23 November 2017

Revelations, Part 1: Saying Goodbye

If I were emulating the coy style of Lin-Manuel Miranda, I might call 2017 #abitofayear.

However, for me to assert that 2017 has been "a bit of a year" would be a gross understatement, even by Miranda's standards. Between not finding much particularly humorous after the election and the ensuing rapid-fire of events blasting me in the face like a runaway fire hose, I've barely had time to remember my own name much less to write or to finish any projects.

What began earlier this year as a new dedication to my ever-increasing passion for genealogy--via an online "Genealogy Essentials" class in February through Boston University--has now turned into a wildly improbable journey of discovery, one that is rife with endless ironies (as all my best adventures are).

The Essentials course only served to whet my appetite, so I decided to take the serious graduate-level course "Certificate Program in Genealogical Research," which builds on the Essentials course by increasing one's professionalism and research skills in the field while helping to prepare one for future certification as a genealogist.  However, with the girlie finishing up seminary in May and moving to Atlanta over the summer, I opted to wait on the second course till September when things would presumably be a little calmer.  It's cute how I thought that.

Sometime during my first genealogy course the girlie was on her way to NY for a meeting and ended up slipping on some ice and putting her car in a ditch.  She was fine; the car not so much.  We rescued her from the cold, white north, then had to replace her car after much wrangling with the snail-like pace of the insurance company.  By the time March ended, my first course was over and the girlie was firmly ensconced in a cute little red Hyundai.  On the plus side, I now get to look forward to having extra pocket change every month when she mails me her car payment.

May was beyond insane.  First, my car started dying, so I had to work on replacing yet another vehicle.  Then my upstairs air conditioner decided to die, ultimately taking out the entire HVAC system and water boiler with it.  I can only assume that they went on strike in solidarity with the first unit, and not at all because they were each passing 20 years old and knew that all warranties were defunct, making it easier to screw with me.  Meanwhile, I still had all the requisite end-of-the-year concerts and the girlie's graduation on my plate. And, just because all that wasn't exciting enough, I got a call from my maternal uncle--ON MOTHER'S DAY (hello, Irony, I was starting to worry you weren't paying attention) that my birth mother Norma was critically ill and not expected to live long.

May turned into what amounted to a military operation of surgical strike precision in order for me to fly to Indianapolis to be with Norma before (and when) she died, to manage the intricate ballet of HVAC people coming and going in and out of my house on and off for three weeks, to coordinate graduation choir rehearsals and actual graduation, to acquire a functional vehicle for me, and to fly back to Indy for Norma's funeral.  Honestly, I'm still not entirely sure how I accomplished it all; the month is largely a blur and I still feel bad that I wasn't able to devote as much time and attention to each individual event as I might have liked.

Picture of Norma at 40-ish, gifted to me by my uncle.
(Photo Credit: Mark Wheeler)

Norma's funeral was definitely a unique experience, given that my status as a pretty much "life-long secret" was blown wide open virtually within minutes of Norma's death and without regard to my opinions on the matter. I found this particularly disconcerting; I figured that as the "secret" in question, Norma's moratorium on divulging said secret would then pass onto me and it would then be my right to decide when and how the revelation of my existence might be disseminated.  Alas, this did not turn out to be the case. Instead, the revelation became a juggernaut over which I had no control or say and I could only hold on for dear life and ride it out, much to my chagrin.  At the funeral, I could almost literally feel holes burning into my back from the piercing gazes of some of Norma's friends and associates; I was never quite clear whether it was because they were judging me (us) or just because they were burning with curiosity, which seemed more the case with some of Norma's relatives. To their credit, most of these relatives gamely introduced themselves to me and were reasonably welcoming, especially considering the news of my existence had to have come as a quite a shock.  For good or for ill, I was the skeleton now firmly out of the closet.

My primary concern about the entire juggernaut was that my presence might end up pulling focus from Norma and keep people from celebrating her life or from recognizing her passing with all the respect she deserved. I really didn't want her funeral to become about me; that would have been grossly inappropriate as far as I was concerned, and not even remotely the reason I was there.

All in all, things went somewhat better than I feared; for the most part, any people who were judgmental kept it to themselves, and the people who did speak to me were polite enough.  Doesn't mean I couldn't still feel the majority of them staring at me the entire service.  The rabid curiosity of everyone scoping me out was physically tangible.

When it was over, I was grateful that Norma could finally be at peace after an often difficult life. She was a quiet person, a private person, but she was loving and kind and generous.  She spent most of her nursing career helping to deliver babies at the same hospital in which I was born, always working the night shift like the night owl she was. I confess it was a little surreal being there in that hospital with her as she died and realizing that the last time I was there, it was also with Norma--when I was being born.  Talk about coming full circle.

There were many ups and downs in May, and many revelations about Norma's life and family (myself being perhaps the biggest one), some of which were good and some of which weren't...as revelations so often are.  But I got to meet some of my new-found cousins, one of whom is a live wire full of energy and and Life with a capital "L." And because Irony follows me like a shadow, it turns out that she was also an adoptee. Also, one of Norma's cousins is a redhead who shares my name and who has a daughter with the same name as the girlie.  There were many other weird little serendipities between us, proving yet again that genetics influences us and our choices in invisible ways we could never imagine.

Surprisingly, the revelations surrounding Norma's passing proved but a hint of what the rest of 2017 had in store for me.  If I'd only known in January where this year was going to lead, I could have purchased a case of Valium and some baseball catcher pads with which to prepare myself for the onslaught.

For more of the story, continue reading parts 2 and 3 of the Revelations trilogy.


  1. Incredible! I can't wait to read more. I am so happy for you, that you found your birth mother and have met more family... I can only imagine how happy Norma must have been, to get to know you before she passed. It sounds like she passed much of her compassion and strength on to you. Godspeed, Norma... and here's to many years of you enjoying your new extended family, Mary!

    1. Thank you so much, Lisa! That is so very kind of you to say. I am touched, and I hope it's true. xx