(Note: the name of my older sister has been changed to protect her privacy.)
There was yet another precious gift enfolded into the summer of my mother’s passing–the opportunity to meet the older sister I never had.
My mother gave Susan to adoption 39 years earlier in the months before she met my father. When I turned 19, she told me about this in an effort to protect me from the challenges of unintended pregnancy.
Though my mother was a private woman, she later confided that she often wondered about her daughter, but that she had always been silenced by her husband, a respected physician in the community.
Once I knew about my big sister, however, I was on the lookout. I looked extra close at every Susan I ever met, but I never found her. After my parents divorced, I felt free to press my mother for more information, but she dodged my questions.
Soon afterward, my younger sister was faced with an unplanned pregnancy herself, and like my mother, she married a physician. 6 months later we found ourselves crowding into the waiting room at the hospital. When complications ensued, my mother dashed out of the Maternity Wing and headed down the hospital corridors. Though my father and she barely spoke at the time, he insisted I follow her.
When I found her near the exit, she cried out that she knew something like this would happen, and that it was all her fault.
“What are you talking about?” I asked, shocked by this uncharacteristic display of emotion, and still reeling from my father’s show of concern.
“Today is the day Susan was born,” she said, “I’ve always felt like something bad happened to her too.”
My nephew was delivered later that evening–healthy–on the same day as his aunt, whom we had never met.
In the years following, I pressed my mother for details, using the bits I extracted to begin an internet search, eventually discovering the agency that had placed Susan. When it came to signing the final release form, however, my mother stalled–for years. I remained patient, until the summer of 2000.
In June of that year, at the age of 57, my mother was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer and given less than two months to live. I picked up the phone and called the adoptive agency.
To my surprise, I was put through to the director who happened to be “in the field”–just thirty minutes from where my mother was hospitalized. She made the startling offer to go to see my mother and have her sign the release form.
I could hardly breathe when I hung up. I quickly put in a call to another of my sisters who lived closest to the hospital. “Can you go see Mom right now,” I said, “Tell her that the director of the adoption agency is on her way! She’s not going to be happy with me, but she has to sign.”
I couldn’t let my mother face death without knowing about her daughter–good or bad.
A few weeks later, Susan came to meet my mother and my siblings. Alas I was in my final weeks of pregnancy at the time and living 300 miles away, so I missed the reunion. A family photo was taken (with me on the phone) so that all 9 of my mom’s children could be together with her.
Though Susan hadn’t ever looked for her birth mother, she felt compelled to come thank her for the life she had been given. Her mother had asked to join her, but Susan requested that she wait until another time and brought along her husband and children instead. The children spent the visit getting to know their cousins.
Two months later, Susan and her mother on the road at 6:00 am to arrive in time for the private family ceremony at the graveyard.
The following year, just after the anniversary of my mother’s passing, I received this letter from the director of the adoptive agency,
Forgive me for taking so long to thank you for the lovely note and article about your mom. You have already celebrated your son Aidan’s first birthday.
How blessed you were to be at your mother’s bedside with Aidan when the Lord called her home.
I am glad that Susan and her adoptive mother met all the beautiful members of your family. You are truly an inspiration.
May your mother’s love and gentleness remain with you always.
Over the years, we lost touch with Susan. I imagine I scared her off when I said that I was thrilled to relinquish the role of “oldest sister” to her 8 younger siblings. Wherever she finds herself, she’ll turn 50 first, and for that, I owe her a debt of gratitude.
I think of her every year on our nephew’s birthday.
Kelly Salasin, 2010