My birth-mother was nearly 20 years old when I was born. Having surrendered me for adoption, she eventually got on with her life. She was professionally successful, but I was (and am) the only child of her womb. She didn’t marry until her late 40s. In fact, I have been married longer than she has, and I like to tease her husband that, without knowing it, when they were married, she was already a grandmother.
On an ‘existential’ level, though, she dearly wanted to be a mother, and they set about trying to adopt a child of their own. Sarah came into their lives when my birth-mother was 50 years old, and was immediately a tremendous joy for them.
When I first met Sarah, on my first visit to my birth-mother’s house after our reunion, she was three years old. By an odd coincidence, in the weeks/months before reunion, Sarah started telling her parents that she wanted a brother. Which left them in a bit of a quandary as to how to tell a three-year-old that, much as they’d like to give her a brother, it wasn’t going to happen. Then, suddenly, I burst onto the scene, and - voila! - Sarah had a brother. Just not a baby brother; in fact, she had a brother who had children of his own, who were older than she was. I vividly recall, from that first visit, while the three of us were in the car one day, Sarah singing a little song to herself – “I don’t like it / when Mommy likes Desmond / so much.”
As the years passed, Sarah became as much a part of our family as my birth-mother. Which isn’t terribly surprising; she came along virtually every time my mother came to visit us. She and 2F became especially close, being closest in age of any of our kids, but the two of them also shared a strong-willed temperament, and seemed to understand each other on some intrinsic level. Because of the large difference in our ages, and her closeness in age to our kids, Sarah never really ‘functioned’ in my life as a sister; more like a niece.
As our kids got older, and we became immersed in our troubles with 3M, and then 1F, my conversations with my birth-mother took on a darker tone, as Sarah started having troubles of her own. She went through a succession of schools, as her parents spared no effort (or expense) trying to find one that could get through to her, mostly without success. Her friends were of a nastier sort than her parents were comfortable with. And there were hints that she was doing more than dabbling in recreational pharmaceuticals.
Sarah was a talented musician (she played the violin) and actress, and through her teens, she landed several good roles, for which she had to compete with other talented kids drawn from a large metropolitan area. And she just loved to perform.
She did finally graduate from high school, and before long she had moved out of her parents’ house. Her behavior became increasingly wild and erratic (although she talked to her mother on the phone every day, without fail). Her boyfriend eventually broke up with her, because he simply wasn’t willing to go with her any further into the Wild Side that she seemed determined to explore.
Finally, a little over a year ago, a month shy of her 21st birthday, Sarah didn’t call home. She died of a fatal drug overdose.
My heart just breaks. It always seems like a tragic waste when anyone dies so young. I was looking forward to a mature, adult Sarah, who might someday come to seem more like a sister to me.
But even more, my heart breaks for her parents – my birth-mother and her husband. Parents should never have to bury their children, much less their not-yet-21-year-old children. I can’t help thinking, too, of the sacrifice they made in adopting Sarah in the first place. Her parents were both over 50 when they adopted Sarah; they signed on for raising a child during years when most of their peers were coping with their empty nests. When most of their peers were traveling, or volunteering, or otherwise enjoying their freedom-at-last from the rigors of parenthood, they were just getting started, signing on for a term to last into their 70s. All parents, I’m sure, see their children, at least in part, as their legacy – a part of them to live on after they’re gone. But there will be no legacy here. Without meaning to say it crassly, they’ve got nothing (except their own memories) left to show for 20+ years they invested in raising their daughter; an investment no one forced them to make – they did it freely, even generously. It just breaks my heart; I can’t think of another way to say it.