Postcards of Grief

Mourning is a process.

Comments on breast cancer by proxy, written by a woman coping with the loss of her mother.

Friday, May 11, 2007

We’ve talked about this before:

My mother got pregnant at 18, and that child was adopted by another family. I learned about this event when I was 21, and my mother told me any of a number of things about the experience. I remember some of them clearly. Others I never thought to learn from her. Still others are not clear to me as facts. One thing I know is that my mother never tried to find the girl child who was reared by adoptive parents.

When my mother died in February 2004, I took some time to breathe and stew, and I concluded that I would call the agency through which the adoption took place and tell them to tell the adoptee about my mother’s illness and death. They asked if I wanted a call when contact had been made with the adoptee, and I agreed. They warned that the process might take a year or more, and I said that I understood.

Three years later, I still hadn’t heard. A book review in Brain, Child alerted me to the existence of The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler. I was never more interested in seeking out that woman who was adopted as when I finished that book. I contacted the agency again.

Time went by. The promised calls were never returned. I called again.

This morning, I finally made contact with them. In 2004, they sent a letter to the adoptive parents. The adoptee called the agency. The agency told her what I reported about my mother’s breast cancer and her death. She asked for my mother’s age at death; they told her.

I can get the non-identifying information (date, time, and location of birth) from them by completing a form and sending a check for $60. I haven’t decided in the last few hours if that’s what I’ll do. I need to sleep on it.

She’s lived the last 38 years of her life without my mother. She is a half-sibling to me, biologically, and my full blood sibling couldn’t be more different from me. Calling her my half-sister seems too familiar and too intimate. We have shared nothing except a few genes and a trip down the same birth canal.

Three years ago, I wanted nothing from her. I grieved so much for my mother, and the need to get this information to the other biological daughter was so urgent. My mother’s illness and the process of her death is less in my mind now. I focus on her legacy, her memory, and the story of her life. Her life, rather than her death, is my urgency. I want her biological daughter to know about her life as well as her death.

It would be easier if they had called me after the adoptee—for whom I need a less dehumanizing name that is not so familial as “half-sister”—contacted them. She’s alive—or rather, she was alive in 2004. At least one of her adoptive parents was alive in 2004. But this is new. It feels like it happened this week.

When the form comes, I’ll have to decide to do it or set it aside. Until then, I will just think.


At 1:21 PM, Anonymous Anna Jarzab said...

Dear Emilin,
I am working with VOICE (an imprint of Hyperion publishers) on marketing a memoir by Kelly Corrigan, a thirty-six-year-old woman whose life was changed forever when she discovered a lump in her breast. Kelly’s breast cancer diagnosis was quickly followed by her father’s own late-stage cancer. After reading your blog, I thought this book might be of interest to you, and I would love to send you a copy for review or discussion on your website. Please feel free to contact me at anna@authorsontheweb.com for more information.
Best wishes,
Anna Jarzab

At 11:56 AM, Blogger Amy said...

Please pardon my last comment. I just read that the adopted sibling does know about your mother. You seem to be undergoing such inner struggle over all of this. I am glad the agency finally gave you an answer.


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