Monday, November 30, 2015

We lost the battle, but we won the war.

How could anyone not love her?

Well, where does one begin?

At the beginning, I suppose.

My mother in law, whom I love very much, for a variety of reasons, is nearing the end of her life.   The family is working with hospice, as her mind and body begins its wind down.  We lost my father in law about 14 months ago, now it's her time for her farewell performance.

Nothing is imminent, it's just the doctor has said that given her age, that if she has another internal bleeding episode that it would be easier on her if we just to let nature take its course.  At 92, she is simply tired.

Faced with this, the husband and I started working doubly hard on trying to find her birth parents.  It's been a decades process that never really yielded anything.  All her adoption agency would give her when she was well was "non-identifying" information, which was all accurate, but impossible to prove.

Last spring, after watch Dr. Henry Gates use a genetic genealogist by the name of Cece Moore, I thought, now there's something that we've never done before.  So I contacted Ms. Moore, and she was delighted to help us.  Since her plate was full, she handed us over to another able professional named Angela, and together we marched forward, until all of us got distracted with the things in our lives.

Then this past fall, we really pushed forward.  Finally, with MIL's DNA providing us nothing but ancient overseas matches, we tried another route.

Go back to the source of our frustrations.

We decided to contact the adoption agency.

MIL was adopted in New York, and New York laws on adoptions were, for years, byzantine at best and pure gothic at its worst.

In 1989, MIL started playing this "ask me a question and I'll tell you no lies" routine that led nowhere but the "non-identification" information which contained things like "Your father was a protestant; your mother a Catholic."  And "Your mother was raised in a convent for six years of her life."

What are you supposed to do when an agency is bound by rules and laws that can only tell you "On the day that you were born, the sun came up in the east, and set in the west"?  You give up after exhausting what you think are the logical steps that take you nowhere.

This time, given her advanced age, the agency got a legal opinion that enough time had passed, and they kindly provided us with information.

We then came upon a letter written by MIL to the agency in 1991 in which she expressed her displeasure with the whole "snatch this pebble from my hand" routine and in it, it said that she would like to meet her siblings, if they could be found. The letter was a whole lot nicer than I would have been, still, you could sense her annoyance between the lines causing the words and meanings to vibrate with sarcasm.

Apparently, MIL's birth parents were married, and following the birth of third child, the birth mother went into a deep cycle postpartum depression.  This lifted with her fourth pregnancy, which was MIL, but she crashed again and was institutionalized, possibly for the rest of her life.  She could no longer function or care for the other three children, what good was she, thought her husband who was making .87 hour as a tool and die maker.  So we knew they were out there.  What we didn't know where they ended up.

Well, apparently, two of them ended up with the birth father.  Son and second daughter ended up with the father and were living with them by 1940.  But we couldn't much on them, so we focused on the eldest daughter, "Agatha".  She had married a man with a unique last name, so running those lines came easily.  We found that woman's son on Ancestry, and his descendents through Facebook.  They were all in Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs.

We contacted them and we waited.

And one of them bit at it and answered back.  We said that we did want anything, we weren't there to sell anything, and we wanted no personal information, but we did want to share the MIL adoption with them.   We laid all the cards out of the table, but we did not provide anything in writing in documents.   Those we would share if we got to meet them.  We would even pay for the DNA test to prove it.

They said they would mull it over the holiday.  And we waited.

Finally on Saturday afternoon we received a tersely worded statement that that went something like this: "Since this was something never discussed in the family, we chose not to believe it or get involved." and "We would appreciate never hearing from you again."


That hurt.

Now granted, this family line has a lot of "stuff" going on in it that is outside the norm.  And yes, 90 years had gone past since the adoption.  But that was really a kick in pants.

So I responded, and said that I felt we were owed something from them.  And that something was we got to tell them that our door was always open to them should they change their minds.  But I also slipped in there that whether or not they chose to embrace this wonderful woman, it still didn't change the fact that she was "Agatha's" sister.  And there was nothing that they could do or say to the contrary.  They could either come around, or not, but that was their decision, not ours. I wished them well.

Away from it - we have no idea what  "Agatha" knew or didn't know.  She would have been nine when the MIL was removed from the family home.  Maybe her father told her he had put her up for adoption.  Maybe the hurt was so bad that she was never mentioned again, like a death.  Maybe  "Agatha" was so put off by her father's actions that she blamed him.  There is even the possibility that   "Agatha" was a totally unpleasant person.

We'll never know until  "Agatha's" people decide to man up, and reach out.  

They may think they won the battle by telling us to go away, but we won the war.

And how did we win the war?  Well, for starters, we have had my Mother-in-Law, a woman of such great compassion that had these people come knocking at the door, she would have taken them in, no questions asked.  And we have each other, though there is always room at the family table for more.   But we have the truth, and can give it to my mother in law.  She gets to know that her biological father did indeed do the best thing for her, which was putting her up for adoption, through which she was chosen and loved every moment of her adoptive parents lives, totally, and without question - she was their daughter.

So last week was a week of great celebration, and crushing defeat.  Now we push on to find the heirs of the other two siblings, and the final resting places of MIL's birth parents.

