by Alison Ward
When we all searched so long ago to reunite with our children, I don't think we ever gave much thought back then to anything but the early years, the ones following the loss, and the present. We were so much younger than the adoptive parents. Now, all our children are grown, the ones we lost and any whom we raised. We are all grandmothers now, although sometimes are not recognized as "real" ones.
My daughter, Holly, had adoptive parents who raised her and loved her. They invited me for a weekend at their home several months after I made that first phone call to a 14-year-old. They asked me to stay with Holly when they went away to horse show when she was 15, which was when Jill Krementz came to tiny Dacula, Georgia to interview Holly, Sandra, and me. Sandra allowed the picture of the three of us to be in People magazine way back when, and we were later all on Oprah Winfrey's show in Baltimore (before Oprah went to Chicago) with the late Bill Pierce of the National Council for Adoption and a sworn opponent of openness in adoption. I doubt if Sandra and Holly's adoptive father, Allan, received much support from their friends when they allowed Holly to spend Christmas breaks and summer vacations with me when she was a teenager.
Certainly it was difficult for Sandra and Allen when Holly lived with me and my second child, Daniel, whom I had when I was 36 and was raising as a single mother in New Jersey. Holly was going to college in nearby, and things seemed to be going well when one day she simply walked out and left. She was 24 at the time; we had known each other for nearly a decade. Letters went unanswered and the years rolled by.
After Holly withdrew from our relationship, any letter or package I sent her went c/o Allan and Sandra. Although I never received any response from Holly, Sandra reassured me that she gave everything to Holly and I believed her.
I did not hear from Holly for 17 years. Four years ago when Holly was 41, she wrote me, told me about her life and her son, Matthew, enclosed a picture, and asked for medical information. I responded and sent a baby gift, but did not hear from her again for a couple of years. Then, in 2007, she mailed me a wonderful album full of photos of Matthew, in kind of time lapse photography fashion. It was then that I knew we would meet again. Matthew is Holly's only child. He was born when she was 36, the same age I was when I had Daniel.
Sandra and Allen knew that Holly met me again on Sanibel over a year ago. She knew I met Matthew, who was four at the time, and her husband, Phil. Last October, when Holly told me that Sandra's health was rapidly declining, I wrote Sandra a note to wish her well and to thank her for all she had done for Holly and for me. She wasn't a perfect mother and, God knows, I'm far from it.
I'm not exactly sure why I have been affected so much by Sandra's death, but we were connected for the last 42 years (even the first 14 when we didn't know each other). While Sandra's obituary won't mention me, she leaves me behind as well as her family. I know that, while she could never replace me, I can never replace her.