Tag Archives: adoption

“The M Word”

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Sometimes, one little word can change everything.

Language has always been tricky for Cathy and I to find the right words to describe what we are experiencing and who we are to each other. Others box us into words that don’t fit very well and the daunting truth remains quietly in flux with our paradox, unattended by the right words. The love that anchors us is stingy with words but we are grounded at the core even without them.

They’re just words. Words to describe us are often are contradictory, bordering on the ironic and suggest complexity bigger than our connection. Mother-daughter. Relinquishment-reunion. Adoption-birthright. Lost-found.

We’ve tried to respond to each other with honesty even when we’re at a loss for words. The people we were when we were younger remind us of where we’ve been as we look for ways to talk about where we are now with others like us and around us. We both go through this, it’s two sides of the experience we share.

After Cathy’s firstborn arrived years ago, she announced to me over brunch that she didn’t want me to use “the M word” anymore in relation to her. In a soft voice she listed the reasons with a firm but practical tone. She was a new mother and now she knew the difference. I hadn’t done any of those things with her. Her mothering came from her adoptive mother and that word belonged only to her. I took in what she said and nodded without argument. “It’s only a word” I said to myself. I asked her if it was okay to continue to call her my daughter. She nodded yes, and said that was fine. I was relieved. She was all that mattered to me in that conversation.

I was careful not to use “the M word” after that day. Nothing closer than the more acceptable (there’s that paradox again) assignations of “birthmother” or “first mother” came from me. I don’t like those names but it didn’t matter. It didn’t change who I was or what I felt. I didn’t care what she called me. I dropped the qualifier and referred to her adoptive mother as her mother from then on, and took my place in the language of our relationship. In my heart I knew what I knew – that we were more – and I didn’t need a name. She would know me by who I was – by my voice, by my laughter, by all we shared – not by a moniker that only reminded her of someone else and who I hadn’t been to her when she needed me most. It made me sad and I understood.

The surprise came on my birthday in late October. I arrived home from work to a lady on my wet doorstep holding a delivery in the rain of an outrageous bouquet of flowers tied up in brown paper from the exotic florist on the corner. Birthdays and holidays were often a source of discomfort for Cathy and I had learned not to expect anything. Mystified, I thanked the woman and carried them into the kitchen and turned on the light. When I saw the card I started to cry.

“Happy birthday, Mama! Love, Cathy” was written with a flourish in a confident hand.

Stunned, I looked again to be sure I was seeing it right. “The florist must have gotten it wrong” I said aloud. It even looked like her handwriting, though I knew it couldn’t be. “Maybe Cathy had a drink and felt mushier than usual and dared to say this because she knew I’d like it?” I knew that wasn’t like her but scratched my head. “Is it a joke? Did she mean to do that?” “Is this real?” I put the flowers in a vase from the cupboard and loosened the arrangement. “Should I call her and thank her, or wait to see if she meant to do this?” “Will she be embarrassed if I love this?” “Did she really say this?””Is this her? Are these her words?” The flowers were incredibly beautiful but my eyes were glued to the card. I went from exhilaration to confusion to doubt and looked again. Yet there it was. The M word.

I didn’t know what to do so I took a picture of it with my phone. My heart lilted as a swift of joy winged up from some secret tunnel deep down under the skin of my heart. Even though I was still uncertain, it’s magic began to sink in. It didn’t matter. What’s in a word, right? Even if this was a mistake or some kind of hoax, something unlocked in that moment. The truth was that the gift had been given. Her acknowledgement was embedded in an armful of flowers on my birthday. It was intentional. She had given me a name. There it was, a boldly written word that had never been uttered before. Mama. I am mama. I’m her mama. She called me mama. Call me Mama. That’s who I am.

