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A Tribute to My Special Gram
By Colleen (my niece)

Last week, on June 12, 2003, I went to my Grandmother's funeral.

She wasn't just any grandmother. In May of 1989 I was sitting in my car looking up at her for the very first time.

Image: Mom and Colleen, April 2003I knew from the time I was five years old that I was adopted. I had a good life. My mother and father loved me. I had brothers and sisters like everyone else, but something was missing. I wanted to look like someone. I asked my mother once when I was eighteen who my biological mother was, but she wouldn't tell me. I knew she felt threatened, and I didn't want to hurt her, so I let it go.

I got married, had two children of my own, and one day while watching Joan Lunden on TV interviewing adopted children and their birth mothers, I decided I had to know. When I was sixteen my aunt had told me my mother knew who my birth mother was, and until now I didn't want to push the issue, but now was the time for me to find out. I called my mother and told her I knew she had my birth mother's name, and that I needed to know. Her response was as I expected; she was upset and said she needed some time.

A few days passed and my father showed up at my door with a letter from my mother giving me some information on my birth mother: her name before and after she married, and the fact that she had children. My mother had kept tabs on her through the newspaper all these years. She was understandably upset; she had lost her own mother on Thanksgiving Day when she was only sixteen, and later lost her nineteen-year-old son in an automobile accident while he was serving in the Navy, stationed in Africa. Now the thought that she might lose me to my birth mother was a lot for her to handle. I was excited, scared, and felt sorry for her, but this was something I needed to do.

I went to work the next day and my boss, Nancy, and I took out the phone book and looked up Jacqui in the town where my mother said she lived. Her ex-husband was listed, so Nancy dialed the number as I nervously stood by. He told her that they had been divorced for thirteen years, and he didn't know where she lived; he said maybe somewhere in Manchester. I was selling real estate at the time, so I knew how to use reference books and soon found myself at the Manchester library. Book after book I searched, but didn't find her name anywhere. I had been adopted through Catholic Charity and called them, but naturally their records were sealed, and it would be a long process to go through the necessary red tape. Next I tried a private investigator. Days of waiting finally turned up nothing from him either.

My next stop was a trip to the local library where Jacqui grew up. My mother had told me She saw Jacqui's engagement in the newspaper in February of 1958 so I went in search of the engagement notice. Looking at microfilm until my eyes were red, I finally found the announcement. There she was. It was like looking at myself in the mirror. I finally looked like someone.

My next trip was to Methuen High School, where a very nice woman showed me Jacqui's yearbook and actually looked in her file and let me have a glimpse of her grades. She even made copies of her yearbook picture for me.

From there I went to the Salem, New Hampshire Police Department, thinking that if she lived in New Hampshire, I could figure out what her license number should be by her birth date and name, not knowing that after her divorce she had changed her last name to the French spelling of her maiden name. I had a hard time telling my story to the police officer I spoke to, but seeing how desperate I was, he said he would try to find her. He wouldn't be able to tell me anything, but he would contact her if he found her. Because she had changed her name, he was unable to find anything. (Another dead end!)

Image: Colleen smilingAfter three weeks of searching, I finally decided to go see the house she was brought up in. As I pulled up to the house on Russell Street, I saw her father's name on the mailbox. Imagine my surprise; I never thought they would still be living there. Because they had an unlisted phone, I hadn't found them in the phone book. As I was sitting there in my car, I glanced up at the house, and there in the window was the woman I would come to know as "Gram" looking out at me. Well, there was my chance! I got out of my car and went to the door. Four foot, eleven inch, silver-haired Cecelia had a look of concern as I asked her if Jacqui was her daughter. "Is she okay?" she asked. I assured her she was fine and asked if she was alone. She said her husband was also at home, and I asked if I could come in. She immediately invited me in. Once inside, I didn't know where I would find the right words, but I had to say something fairly quickly so as not to alarm them any further.

