Posts Tagged ‘Adoption’


The year was 1977. I was on a solo trip across America via Greyhound bus and a six-week pass. One of my first stops was a private school in the mountains of Utah where my younger sister was enrolled. My sister and I had a tumultuous relationship, but we were sisters with a sister bond and I was not surprised to be welcomed with her arms open. I met her friends and her boyfriend. We spent a weekend together. It was a wonderful time. I attended their Senior Prom where my sister posed with this man she thought she would spend the rest of her life with. She wore a long blue dress.

I returned west in time to see her walk across the podium in our hometown to receive her high school diploma. She had earned all her credits elsewhere, but she was granted her request to graduate with the people she had known since 6th grade. She was radiant and expectant. I mean, really expectant.

I moved to Oregon over the summer, and we exchanged letters. She was distraught about the future of the child she was carrying in her womb. There was pressure to end the pregnancy with an abortion. Neither my sister nor I could condone such a move. The father was supportive but only to a certain point. My sister felt all alone in her decisions.  In the end, she gave the baby up for adoption, but the act marked her forever. She wanted her baby, and she mourned him.

Deni died in 2000. She contracted a bizarre autoimmune disease known as “necrotizing faciitis” or “flesh eating bacteria”. It is a staphylococcal infection that makes it way into a body through an open cut and begins to work on the flesh and internal organs of the infected person. Doctors need to be trained in identifying the infection and most small-town doctors (read: rural doctors) are not. Deni was in sepsis within 24 hours of the first symptom. The hospital was flummoxed and she was loaded onto a Life Flight helicopter to Reno, a several hour flight from Ely, Nevada.

My father called me with a desperate prayer request. I sent it on to my prayer lines. My nephew loaded his little sister into a car and drove to Reno, a five hour drive.

Deni died before morning at what was then Washoe Medical Center. She was surrounded by her husband of a few months, her son and her oldest daughter. She was never to know what had become of her oldest child, the boy born in Ely and given up for adoption at birth.

That haunted me. It haunted my father. Dad gave me all the information he had (Nevada is a “closed” adoption state). The birth date, the sex, the hospital. There was really no hope in finding the baby boy.

In the years since my father’s death (where he made me promise I would continue to search)  I have become close friends with adoptees and adoptee advocates. I know there is no way to open closed records. I favor open records. There may be a lot of pain involved in “reunions” but there can also be a lot of unanswered questions answered. Unresolved adoption trauma can be addressed. I have heard both sad stories but also a lot of wonderful stories of adoptees who found their birth family and managed to resolve both birth and adopted family history.

It doesn’t always work that way. I get that.

My “foster” sister hunted down her own birth mother and had a successful reunion. Her birth mother was present at her wedding where my father gave her away. She reunited with siblings, aunts, uncles. She created lasting relationships. We were all blown away (sorry for the 1970s language) by the resemblance between her and her birth mother: the way they held cigarettes, waved their hands while talking, walked, or expressed themselves. It was uncanny.

My father died in 2011. He felt guilty about my sister’s first born. He made me promise I would continue the search. But what can you do with closed records? I put it out on a few Nevada adoption sites but there’s really no hope.

Then comes new DNA research. I spit into a tube and sent my DNA off to two sites: Ancestry.com and 21andme.com. And I left it. It was enlightening as far as my genetic history: the Irish is minimal, the Scots is somewhat minimal, but the British and Germanic are strong. There’s even some Finnish and Norwegian. I’m basically a melting pot of Caucasian countries. White, oh so white.

I left it there. If my nephew – should he be out there – might eventually take a DNA test. My niece took one, but I knew we were related. My other nephew took one, but I knew we were related. And years passed.

November, 2022. A man in the Midwest took a DNA test for other reasons. He k new he was adopted. He did not expect to find his biological family, much less to find out that that family had been hoping and searching for him for decades. He knew there was an off-chance of finding things out. Still…

I start 2023 with my nephew. My oldest nephew. The one my sister mourned. The one my sister gave up for adoption. The one I didn’t really search for but the one who drove me to take my DNA and make it public so if he ever came searching for his family… he would find us.