One little word can change everything.
BirthdayFlowers_Mama2014
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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What It Means to #FliptheScript

Peace Sign People 1968I was a full-blown flower child and came of age in the counterculture of the 1960’s. I questioned authority, sang folksongs, wrote a few, marched for peace, and learned truth telling and non-violent resistance from mentors like Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Phil Ochs, Joni and Gandhi. I felt music synchronize my heart with a half a million others at Woodstock and the power of love became the anchor of my faith. Yogananda, Edgar Cayce, the Tao, Rudolf Steiner, macrobiotics, herbalism and the counter-ego teachings of Jesus and Buddha stirred my worldview into a lively New Age stew from the Boston Catholic mix I had started out with.

When I became pregnant at 18, it became a personal act of radical love for me to decide to come to term and relinquish undercover in my hometown. The truth and consequences of my ‘free love’ passed from my bloodstream into my healthy unborn daughter to wrangle and reconcile with in her post-embryonic journey without me. Her life as a reassigned child made her truth unspeakable. While I was marching against war and injustice, she was growing up a banished child with the myth of her first mother’s surrender under the nobless oblige of adoption. Guesses at the truth were uneasy and elusive for the many years that followed. Questions discouraged, I had been sworn not to ask or seek. My daughter was fated to harbor innate questions whose unrequited answers would taunt her truth at heart. We followed the script for eighteen years.

I left my childhood when I left her behind without a clue of what ‘a better life’ looked like. I was too young to know. Now I know I should have taken her with me. I didn’t know the most important part at the time – that it all works out. Now that I’m old, I know that it’s true, pretty much down to my bones. It all works out when there is love.

If somebody had flipped the script back in 1970 and said, “It’ll all work out, go for it” I think I could have believed it. I think it would have worked out. The flower child in me knows now what she always knew then – the truth when she hears it, and that the truth sets you free.

The stories from #FliptheScript give me new hope and I believe that the truth telling about adoption – from the adoptees and the birthmothers will deepen understanding and with it –  make way to a better life for the children it affects the most.
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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National Adoption Month #flipthescript

MaryTwoVoices_KCinSF2014
November has been deemed National Adoption Month. For a birthmother-in-reunion like me, this title emotes something different from its intended purpose, and come in a synonymous stream with National Lost Child Month, National Relinquishment Month, National Abandonment Month, National Lost Mother Month, National Lost Daughter Month, National Lost Sister Month, National Lost Son Month, National Lost Brother Month, National Lost Father Month, National Lost Grandparent Month, National Family Secret Month, National Birthmother Month, National Child Acquisition Month, National Next-Best-Thing Month, National Orphan Month, National No-Birth-Records-For-You Month, National Lost Family-of-Origin Month. Most of the time these aspects of adoption are quietly, closely held at deep expense. The irony of National Adoption Month is not lost on my daughter, nor me. There is a glimmer of relief in sharing the truth. We know it’s only the beginning.
kindness
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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Exposure

exposureWhen I see myself in home movies as a child, I can see my gregarious side. I was in love with life and responded to my surroundings, my many siblings, and the turning wheel of events with a zest filled with positive charge.

In my childhood memories of being sad or blue, it was my quiet side that took over – a contemplative, more pensive self – and my reflective nature developed in the privacy of my thoughts.

If I dug deep enough, the answer to my distress was usually waiting there beneath the restless confusion that puzzled me. Once claimed and digested, my emotional balance and sense of understanding increased, along with my ability to either take in more deeply, or let something go that no longer rang true. When I felt caught in between, I cogitated – and pushed at layers that covered the truth like a dog dug for a bone until the answer began to reveal itself. I was a young philosopher.

If my parents sensed that I was stuck on something, quieter and more perplexed than usual, one of them would casually ask how I was doing. More often than not, I would gush my questions and tell them what worried me. They each had a gentle side to their strength. Sometimes my reception to that deeper query into my interior life was better coming from my father, or my mother, depending on the phase I was in.

Looking back now, I appreciate the strategies they must have conspired to keep up with the wild imagination of their daughter as they tried to support my quest to understand life and how I fit in as I found my way.

