Now I’m in New Jersey, but she’s only an hour away–whereas she was once 50 years away.) Then she told me about her own family–married with two children. I had two “new” nephews!

* * *

My WASP-by-birth sister had been raised Jewish, and her sons–my nephews–Dan and Jason, had both been bar mitzvahed! Wait ’til I tell Sandee, I thought. As I said last week, Sandee, the star of Friday’s post, was beyond thrilled when she finally got this news–especially about the bar mitzvahs. Also as I’ve mentioned, Sandee’s entry into and departure from my life eerily coincided with Vicki’s story. I found Sandee just as my sister was born and was lost to us. And Vicki found us just as Sandee was becoming ill and would soon be lost to us. It felt as if they were exchanging places . . . but, of course, only in my world.

Vicki’s story contains other strange coincidences. Although I’d known of her existence since I was 18, I had never made an attempt to find her. That cold, lonely winter of early 2009 just after my father died, I was sitting in my home office feeling bereft. Sandee had emailed her family and friends an urgent plea on behalf of one of her sick cousins, who was in dire need of financial help, and she was asking people for contributions. After I sent mine, Sandee’s efforts on behalf of her family got me to thinking more about mine. I’d been watching those adoption programs on TV and suddenly had an impulse to check into some of the resources they’d mentioned. It was time to find my sister.

I registered with a family reunion site, providing all the information I had about my lost sibling. Then I waited. But I heard nothing. Not until that August day stepping onto the airplane. While Vicki and I were on the phone that first time, I asked her what had prompted her to try to find us now–only several months after I’d started my initial efforts to find her. She said she’d just read a story about adoption and had a sudden impulse to grab a Philadelphia phone book and look up the family name on her adoption papers. She’d always known she was adopted, but it was not until her father died seven years before that she’d found her papers and learned of her birth name.

Now, here was another strange thing: Growing up, again knowing she was adopted but not anything more, Vicki’s favorite name was . . . Susan. Her second favorite name was . . . Mary. As you’ll see in another installment, my mother refused to let her baby leave the hospital and go to a new mother’s arms without a name. The name she gave her that day in September 1959, the one that appeared on “Vicki’s” birth records, was Susan Mary.

And one more eerie matter of timing: Not only had Vicki and I had an impulse to try to find our lost family–and she not even knowing who she was looking for–within months of each other after a span of almost 50 years, but had Vicki waited to pick up that phone book just a few more months it would have been too late. Our father’s house was sold three months later, and the phone number was disconnected. It was almost as if my father was helping to orchestrate this reunion from wherever he was. I remember that later on Sandee concurred with that notion.

* * *

Now it was my turn. Wayne and I hadn’t had the happiest of childhoods, so I thought carefully about how much I should tell Vicki about us . . . and about how she came to be given up for adoption at birth. “Well, you have me–I’m your older sister by seven years. I’m married, for the second time, and have a grown son, Matt. And you have a brother–he’s 20 months younger than I am and about five years older than you. He’s married and has a grown daughter, Lindsay, who’s also married. And . . . oh my God. You have a mother!”

That’s when it hit me: who was going to tell “our” mother!?

* * *

Part 3—Communion tomorrow.


Part 1—Adoption