In this final episode, we meet Rachael’s half-sister, Stephanie, who is seeking answers to the questions she has been asking all her life. Her quest takes her on an incredible journey-one that leads her to a new loving family, but more importantly, to herself.
Those miracles that they talk about every day—they’re not miracles at all, they’re just the natural order of things. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. You’re supposed to thrive.
The others began to leave the graveside, but Stephanie stayed behind, wanting a moment alone to say her final goodbye to the dear woman who had so lovingly raised her.
As she knelt beside her mother’s grave, the unsettling emptiness within her grew. More than ever before, Stephanie saw her life as a puzzle with too many missing pieces. She had no one to call family now besides her husband and children. Her father had passed away six years earlier, and she had no siblings, not even an aunt or an uncle—at least none that she knew of.
Again her mind entertained the possibility of finding her birth mother. Although the thought had become a familiar one over the years, out of respect for her parents, she’d never allowed it to develop into more than a persistent curiosity.
Having learned she was adopted at the age of ten, Stephanie was surprised by the news but not upset. She adored the two people she knew as Mom and Dad. At the time it had been impossible to imagine anyone else filling that role.
In fact it was a secret that Stephanie couldn’t wait to share with her friends at school. She’d played it up, telling her classmates simply that she had a secret—one she was only going to share with a select few.
The response of her classmates had surprised and disillusioned her. Her closest friends had been intrigued and full of questions initially, granting her celebrity status in their grade-school world. But as the news spread, other kids began to tease her—so much so, the hurtful comments still held a bitter sting. One boy had told everyone she’d been such an ugly baby that her “real” parents didn’t want her. Her friends rallied around her at the beginning, but as the months and years wore on, Stephanie became more and more of a loner.
On top of that were the differences between her and her parents that she began to notice and sometimes even resent. At twelve she hit a growth spurt and didn’t stop until she was sixteen. Quickly overtaking her five-foot-two mother, Stephanie even gained two inches on her father.
At sixteen she dyed her naturally blond hair an ebony black in a subconscious attempt to blend with her Italian parents, but the response of her peers made her feel like even more of an outcast.
Talking with her parents about it hadn’t been easy. When she inquired about her birth mother, they answered her questions briefly, but Stephanie couldn’t ignore the pained look on her mother’s face. When her mother excused herself and left the room, her father’s disapproving look made it clear that she was never to ask about it again.
She’d suffered immense guilt for having hurt her mother. Not only that but the information she’d received was minimal—her birth mother was young, unmarried, Catholic, and Italian. Stephanie vowed that day never to distress her mother again by asking about the woman who’d given birth to her. It would have to remain a mystery.
Despite her resolve, the questions continued to mount. She found herself looking for people who looked like her whenever she was in a shopping mall or an airport. She’d daydream, wondering what it would be like to have sisters or brothers, wondering if she was like them.
Sometimes in her darkest moments, Stephanie questioned why the young woman had given her up, asking the image in her mind if it had been a difficult decision, or if she’d been glad to be rid of her. But most of the time the dominant image in her mind was one of a girl, sixteen or seventeen, crying. Stephanie was sure it was her birth mother, sure that she regretted her decision or that the decision had been made for her, against her will.
Overall Stephanie felt the decision—however it was made—was the right one. Despite what might have been, she was given the gift of devoted parents.
Married later in life and unable to conceive, they’d chosen instead to adopt, taking Stephanie into their home and their hearts. They’d given her all a child could want, including their love and attention, and she knew she would cherish them always. But now they were gone.
Stephanie reached forward and placed a single white rose on the casket before her. A tear rolled down her cheek as she stood up and blew a kiss one last time to her mother. Turning away, she walked back to the limousine where her husband, Graham, and their two children waited.
Graham put his arm around her as she sat in the limousine beside him. She appreciated the gesture. He was a man of few words, especially when it came to emotional issues, but she knew he cared.
“Mom,” Tyler declared as they drove to the church where the women were putting on a lunch. “Now we don’t have any relatives on your side of the family. Kyle says it’s weird that we don’t have any cousins. Why don’t we?”
At nine Tyler had the childlike innocence to speak his mind. Ironically, it perfectly summed up what Stephanie had been thinking. She’d always encouraged her kids to ask questions, and since the issue had never come up, she decided it was time to deal with it.
Graham had a look of reservation on his face as if to say, “Are you sure you want to talk about this now?” She nodded. She had yet to tell her kids she’d been adopted, and it was long past due.
Stephanie began by stating what they already knew. “You do have cousins. Daddy has a sister in England. They have two boys.”
“Yeah, but we never see them, and besides, they’re old already.”
“Old” to Tyler meant over twenty. The cousins were eighteen and twenty-one, but they may as well have been forty. The distance and age difference made them strangers to her young son.
Taking a deep breath, Stephanie grappled with how to approach the subject. She began by telling them how much Nana and Papa loved children and then started to explain their dilemma. “They really wanted to have a baby, but…”
“You were adopted?” Twelve-year-old Katie quickly jumped to the conclusion. Her words weren’t meant to hurt, but to Stephanie they still held the connotation of being “less than” when she heard them spoken aloud.