Talking about it, whether in my thoughts or out loud, was one way I worked it out. The edge of what troubled me eventually found its way and reabsorbed back into my system, like a ruptured disc back into the spine, and I maintained my balance with some discomfort but found myself able to sustain it and move on. I compensated for the dissatisfaction of unanswered questions with thoughts like “it’s just the way it is” or “it’s more than I can understand right now”. As I got older, the margin of things I couldn’t grasp lost gravity or gained weight depending on its importance and wisdom anchored in truth grew in the middle of the person I turned out to be.

When Cathy and I decided to write Cathleen~Kathleen, we knew we were exposing ourselves and writing at great personal risk. We wrote an entire ten years of chapters without sharing a word with each other to answer to the questions that our situation begged in each other, and in the world of adoption and reunion. The privacy of not sharing our chapters with each other was the key that would allow us to replace fear with complete and uninhibited honesty. The unshared chapters are still a largely a secret between us that other people, mostly unknown to us, have read in our blogs and a couple of isolated public readings.

It’s those readers and listeners who have hints of the collective truth of our tale, while we wait until the final edits by our editor to engage and fully share our sides with each other, and in some ways, deliver the truth to each other.

In the negative light of being a birthmother who relinquished her first child, I gave my reunited daughter my unconditional and unedited permission to expose her view of me and all she experienced – complete with my failures, vulnerabilities and weaknesses – to the entire world.

Why on earth would anyone do that?

In our case, it was the only way to uncover the experience of long-term reunion that would allow others to learn the truth of adoption and reunion in its authentic form. It was also a way for me to love her in an unconditional act as her mother, no matter what the world thinks of me.

Is it worth it?

We’ll find out.

If it isn’t, my daughter will still have the inside-out guts of my story of us to digest, and wisdom anchored in truth will grow in the middle of the person she turns out to be.
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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Photo: themindblowing.com

Mushiness

KateHalloween1958The affection factor in the large family I grew up in was strong. We were a physical family of ten and as siblings we hugged, held hands, and sweet smiles wove us together in eye-to-eye moments that conveyed understanding and acceptance. We also tussled with each other in the inevitable pecking order of so many kids. It was part of our body language and we were expressive and comfortable with each other. There were times when the family was young when we slept head-to-foot just to fit all of us in the available beds on family outings to visit relatives – and we knew each other as well as a litter of pups making our way between giggles and wriggles into whatever space held us as children growing up together.

In between the countless tasks at my mother’s hand was a sweet woman who did her best to kiss our scratched knees and soothe our bumpy insecurities, and she patiently held us close when we just cried without any reason at all until we were cried out, and then let us go back to what we were doing more confident than before for the love we were given.

Our dad traveled in his work but when he was home he opened the door into new levels of fun and adventure awaiting us in the bigger world. He opened our minds with introductions to odd flavors of ice-cream he brought home for dessert, souvenir chocolate covered ants from a business trip in Japan, mental telepathy games at the dinner table to guess what number he was thinking of, and occasionally he’d fish our minds with existential questions just to hear what we would say. Our personalities were clearly marked in our answers and he and my mother both enjoyed our differences and taught us to appreciate the unexpected in each other in these first lessons in diversity.

After our mother held us in the water with her forearms under our bellies to teach us how to swim, we’d graduate to holding onto my father’s feet as he floated on his back and we’d follow him around kicking like propellers in the water.

Laughter and wit erupted from the core of our family and we manifested affection easily. The older kids took care of the younger ones. We were paired off in our bedrooms with the sibling closest in age. We were a family of huggers. When times got hard, we learned to hold back more and the distance between hugs became a measure of our family distress. When things were good, we were close and we knew how to show it. Learning to be reserved became a discipline that came with maturity but we had started out open and accessible to each other and each of us were part of the whole. It was a good place to be most of the time.

All these decades later, we are still affectionate people. Sometimes our hugs and lovelit eyes surprise the people we are with as much as the times when it doesn’t happen. There is a delicate balance between what we can share from inside with the people outside our skins, but given half a chance, we are most at home when we can let it out naturally because that’s how we learned to be in the beginning. We shared ourselves with each other and a hug spoke a hundred words in one embrace.
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.