Welcome to the Family, John. You have been loved, watched over, and mourned. I’m thankful for your adoptive family. They were angels. I know they loved you. I honor them this day. And I look forward to a year of learning about you and making you feel like one of the very large family you come from.

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My dad called me 15 years ago on the 2nd of March. He was upset. My sister was on a helicopter to Reno. It came on suddenly: she didn’t feel very good one day. the next day, she called Dad because she hurt all over and she was frightened. She was married, but she called my dad. 40 years of a love-hate relationship and the first person she turned to was her father.

And he felt helpless. He didn’t know what was wrong with her. This wasn’t her usual hypochondria. This was worse than her bout with Hepatitis C. She’d gone to the hospital in the afternoon one day, and the next day she was in a coma, on the way to Reno’s best hospital.

Six of one/half a dozen of another: when people are flown out of Ely, Nevada, on LifeFlight, they head to Reno or Salt Lake City. Funny that after all these years, I don’t know of anyone who has been flown to Las Vegas. It’s all the same distance: Reno/Salt Lake/Vegas.

I called my prayer chain. I emailed my homeschool support group. I prayed.

March 3, 2000. My sister, my little sister, my baby sister who made my life both frustrating and richer – the sibling I shared a bedroom with for the first 13 years of her life, was gone.

I had not been able to attend her wedding the previous October. She was so excited to finally be getting married to the man she was living with. He was her second husband, but what number he was in the long line of boyfriends was beyond me. For the first time since her divorce from her first husband, her last name was changing legally.

Sometimes, I stretch to remember her. Her laugh. Her black eyes. Her short brow. Her quick smile.

She was slow on the uptake in a family that thrived on one-upping each other. We took turns being the butt of family jokes. She was an extrovert. She walked in her sleep, stole blankets, and bit me. I dropped a glass light fixture on her. She broke my porcelain cat. She had boy friends and I thought all boys had cooties.

I don’t think you ever get over the loss of a sibling.

Somehow, her death always hurts more than the death of our parents. I don’t know if it is because I was close to our parents and my sister was something of an enigma to me, or if it is because my sister and I shared secrets that noone else could share, simply by virtue of being sisters.

She gave up a child for adoption in 1977, the year she graduated from high school. Somewhere, buried in a box, are the letters we exchanged during that painful period of her life. She wanted to keep the baby. The baby’s father wanted her to wait for him to graduate from college, and then they could get married and have a real family (but she would have to be a single mother until then). Our parents wanted her to give the baby up for adoption.

Did I mention she wanted to keep the baby? She was barely 18. No job skills. Dependent on our parents and the boyfriend who wanted her to wait (but he would send support money).

Don’t disparage the boyfriend: my father told me that that boyfriend called once after my sister died. He was hoping to find her, to talk about the past. I think he truly cared, but he was bound by his family’s dreams for him, too, and those dreams did not include the crazy girl who got pregnant.

He was born in October of 1977 at William B. Ririe hospital. My sister mourned him every October, and after my mother passed, so did my father.

I pass these anniversaries. Some hit me harder than others. Today, I was at work, feeling suddenly depressed. What is wrong? I thought.

Oh. March 3. Fifteen years.


This was posted on my youngest niece’s wall on Facebook tonight. It could be my sister. It isn’t; it is her youngest daughter.

She left behind a legacy of broken family and children struggling for identity. Strong children with her bullish will for survival. Children who hardly remember her. Children who will never know her in her bra-less bandana mini-top over wide bell-bottoms or jeans tucked into hip-high boots. Children who will never remember her with her teeth in. Or out. Children who will never remember her as the beauty she was at the age of 17.

I regret every temper tantrum I threw in my high school years because she: dressed like me, messed up our shared bedroom, wanted to talk all night, tried to draw like me, and – GOD FORBID – wore the same clothes on the same day that I did! I regret every time I teased her.

I treasure every gift she gave me, especially the living ones like Buddy the cat, and my nieces and nephews.