“Does that mean Nana and Papa weren’t our real grandparents?”
Surprised at the direction Katie’s mind was going, Stephanie quickly explained that they were indeed real grandparents, that it took more than a blood connection to make someone family.
The children’s questions seemed endless after that. Graham helped her out by fielding some of them, and she was grateful for his support.
The questions were innocently asked, but some of them were difficult just the same. Tyler wanted to know why her mother didn’t want her and whether Nana and Papa had been required to pay for her. Katie began to speculate that maybe the young woman who’d given her up had gone on to become a famous movie star or that the father might be a gangster of some sort.
When Stephanie finally arrived home after the luncheon, she was exhausted. She was tired out by all the children’s questions, by all the smiling and handshaking, and particularly by the well-meaning friends of her mother’s who felt they had to point out how unfortunate it was that Stephanie had no family at all now.
Leaving Graham to tend to the kids, she went to lie down. She’d been tired a lot in recent weeks, blaming it on the stress of her mother’s illness and the demands of her job at the hospital, but inwardly she feared it could be more than that. She’d been meaning to ask her doctor about it. It was nearly time for her routine physical anyway, so she decided to schedule an appointment.
As tired as she was, sleep eluded her; there was too much on her mind. When Graham came into the bedroom later, she sat up and looked at him. “I’ve been thinking.. .” she said. “I want to make some changes in my life.”
He stared at her with a wary expression but said nothing.
“I’m going to take that job at the medical building.” Her friend Betty worked there and had been encouraging Stephanie to join her. She was more than qualified. In truth, it would be a step down, but something about it appealed to her. It would mean flexible daytime hours, and she could work less than a full workweek if she wanted.
“I think that’s a good idea.” Graham sat down on the bed beside her. “You’ve been pushing yourself too hard lately. You’re wearing yourself out.”
“There’s something else I’ve been thinking about.” Stephanie hesitated a little, suddenly not sure whether her husband would be as supportive about her next decision. “I want to see what I can find out about my birth parents.”
“Steph,” he cautioned. “I know this has been a difficult few weeks for you. You’ve just lost your mother. I can only imagine how hard that must be, but think this through a bit. Don’t rush into something you might regret.”
Stephanie almost laughed. She was hardly rushing into it. Barely a day had gone by that she hadn’t wondered about it since she was ten. But simply satisfying her curiosity was not the basis for her decision; there was a more important reason.
“Graham, I want to be able to fill in the blanks. I want to find out about my medical history. If I could learn that, I think it would be enough. I owe our kids that much. What if they’re in line for some hereditary disease?”
It was something she’d given much thought to over the years, even questioning the decision to have children when her medical history was an unknown. She wondered and even worried what might be lurking around the corner for her as well.
“How would you find that out—without actually contacting them?”
“Well…” Stephanie began to feel guilty. She hadn’t mentioned it to Graham, but she had some numbers to call. “I’ve thought about this for a while now. I’ve even done some research. There are quite a few agencies that specialize in this sort of thing. They track down the information and tell you as much or as little as you want to know. They do all the legwork and make all the calls. There wouldn’t be any direct communication…” She hesitated, feeling strange saying the words aloud for the first time. “Unless both parties were in agreement.”
“How long have you been planning this?” he asked, sounding annoyed. “And why now on the day of your mother’s funeral do you bring it up?”
He was obviously offended that she’d kept something so important from him. Not wanting to annoy him further, she stroked his arm in an attempt to soothe his ruffled feathers.
“Graham, these are questions I’ve had since I was a child. I asked mom about it once, and it hurt her so much I never brought it up again. But I didn’t stop thinking about it or wondering about that missing part of my life.
“I couldn’t do anything while Mom was alive. I’d have felt too guilty. But she’s gone now.
“Besides…” Stephanie knew she shouldn’t have to justify her actions, but she added, “All I want to do is find some answers. I’m not looking for a mother to replace her if that’s what you’re thinking. No one could ever take her place. She was my mother, and she’ll always hold that place in my heart.”
Graham seemed satisfied with her response and left the bedroom. Afterward, as Stephanie began to contemplate the plethora of possibilities before her, she felt a ripple of excitement.
Making such life-changing decisions was easier than she had expected. She’d been grappling for months with the idea of calling one of the agencies, but the thought of what her mother would say always kept her from picking up the phone. She’d been contemplating changing jobs for a while too. Now that she’d made the decisions, she was eager to act on them. She only regretted having to wait until morning to make the calls.
“I’m so glad you decided to do this,” Betty exclaimed over drinks several days later.
The job at the medical center was Stephanie’s whenever she was ready to start. She’d dropped off her resumé, but it was merely a formality. Betty’s cousin, Dr. Loewe, had his practice in themedical center. He was also part owner of the building and on the board of directors for the center itself.