Strength & Weakness

leaf in crackThe characters portrayed in adoption triads are strong. The birthmother is seen as strong because she has made the counterintuitive decision to go to term and then release ownership of her child to other people. The child is automatically perceived as strong because she is perceived as adaptable from her original family to another, and can co-exist as being “different” from the other members of her new family. The adoptive parents are strong people because they have made a socially admired decision to take care of someone else’s child as if she were their own. The birth family members are also strong because they hold the façade together of continuity in the family when the pre-born has been reassigned to live outside of the family because “it’s better that way.” Strength is confusing.

Strength is an inherent characteristic of each member of the adoption triad. The social cast is so strong in the adoption culture that signs of vulnerability, loss and tragic sadness are avoided, overlooked and often perceived as weakness or brokenness.

When an aunt, uncle or grandparent steps in after the of a loss of a parent, the child is regarded as the child of their natural parent and the substitute parent, while greatly respected for their loving care, doesn’t usually reassign the child’s identity to an unrelated one. We are known by and associated with the families we come from. When a child is reassigned outside their family of origin, the original, natural connection is rendered null and void. To bring it up weakens the carefully built illusion that everything is normal. The birthmother and the child disown their mutual history and although it is part of their story, ignoring it is part of their survival. The original link between mother and child is legally unbound but the natural ties live and exist inside us. The ones most affected are quiet because to question it is considered weak, unfair, and irreversible. So we adapt to be accepted. We carry on as though nothing is out of order and the more normal we appear, the more we are accepted as we are. Birthparent, adopted child, adoptive parent.

But underneath?

Underneath a quiet roar of insecurity, loss and separation is felt and re-absorbed over and over, day after night. This is true for all the members of the triad. To express this discomfort makes one appear weak and wanting, and supplants the apparent confidence in ourselves with doubt that exposes a deep fear of being wrong, or even being a mistake. Nobody wants to be a mistake.

But maybe being a mistake is what we all are – conception is a surprise, the creation of a new person where there once was none; each person unique and complete. The disconnection in adoption lies in pretense. If the adoptee is recognized for who they really are; and the birthmother, the extended family, and the adoptive parents share a mutual focus on the true wellbeing and honest heritage of the child as she is, there may be less room for confusion inside the adoptee as she grows into her identity. She would spend less time compensating for being who she’s been told she is now, and more time being herself, unique and complete.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.

Cathy’s Wedding

peach1rose5394The day before Cathy got married I had a meltdown. Steve and I had been asked to host the champagne reception on the mountain following the ceremony. Her parents would host the big party back in Portland in a chic ballroom on Alberta Street. Cathy wanted all sides of her prismatic family to attend her wedding: her parents, her friends, her birthfather, my side of the birthfamily. Cathy’s quirky humor extended to assign her ex-boyfriend (and now best pal) as a bridesmaid, and her groom’s ex-girlfriend was best man – this was Portland, after all. My kin closest to Cathy would be there.

The preparations were cheerfully coming into place. The sunny August weather boasted Portland at its best. Two of my sisters, Mary and Gina, and the wedding minister, Janette – who had also married Steve and me – were lined up in my kitchen to dunk strawberry tips into vats of warm chocolate and set them in dozens of rows on foil-wrapped trays to refrigerate. Mary and I had gone to Pastaworks to pick up the bags of cheese, tapenade, fruit, olives, and baguettes to go with cases of Italian Prosecco ordered and ready for pick up. Everything we needed was lined up by the door in bags and coolers to caravan to Ross Mountain the next morning. There we would lay the tablecloths, garlands of flowers, and platters to receive the bride and groom in the meadow below the sacred grove, and raise our glasses in the first toast to their union.

Steve and I had celebrated our winter wedding party in the same spot a few years before; a potluck of love dishes, we danced to the music of 3-Leg Torso on violin, accordion and cello among the exuberant cluster of family and friends on Valentine’s Day in 1998. Our hosts had generously invited Cathy’s wedding into their magical grove on the mountaintop. This time the celebration would be for my firstborn to exchange vows with her chosen beloved in the circle of trees surrounded by family and loved ones.