"Did Jacqui have a baby in April of 1956 that she gave up for adoption?" I asked. She hesitated, then said "Yes." "Well," I said, "that baby is me." She immediately embraced me and began to cry. My grandfather just sat there, not knowing what to say. Gram then asked if she could write my name in the family Bible. Of course, I was honored. She took out the Bible and added my name, along with her other grandchildren. I was anxious to meet my birth mother at that point. Jacqui had a job working second shift, so she was at work at the time of my visit. Gram said she would call her and tell her of my visit. It was a very emotional visit, so I cut it short. I went home to take in all that happened that day in May, 1989. The next day Jacqui called me on the phone. My heart skipped a beat when she told me who she was.

We made plans to meet that weekend at my grandparents' house, so on Saturday I drove to the house where I had seen my grandmother looking out at me for the first time. Jacqui and I hugged and just looked at each other for a very long time. I had found out that her birthday was in February, and wanting to give her a special gift that first time we met, I had purchased an amethyst (her birthstone) pendant. She had the same idea, because she gave me a locket with her picture in it. I have treasured that gift ever since. We spent the rest of the day showing each other pictures of our families and telling stories of our lives while my grandparents looked on with their hearts filled with love.

From then on, they treated me like one of the family. Gram never missed a birthday, Christmas, Easter; she always sent a card. I went to visit as often as I could. When I look back now, I wish it had been more often, but you know how it is: work, kids, you get busy with your life and sometimes put things off.

When my children were small, I volunteered to deliver meals to seniors from the Senior Center in the town where my grandparents lived. They would be at the Center dancing sometimes when I would be there preparing the meals. They looked so cute dancing together.

I always felt comfortable in Gram's house. The piano was covered with pictures of all the family. Gram made sure there was room for my children's photos. Her bedroom was my favorite part of the house. It was filled with all the things her family had given her over the years. It seemed as though she saved everything, cherishing every single gift, large or small, that anyone gave her.

For the last few years Gram was having a hard time hearing, and then her sight started to go. It was hard for me to see her struggle to hear me or look at pictures or read, things she loved to do. She liked to sew and knit, but once she started losing her sight, she was unable to do those things also. She never complained, though. At first, she was a little depressed, but she always had a smile and a hug for me.

Gram loved the beach. Her sisters would have a cottage every summer, and Jacqui would always take Gram to visit. This last summer Gram was not able to walk much, but Jacqui got a wheelchair and took Gram to the beach to see Aunt Rita and Aunt Bertha. I met them there and we took Gram down on the beach. She was so happy to be there, and so was I.

A few months after that visit at the beach, Gram needed more care than Jacqui could give her, so she went to live at Villa Crest. As usual, Gram did not complain. Yes, she missed being with her husband and her family, but they went to visit her as often as they could, and so did I. At first, it was hard to see her there, wishing she was back at the white house on Russell Street where I had first seen her 14 years ago, but after a while it was okay. Gramps would go to visit her every week. He would sit next to her and look at her with so much love in his eyes. He would say to me, "I love my wife." I would tell her what he said, and she would say, "I love him, too". I felt so lucky to have found them. Gramps would tell me he loved me, too, and that was very special. I loved them as any granddaughter would love her grandparents. All of Jacqui's family: her siblings, her children, and their children all made me feel special, and were all special to me.

On that Wednesday afternoon on May 28th, 2003, I got a call from Jacqui. "Gram has taken a turn for the worse." I got in my car and headed for Villa Crest. She was in her bed with family around her when I arrived. She was weak, but still able to talk. I sat holding her hand for a while. Over the next week, everyone spent as much time as they could, with her knowing the end was near. This beautiful woman who loved her five children, ten grandchildren, fourteen great-grandchildren, and four great-great-grandchildren and we all loved her as well. As she began to get weaker, she held on for us, calling out, "Go with God" and then calling for her husband of 68 years. That last Sunday I sat and watched Gramps hold Gram's hand and look at her with all the love of a newlywed. As I was about to leave, I kissed Gram goodbye and told her I loved her. I hugged Jacqui and told her I didn't really want to leave, because I knew this would be the last time I would see Gram. We cried and I left, and at 2:00 a.m. Jacqui called and said she had gone. Ninety years she lived, but she will live in our hearts forever!


All photos by me, my parents or other family members

Image: Border of Pansies, my mother's favorite flower


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