Adoptee Remembrance Day

Jean never found out who her family was. Nearly five decades older than me, Jean was a lovely, sweet lady who, knowing of my husbands affection for lemon cake, would present one to me on a regular basis.

Jean and I first met at the church I used to attend. She had her regular seat, right back row, first seat in from the right aisle. I would sit directly in front of her, my two young children to my left. When the boys would head to children’s church after worship, I would take up the chair in the sound booth directly behind Jean.

This arrangement meant that she was the first person I would turn to when the Pastor exhorted us to greet our neighbor. Jean would smile, and we would clasp hands, wishing one another Gods blessing.

On weekdays, Jean and I would laugh and exchange news as we sorted donations and washed clothing in our community’s small thrift shop. She didn’t enjoy running the cash register. Interacting with our customers and making sales was a job for me or for Millie, the stores manager.

From time to time, Jean and I would mutter in disgust over donations that contained someone’s garbage, or the local laundromat owner would bring by her Lost and Found; a plastic bag filled with wet, moldy clothing. Other times we would exclaim in delight as we opened boxes containing items we knew would earn the shop a tidy sum for the food pantry the thrift shop supported.

When I discovered that I was adopted, Jean was quiet. Instead of the platitudes other people were offering me, she simply hugged me. I broke down crying, and left to hide in the bathroom.

Jean waited patiently for me. Slowly, she revealed to me how she had been adopted as a very young child. Being a child “born out of wedlock” in a conservative culture led to a life of choices- tell people of her adopted state and risk their scorn and rejection, or remain silent and “pass” as normal.

She wanted a life for herself. A spouse and children.

Jean remained silent.

Jean shared with me how she had spent a lifetime peering at faces. A lifetime wondering if this person or that might be related to her, could help her make sense of who she was.

By the time Jean and I had first met, she was in her seventies. Seventy plus years of listening for a familiar voice, of longing for her family.

Not many years after my discovery of my adoption, when I was in my mid thirties, Jean passed away, alone in her home. Shortly before her death, she had handed me a necklace made of clear, bright crystals, passed down to her from her adoptive mother. She wanted to pass the necklace down to her own children, but how to choose which one? I took the necklace, restringing the beads to create three bracelets. A gift from a thoughtful woman who made lemon cakes for a man she had only met briefly, on his rare days at church.

Jean never stopped longing. Never stopped wondering. Never knew. She carried the sadness with her to her grave.

I rarely cry at funerals. I rarely cry, period. I sat dry-eyed as person after person shared their memories of this kind, constant woman. A woman who showed up for her church, her community and her friends. Quietly. Present but never wanting to be the center of attention. Never wanting to cause a fuss.

We bonded over silly things. We both sat in the back of the church because the worship leaders played the music so loudly that we both found our heads hurting. We both liked to be able to slip out unnoticed if we felt overcome.

At work we liked to hang the clothing just so, and we shared a love for the, to me, vintage items that occasionally showed up. To Jean, they were memories of her childhood, or teen age years, or her days as a young woman.

We bonded over serious topics. We recognized the profound grief that we each felt, but could not safely express in our church or in our community. We bonded over the feelings of betrayal and loss. We both felt the bewilderment of our ignorance. Why had we been given up? Why were we not supposed to know what others took for granted?

I wish I could have found Jeans answers. I wish I could have eased some of the pain she felt, the way she did for me on the day she clasped my hands between her own and told me, in a low voice “ I am adopted, too. I know what you are going through.”

Yesterday I remembered my adoptive, adopted brother, who was with me from the beginning of my adopted life. Today I remember Jean, who was there at a point in my life where I felt the most vulnerable, the most broken. Today I am finding a place for myself among a community of adopted people who my dear friend never got the chance to know. Never had the opportunity to be seen and heard by others who would understand her, love her the way that I came to love her.

The adoptee community is a gift. The internet has made connections possible that were simply not available when Jean was a girl, a teen, a wife and mother, a widow. The entire arc of her life, walked in many ways alone. I am so thankful for the resources that allow us to know one another. Reading adoptees stories, hearing your voices, joining the struggle for adoptee rights; these things mean more than you can ever know.

Or, perhaps you do know. Perhaps like Jean, like me, you walked in silence for decades, afraid to make waves. Unaware of the adoptee blogs and podcasts and forums, but now you are here. A member of the tribe who has found their way to this place of belonging.

This place of remembrance.

You are valued. You are valuable. You are magnificent. Remember that, too.

I miss you, Jean. Thank you for everything.


Published by andestanley

Hi. I'm Ande. My name is pronounced On-dee. In 1999, I learned that my feelings over the years that something was a wee bit off in my family was ACTUALLY True. In my thirties, I accidentally discovered that I am an International, Stranger Adoption. Think adult woman locked in a restaurant handicapped stall, trembling, sobbing, dripping snot, wondering why her "mom" would consider a Fresh Choice an appropriate venue for confirming her suspicions. After returning home from that little humiliation, I began what I think of as The Great Paper Chase. This blog is about that chase. A little from the legal perspective, but primarily from the emotional and physical. Over the years, I managed to find a slew of clueless people, and a few well informed individuals, who helped me navigate applying for and receiving my paperwork. I encountered almost zero people able to help me with the arguably more important side of adoptee-dom. How do I cope with how all of this makes me FEEL? When I am feeling infantilized, what do I do? When I can hear my heart pounding in my ears and my head feels like it may explode into a hundred dangerous bone shards and a whole lot of squishy mess, how do I calm myself? Am I crazy for wanting my file, my original birth certificate, my proof of existence? How do I find the courage to open this damn envelope? Now that the envelope is open, what do all these squiggly lines actually mean?! Will I feel this guilt, fear, grief, shame, anger…forever?! I decided to start this blog as a way to explore the emotional and physical challenges of seeking our identities and adoption files, as part of community. I don't think of this as My blog. I think of The Adoption Files as Our blog. Our place to ask the questions, discuss the emotions, validate one another and plot the next steps in the journey. Along the way, I will share some of my experiences as a Late Discovery, International, Stranger Adoptee trying to make sense of the lies, the application forms, the attitudes and the consequences of reclaiming myself. I hope to hear from others as they apply for, receive or are denied thier paperwork, summon the courage to open those envelopes or emails, and read and reread the contents of those communications. I also hope to wheedle a few interviews with professionals in the legal and mental health and physical health communities who have valuable insights into how we, as Adopted people, can recognize the need for, implement and maintain healthy coping strategies so we can come through this process healthier and stronger than when we began. The goal is empowerment. The goal is also connection. Adoption life, what I think of as The In-Between, can be incredibly lonely. I have benefitted greatly in recent years from the discovery of this whole online world of Adoptees finding our voices and forming connections and sharing our stories. Every single one of them has helped me along the way, whether they know this is so or not. They amaze me every single day. If you are reading this, know that you are amazing. You are inspiring. You are not alone. We are United in more ways than we can imagine. Just one of those things that unite us is that we all have some form of paperwork, some absence of it, some document we are seeking. Now, let's talk about that paperwork.

7 thoughts on “Adoptee Remembrance Day

    1. Thank you! She was a wonderful person. I think back on the situation now, with all I am learning about how being adopted has affected me, and I can see how her fear of being rejected made her make herself smaller. Her family would have been privileged to know her. She should have had the chance to know them.


      1. Thank you for reading. ❤️ She was a really wonderful lady. I wish the resources we have today had been available for her back then. So many unanswered questions, so much silence. 😕

        Liked by 1 person

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