That afternoon before the big day, I ran out to the neighborhood dry cleaners to fetch our clothes freshly pressed for the occasion. Driving the short mile home, my hands tightened on the steering wheel and my chest began to fill up like a balloon. Tears started to fall out of nowhere. I pulled over to the side of the road to wipe my eyes and try make sense of what was happening. When I closed my eyes to find a clue in my distress, the answer came quickly. I wanted my mother. I wanted her to recognize my reunited child, her first granddaughter, as we prepared for her marriage. I wanted my daughter encircled by all of her family. My mother was nowhere near. She hadn’t called and it was almost too late.

I had written my mother two months before to let her know about Cathy’s upcoming wedding. The letter had turned into an apology for the distance that had grown between us. The one-sided conversation unfolded the love and regret in my heart as the words dropped to the page from my pen. I apologized for the dashed hopes I had left in the wake of my sprint to adulthood. I wanted to be the daughter my mother had wanted to have. The contents of the letter was deep but gentle in my attempt to reconcile.

Traditionally my mother wasn’t one to write or call back. Unless she picked up the phone when I called, efforts to connect with her over the years went largely unanswered. We had grown up with a strong sense that our mother’s feelings were a private affair. She was shy, quiet woman and, beyond the endless tasks of raising eight children, she was drawn to solitude.

My heart cried with the heart of a child. I wanted my mother there as my firstborn prepared to approach the altar. I wasn’t sure if she was even aware of how special this day was or what it meant to me. My heart had been wide open on the sleeve of that letter but I hadn’t heard back. I had tried not to let it matter but underneath I hurt like a baby.

I pulled up in front of my house and wiped my face, flustered, embarrassed and hurt by the attack of emotions that had overcome me. I grabbed the hanger of clothes from the back of the car and walked up to the front door. The playful chatter in the kitchen stopped short when I entered the room. The hanger of clothes was taken from my hand and they drew closer so I could tell them what was wrong.

“I want my mom. I want her to wish her first granddaughter well on her wedding day. I want her to bless my Cathy.”

I started to cry as they looked at each other with worried faces. Janette handed Mary the yellow enamel bowl and asked her to gather rose petals from the bush in bloom she had planted as a surprise at the foot of our backyard fence years before, then she ran upstairs to run a hot bath with soothing oil for me.

The tears were relentless. Hundreds of peach-colored petals swooshed the surface of the bathwater as I reached with my foot to turn the faucet on and off and mask the sound of my crying. Mary came back upstairs a few minutes later and walked in with a caring look.

“There’s a phone call for you” she said as she handed me the phone and turned to go back downstairs.

“Hello” I whispered.

“Hi Kathy”

It was my mother. She had never gotten used to my name change from Kathy to Kate when I turned thirty, and she always called me by the name she had given me. There was comfort in the sound of her voice calling me by my childhood name.

“Kathy, it’s Mom. I just wanted to call to wish you a beautiful day with Cathy tomorrow. I’m really sorry I can’t be there. I hope it’s everything you hoped for.” I heard her pause and then she continued, “I want you to know that Dad and I are saying special prayers for you and Cathy and for everybody in the family as you gather for her wedding this weekend. I love you.”

I was shocked. How could this be? One of my sisters must have called her? Nevertheless, here she was. I settled back into the water and held the phone close to my ear.

“It’s good to hear your voice, Mom. Thanks for calling me.”

She continued, “I’m sorry I haven’t written you back. I got your letter. I want you to know, Kathy, that I love you. You were my first daughter and there will always be a special place in my heart for you. I’m so proud of you, Kath. I want you to know that all is forgiven. I forgive you, Kathy, and I love you. I really do. I want you to know that. I love you, honey.”

I started crying. I could hear some urgency in her voice that I could hear what she meant behind her words. The weight began to lift from my chest and I started to breathe.

“I love you, too, Mom. I wish you could be here but I’m so glad to hear your voice. Thanks for calling me, Mom. I love you.”

