I was back at school for about a month when I got a phone call. It was my birth mother. Her mother lost her battle with breast cancer. I immediately felt a sting of regret because I never had the opportunity to meet her. I met my immediate birth family just one month before, but somehow I was too late to meet my maternal grandmother. My birth mom asked if I’d come down for her funeral. “Of course,” I told her. I didn’t want to miss another chance to learn something about her family.
It hadn’t really occurred to me that a funeral would bring about the chance to meet my biological aunts, uncles, cousins and grandfather for the first time. I think it dawned on me during my six and a half hour drive back to my hometown. Not only would I be mourning for my birth mother’s loss and my own loss for what never was… I would be making a first impression on the rest of my birth mother’s family.
I spent time with my birth mom at her house as she gathered pictures of her mother and their family. It was the first time I got to see what my birth mom looked like as a child. For the first time, I could see myself in someone else’s photographs. I got to hear about the strong relationship she had with her mother. I wondered how that translated to my birth mom’s relationship with my sister and brother.
The next day, as I got ready for visitation, I scrutinized every detail of my reflection. I’d met my birth mom, my biological dad and two of my siblings, but now I was about to meet my birth mom’s extended family for the first time, and see my deceased grandmother. How does someone even prepare for something like that? I was devastated I never got to meet her… why hadn’t I stayed just a few days longer to meet her back in August? Hindsight is my worst enemy.
I rode with my birth mom to the funeral home. A small crowd of her sisters and their kids were outside waiting when we pulled up. As I walked toward them, I heard one of her sisters gasp and say, “Robyn.” Everyone else turned around and watched me with sad curiosity in their eyes. I didn’t know if I should smile or remain reserved. I opted for a combination of both, I think. I was happy to meet them, but heartbroken for the circumstance that brought us together.
They hugged me one by one and introduced themselves. I expressed sadness for their loss, and they expressed sadness for mine. “She would have loved you,” they told me. I’m sure I would have loved her, too. I got out a cigarette and took a moment for myself while they filed inside to view her body. My little brother stayed back with me and we inhaled our vice in silence.
When we went inside, my birth mom walked the aisle to her mother’s casket with me. When I saw her, I was overcome by a strange mosaic of emotion. The matriarch of my birth mother’s family… the woman who raised her, stood by her side through her entire pregnancy with me, and loved her through her choice to place me for adoption… was gone. If only she’d seen that we made it back together. If only…
The next day, I drove myself to her funeral. I knew it’d be another day of strange introductions under horrible circumstances, and I wanted the car to myself. I’ve done it once, I can do it again, I told myself. I walked with the family to sit in one of the front rows. I sat by my siblings and still felt so out of place. This seat belongs to someone else, I thought. But sitting next to anyone else wouldn’t have felt right, either. I was right where I needed to be.
After the service, we gathered in the lobby and gave hugs and kindnesses to everyone in attendance. Nobody really knew who I was, just a random, familiar looking girl that was sitting with the family. I never felt as vulnerable as I did right then. I was tearful, but I didn’t have someone I was comfortable enough to pull aside and talk to. I was crying for more reasons than anyone there realized.
An older couple came up to me with sweet, longing smiles and gave me tight hugs. It was my birth mom’s father and his wife. They expressed how long they’ve waited to meet me, and thanked me for coming back to their lives. They pulled me aside and handed me a small white box. “We bought these for you when we heard you came back,” they told me.
Inside were two silver bracelets. One was silver and red with a note engraved in the metal. “I said a prayer for you today, I know God must have heard. I felt the answer in my heart although he spoke no word.” The second silver bracelet had a prayer engraved, too. “May your days all be blessed with the presence of an angel watching over you.” My grandfather told me they had prayed those things over me from the time I left his daughter’s arms in the hospital all those years ago. I gave them both hugs and told them I was overwhelmed by the whole weekend. They tried to understand as best they could, and left me to my thoughts.
It’s difficult now to explain all the things that churned through my head that weekend. It was an emotional rollercoaster, unlike any other experience I’d been through. I wanted so badly to hear stories about my birth mother from my grandmother, but that could never happen now. I wanted to know the woman that helped shape who she is. I wanted to know her family history, where she grew up and what it was like raising three daughters. I wanted to know how she felt when I was placed for adoption. I wanted to share with her that I had a great childhood, and grandparents that loved me, too.
As I grieved my loss and empathized with the loss my birth mom’s family faced, I also had much to celebrate. I had new aunts and cousins to learn about. I had a grandfather that never forgot about me. I had biological siblings that stood with me through one of the toughest weekends of my life.
On top of that, I had my own parents waiting for me to get home each day so they could wrap their arms around me and hear me cry about all of it. They didn’t understand, there’s no way they could, but they listened. My home, my roots, still belonged with them. They never could have predicted how truly complicated and amazing reuniting with my birth family would be, but they opened that first door for me so I could explore and try to open the rest. My big brother took my phone calls at all hours and listened to me angst about my relationship with God. Reuniting with these relatives of mine brought me back to Christ during a time when I questioned everything. He was a rock while my world started to shake and my brother was the one person in my life that actually did understand. I can never thank God enough for giving me someone like that.
God was in every detail of that trying weekend. When I got back to school, I had a card waiting for me on my bed, signed by my Zeta Tau Alpha sorority sisters. They didn’t really understand what I was going through… adoption and reunion was a new concept for most of them. But they understood loss and love, and made sure I felt surrounded by love when I returned.
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