I forgive her for breaking my ceramic cat.

I hope her son who was born in 1977 knows he was loved by both of his parents.

Mary Denise Wilcox – SAM!!! – I miss you. I feel you watching me. I miss you so very much. Oh, hey – guess what!? Jessi wants me to paint a picture of her!!

I’ll do my best, Sam. I promise.

*unedited. I can’t reread this. 15 years is hitting me hard.

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The photos is faded, dark, blurry and off-center. She is dressed in a long blue gown and he is in a 1970’s white Disco suit.

My sister’s Senior Prom at Wastach Academy. I stayed with Deni in her dorm for the weekend (I have no idea how that went over with the staff at Wasatch Academy, but they didn’t seem to be too intrusive on any level). This was my sister, on her own turf, and probably at the very best point in her life. She seemed very happy, she was in love, and she was playing the straight card – for once.

How she ended up at the private high school was another story. I don’t know when she started drinking, smoking pot and having sex, but I feel pretty confident in saying that she was well into it by 6th Grade. By the time I moved out of the house, she was running away on a regular basis, coming home drunk or stoned, and stealing. The summer before I ventured on my trip, she came to live with me. It was a disaster on all levels. She was headed to life at the Caliente Girl’s School in Nevada before my parents finagled her way into Wasatch Academy in Utah. And it seemed to be working, for the most part.

I met her friends: Jolie, Mike, and another Denise from Wilcox, AZ. Names that I still remember. Mike Beasley is the young man in the photo. He was from Alaska.

I also met “Mr. Brown.” I don’t remember his real name: he was a bent old man who lived in a run-down house in Mt Pleasant, Utah, where the teenagers went to hang out. Mr. Brown bought them alcohol and they sat around his kitchen drinking with him. He had a few cats and dogs, one of which was a big brown mutt that Deni dubbed “Zack.” Mr. Brown was not a sly person: he was a bit of an old lecher who liked young girls to hang out, but he didn’t mind the boys coming around, either. Mt Pleasant was not a large town: the authorities must have known he bought alcohol for the kids. But they stayed out of trouble and only drank on his property. As far as I could tell, Mr. Brown had probably watered several generations of students from the Academy, and he would continue to do so unless someone intervened.

Deni was happy. She talked me into staying through the night of her Senior Prom. Her voice then was a soft voice, not the whiskey-ravaged voice I would later come to recognize as her. Her dark brown eyes glittered with life. Later, I would look into those eyes and be shocked at the lack of reflection in them: eyes that looked back at me from the death within her soul. She regained some of that life the last time I saw her alive, but that was many, many, many years after Wasatch Academy and Mike Beasley.

Deni had no plans on graduating at Wasatch. She couldn’t get enough credits in the year she had, but she would have enough credits to graduate from White Pine High School with her class: that graduation was set for June, just a few weeks after the Prom. Deni made me promise I would be back in Ely for that ceremony.

I had a great time with Deni. We forgave and mended. There would be deep rifts, again, in the future, but for now all was well.

She gave me a song book to carry with on my travels. “Maybe you’ll learn to play the guitar and sing those,” she said.

OK, she didn’t say that, but we’ll pretend she did because that was my plan. I never did, but it was still the plan.

I don’t know if she was pregnant yet or not. I do know that she begged my folks to bring Zack home with her when she returned for graduation, and the big brown dog lived for a good many years in Ely until someone with a grudge against Deni shot him.

She was pregnant before she left Wasatch Academy. My parents wanted her to have an abortion. Mike wanted her to have the baby and raise it until he graduated from college. He would marry her then and they would raise the baby together. Denise was torn in every direction: she did not want to have an abortion. She did not want to wait for Mike. She wanted to get married right then.

In the end, she gave the baby up. He was born in October of 1977 at William B. Ririe hospital and was whisked away before his mother could see him. Nevada has closed adoption laws and Deni never knew where he went or who raised him.

Mike called her a year or two before she died. But when she died, none of us knew where to contact him. I think he still cared very much for the girl he knew in high school.

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