We hung up. I let out a long sigh, took a breath and slipped under the rose petals in the warm water. When I came back up the air had cleared and the grief storm had passed. What family could come would be there. The rest would hold us in their hearts. With my mother’s blessing, I got ready to take my place in the circle in the sacred grove as one of the mothers, the first mother, in the family we had become.
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.

What’s Normal Now

Otters by steve einhorn©2008Cathy and I have been through countless ups and downs, close times and gaps in the flux and flow of our active twenty-five year relationship in reunion. When we first met she was eighteen years old and I was thirty-seven. What was normal then was to meet as two people apart from each other. I was a younger mother than the one who had raised her, and she was eight years older than the daughter I was in the process of raising. We were awkward at first – what had been normal now felt out of place. We had unexpected pieces in each other’s puzzles – some that fit and some with uneven edges. We were more different than the same. With time and experience, we came to embrace the differences as beautiful characteristics that made us uniquely ourselves and our fear of being different leveled out. We have learned enough about each other to accept who we are and now it feels normal to be comfortable with each other – in both the confident and insecure moments. This is a big change from the beginning, and signifies that the healing we have hoped for is happening. It doesn’t ‘make it all better’ but it helps a lot.

At first we were shy and skittish. Now the mix of our similarities and differences have combined into a unique blend that is our love for each other. Our comprehension is growing and our love is deepening. Our hearts grow stronger, less afraid. What used to be abstract love hidden in dreams and tucked inside our muscle and bone, is now awake, alive and courses through our lives in real time, face to face. Our families accept us and circle us with support as we have accepted each other. We are a beautiful family. My grandchildren are growing up knowing that this is love.
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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.

Reunion Haiku

mother child tug
underneath ties that bind us
together again

Fra Angelico - Madonna and Child 3

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.
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fra angelico – madonna and child

Grandchildren

WaldmuellerMy grandson Quinn just turned 8. His brother turned 6 last month. I love them both and they are easy with me – there is complete acceptance. It’s a lovely thing. They have no idea how significant that gift is for me. They just know we love each other and that’s all that matters. They also love my husband and call him their “Uncle Grandpa Steve”. He is a special person to them and someone they cherish. We are their artistic grandparents. They are quite at home with my hugs and laughter. They know I love their mom.

I don’t know if the complexity of who I am to their mother has hit yet. They are still young enough to take me at face value. I don’t know if they ask about why I am called her birthmother instead of her “real” mother. I’m sure they know what the word adoption means and that their mother’s life has been the journey of an adoptee.

They look at me freely, sweetly with clear open eyes. They trust me. They know who I am and they love me. Trust between us has not been broken. Their eyes don’t yet have the guilty weight of questions that contradict our trust. They know the truth but the love between us is a strong and an unquestioned bond. The love between grandparent and child is reinforced by their mother’s tie to both from the middle but it’s also a love of its own unlike the others, unconditional and freely felt.

Maybe they are young enough that the past is still a story. The person they know as me is familiar and I have always been someone in their lives. I held each of them on the day they were born, and have been peeking from the seams of their daily family life ever since. They don’t mind me.

The wound between my daughter and me is still being tended. Layers of skin have recovered the gap over time but the gnarly scar that bridges us together pronounces what happened and what cannot be undone. We have grown together from the moment of our reunion and the cells of the skin we share continue to grow.

The gift is that my grandchildren knew me from the start. I was never gone to them. Underneath the fear that my act of relinquishment could stir in them is the truth that I am here now. I am not gone. I came back. They know me. The story of loss is a puzzling story of the past. It’s relevant, scary and interesting but it’s not what they experience now. In the present, I am in the family picture. For them, I’ve been here all along.

They will know underneath all that scares them that love can overcome loss and that even the saddest beginning in one generation can find its way to begin to heal in the heart of the next where there is love. I am thankful for my grandchildren. Their mother’s tender care allows their innocence to return hope to all of us. They are in the middle of our bond and from there, love will teach them.

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.
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