“That’s not the only thing,” Stephanie informed her friend. “I called an agency that specializes in helping adoptees. I’m going to have them track down my birth parents.”
“Oh my God! You’re really making changes,” Betty laughed. She had a vivacious personality as well as a positive outlook on life that Stephanie admired. They’d been friends for years and had worked together before. Betty had some rather strange ideas, in Stephanie’s opinion. She was spiritual, although not in the traditional sense, and was always making reference to books she’d read. Her appetite for the spiritual, metaphysical, and just plain weird seemed to be insatiable. But for all her quirkiness, there was something refreshing about her.
“How do they go about it,” Betty inquired, suddenly serious. “You don’t have much information for them to go on, do you?”
“I told them all I know,” Stephanie replied. “You’re right; it isn’t much. Obviously the more they have to start with the easier it is and the quicker it goes. But the woman did mention they’d had success in other cases with nothing more than the basic info I gave them.”
“That sounds hopeful,” Betty encouraged. “So what happens when you find them? Do you call them up and tell them you’re their long-lost daughter?That could be rather awkward.”
“The agency is government funded, so they have strict guidelines to follow. Neither party receives any details unless both are in agreement. The agency makes the initial contact, and if my birth mother or father are interested in communicating with me, I receive their contact information.
“If not, all I get is what they call non-identifying information. It could include anything from medical data to a physical description, how many kids they have, what their hobbies are—that sort of thing. The agency asks them a standard list of questions; they’re free to give out as much or little information as they choose.”
“Did they give you any indication of how long it would take?”
“It could take months, maybe even years,” Stephanie shrugged. “Each case is different.”
“I know a woman who does psychic readings,” Betty offered. “She might be able to shed some light on this, help prepare you for whatever the outcome might be. She’s very accurate.”
Uncomfortable with the idea of psychics and mediums, Stephanie tried to think of a polite way to refuse her friend’s offer. She didn’t understand the power behind such phenomena. Even though she’d formed her own convictions and no longer attended church, something in her catholic upbringing had instilled in her the unshakeable belief that those things were just plain wrong.
“Thanks anyway, but I think I’d rather just wait and find out the regular way.”
“Okay,” Betty laughed. “No pressure.”
Stephanie was relieved at having sidestepped the controversial topic. She also appreciated her friend’s easygoing manner. Despite Betty’s strange ideas, she was on a very deliberate quest to find answers in life, yet she respected others’ beliefs and honored their journey, whatever that might be.
“I’m so glad we’ll be working together again,” Betty declared, changing the subject. “Have you given your notice at the hospital yet?”
“No, but I’ll do that right away. Then I think I’ll take a week or two off. I’ve been feeling a bit run down lately; I probably just need a rest. Besides, I have to sort through all Mom’s things and get her house ready to sell.”
“That doesn’t sound like resting to me. Are you sure you understand the meaning of the word?”
“Sometimes a change is as good as a rest,” Stephanie smiled as she repeated one of her mom’s favorite sayings. “I’m going to take my time with her things; there’s no rush. Her house was always neat as a pin. She was very organized. Knowing her, everything will already be sorted and labeled.”
“Well, that’s not too bad then. Let me know if you need any help.”
Stephanie sincerely appreciated the offer, but going through her mother’s possessions was a very personal thing. It could be emotional too. It was another form of closure.
Closure. The word had a cold sense of finality to it. She didn’t know whether she felt ready to close the door to that part of her life, especially with so much else being an unknown.
As she pondered the idea, she was reminded of another saying her mom often used: “Whenever God closes a door, He opens a window.”Are windows about to open in my life? The simple question caused her to examine her beliefs about God and the control he had, or didn’t have, over people’s lives. For some reason the idea of an all-knowing, all-powerful God scared Stephanie rather than comforted her.
She wanted to believe she had some control over what path her life took rather than leaving it in the hands of a Being whose power was so widely disputed and even denied.
It was something she’d contemplated often in her youth as she searched for meaning and direction, but as an adult she’d allowed the busyness of life to take precedence over her philosophical inquiries.
As the questions emerged again, she found herself wondering what Betty would have to say on the subject. Part of her felt almost compelled to bring it up next time they talked; another part was leery of what her friend might say.
I’m not searching the way Betty is,Stephanie argued.I’m content in my life. My belief system serves me. I may not have all the answers, but I’m happy, and I have everything I need.
As the two simple words lodged themselves in her mind, for the first time Stephanie wondered whether she might be deceiving herself.
Is part of me looking for more than just information? Am I subconsciously wanting a connection, a relationship? What if I do meet my birth parents and they aren’t the kind of people I’m comfortable with? What if I open this door and don’t like what’s on the other side?
As she neared her home, she attempted to get her thoughts under control.A lot has just happened in my life, and now I’m making even more changes. But there’s no reason to think the worst. Calling the agency is just the first step,she reminded herself.I’m in control. I’m seeking information, that’s all. I get to decide what, if anything, I do with it.
Copyright© Jeane Watier. All rights reserved.