So yeah, we are a very lucky family.  And now I get to love her all the more.


  1. another amazing story from cookie!
    wasn't it durante who said, "i got a million of 'em." ?

  2. Amazing. Those people sound cold and unfeeling, the antithesis of you and your DH. It's their loss, and I wish you both well in your search for the others.

  3. Wow. It is remarkable how people react to news "out of the blue" like this. I am in two minds, however, how I would feel if after such a period of time I were to discover a new (and distant) family who I never knew existed. Scary... Jx

  4. It's a fascinating story for sure. I don't get the other families resistance or reluctance to engage. Of course, I'm coming from a place where I thave always expected a "second family" to appear one day - due to my grandfather's lifestyle.

    Curiosity would get the better of me to at least discuss information back-and-forth. But it is there loss, though it would be nice for your husband to know medical history and such from a family lineage perspective.

  5. I am sorry that your mother in law is not doing well; that must be upsetting since she seems to be a fine person.

    Perhaps if some inheritance is involved those other people might be wary of new-found relatives. Also, these days one has to be way of scams of various sorts, but regardless it seems that those people could have been a bit more tactful.

  6. Well, we were very clear up front in not wanting anything from these people in the way of money, or personal information. All we wanted was to let them know of the MIL, and possibly meet, just to say hello and may copy a photo of the birth parents. We even offered to pay for the gentic testing if they wanted proof. Had they simply said, were uncomfortable with this, well then, OK. But this blatent denial (We have never heard of this and therefore don't believe it possible) is what gets us. its a bit like the Greek allagory of the men who sit inside a cave, and all they know of the world is by watching the shadows on the wall. And when they are given the chance to turn around and see the sun and the world behind them, all but one chose to stay where they are because its easier. This is that family. But if they ever decide to snap out of it, we are here!

    1. you should start w prank phone calls. Call them and ask for (mother-in-law's name). Do it 4-5 times. Then call and say: "this is (mother-in-law's name), are there any messages for me?"

    2. As someone with virtually no family, a call like that would have thrilled and delighted me. While it truly is their loss, I know it was kind of a punch in the gut to get such a cold brush off. In the long run, look at it as the universe's way of protecting y'all from getting involved with those people for whatever reason. But honestly? Ya'll wanted nothing from them but to give a bit of closure to a dying woman. That's their bad karma.

    3. Jacqueline, my feeling is that this proof that "Harry" (his real name) may not have been the greatest provider, but he thankfully understood his shortcomings. And chose to do for MIL as well as he could to give her the best chances in life by getting her as far away from the world that created him. He tried to set the other children up in the adoption services world at the time, but Agnes, 12, was too old and was placed at the Brooklyn Children's Free Home, and Harry Jr. (9) and Lillian (4) had a shot at an orphanage (all of the children show up on the 1930 census rolls in institutional homes), but by 1940, Harry Jr. and Lillian are back home with Harry in Queens. Strangly, Agnes' family has no idea what ever happened to Harry Sr., which tells me there was plenty family poison in all directions.

      Still, Harry Sr. is my hero. He made it possible for MIL to get not the brass ring, but the golden ring. Her adoptive parents were remarkable people. She had good genes from her biological parents, but her adoptive parents raised her into a compassionate, loving, smart, and sensitive person.

  7. What an adorable picture! And what a story. It truly is their loss.

    1. She is a darling person. But we aren't telling her about these people, or that they don't want to meet us. She's been given up by them once. No need to be rejected twice.

  8. How unbelievable. Maybe it's a veiled blessing that your MIL isn't directly involved in this. How could their curiosity not drive them to find out? They have nothing to lose but ignorance. Well, they have their reasons, I suppose. There may come a time when future generations will want to know the story.
    You are a kind, compassionate, considerate and gracious man. There are often no rewards for doing the right thing, generally, save those which we feel in our hearts. Your heart must be brimming right now.

    1. My feeling is this - the father and the mother and the children all led lives that were struggles. I mean putting all four of your children into adoption ready positions so that you can get your life in order is a very raw place to be. And they are in blue collar folks, so everyone has to work, hard long hours. My guess is that Agnes - the only one who would have been old enough to remember MIL, would have also been the one with the biggest reason to have a grudge against her father for sending their mother off. And it probably fell to Agnes to care for MIL as an infant IF the birth mother was in as bad of shape as one would be to require commitment to a state facility. That can make a person really bitter. And then to get out - either because he reclaimed his daughter or she aged out of the system only to find out that the youngest sister was adopted by another family really has to be the cherry on the top of animosity.

      At the same time, these people have decided not to deal with facts, but to deal with reality as it was created for them. I can't fault that. What I can fault is the way they did it. And that tells me that they panicked. And they had no reason to panic.

  9. You're right, that's a really cute little girl in your photo; you can already see openness and honesty and love in her eyes.

    I wish these new relatives would get with the program and get the story together; maybe you'll have better luck with the younger generations. I'd try the thirty-something grand-nephews and nieces, maybe they won't have given up on life yet.

    1. Maybe, one day. We've left the door open.

      The great irony to all of this is that I believe that our research in the past four weeks is more accurate than any of the family lore that they have chosen to accept.