The scene was completely ordinary. Looking at it, you wouldn’t know the event was of any significance. A sunny Saturday morning, a favorite breakfast nook, and a young couple having breakfast with an older couple.
At one point over a fluffy omelet, the older gentlemen at the table asked the waitress, “Can you guess what the relationship between these two is?” He pointed to the older and younger woman.
“They’re mother and daughter,” the waitress replied.
“How did you know that?” the man asked with a raised eyebrow.
The waitress smiled. “I heard her call her ‘Mom.’ “
Then the older man told the waitress the significance of the breakfast. He told her who these people were, and what they were celebrating.
He told her their story.
And the waitress started to cry.
Their story begins almost 23 years ago. The little girl was only eleven, her brother was eight. One day, her father took the kids out, but didn’t go back home. Her father said their mother didn’t want to be part of their life anymore.
The little girl was confused. Where was her mother? Why couldn’t they see her?
Shortly afterward, they met their father’s new wife.
Sometimes she’d ask her father about her mother. When would she would see her again? What happened? But the only answer was that her mother didn’t want the children.
Gradually, the family settled into a routine. The little girl took care of her brother and helped raise him. She cooked, cleaned, did her best in school, and tried to get used to her new stepmother. It was not an easy life, and the little girl often fought with the newcomer. Eventually, they made peace. The little girl grew to care for her stepmother, but would never call her “Mom.”
Years passed. The little girl grew into a young woman, and helped take care of the three new stepsisters. She adored them, loved them, and helped raise them. They literally were her sunshine, they were like her own children.
The young woman went to school and lived life, but in the back of her mind, always wondered about her mother. She didn’t ask her father about her anymore, it was obvious that was a sore subject, and she didn’t want to hurt him.
But years later she still felt the pain, still asked the questions. Why hadn’t her mother called? Why didn’t she say good-bye? Why didn’t she want the kids?
The young woman became an adult. She married and worked hard, and for the most part enjoyed her life.
But there was always that lingering question in her mind, the void in her heart:
Why didn’t my mother love me?
Last year, on mother’s day, the young woman was crying, telling her husband how much she stilled missed her mother, and how she wondered about her.
“I want to find my mother,” she said suddenly.
“You should do it,” her husband encouraged her.
“But what about Dad? Won’t he be hurt?”
“You only know one side of the story. And you have a right to know your mother.”
“She’s probably dead. Dad said that years ago, because she had blood clots when I was born.”
“You don’t know that,” her husband said gently. “You should look for her.”
“What is she rejects me?”
“She isn’t going to reject you.”
A few months later, the subject came up again. The young woman became determined to find her mother. Soon, the search shifted into high gear. It took almost three months and involved the Internet, a countrywide search, a detective, and government agencies.
But one day, the young woman found her mother, alive and well and living in another state.
Now came the dilemma: Should she contact her? What if her mother had remarried? What if there was a new family? New children? Did she really have the right to come barging back into her mother’s life 23 years later? What if her mother really hadn’t wanted her? Worse, what if they did meet and her mother said to her, “I’m sorry, I don’t want you?” or “There’s no place in my life for you?”
The young woman wrestled with the dilemma for weeks.
“A mother’s love never dies,” one friend told her.
Another added, “You have to know.”
Still another friend, noting that her mother had kept her married name, commented: “She didn’t change back to her maiden name. She wants you to find her.”
Very recently, the young woman held her mother’s phone number in her hand, and dialed the number. She didn’t have the courage to say who she really was, but she wanted to hear the woman’s voice, maybe get a feel for what kind of person her mother was.
She was selling vinyl siding, she stammered.
Her mother had the flu that night, and sniffled as she explained to the “vinyl siding salesperson” that she would love to talk to her, but she was very sick. Could she call back another time?
The young woman noted how sweet her mother sounded, how her mother called her — a total stranger — “honey” and how she was so friendly.
The next evening, after a sleepless night, the young woman called again. She apologized and said she wasn’t really selling vinyl, but was calling on behalf of the woman’s daughter.
That’s all she got out before her mother interrupted, “My daughter? You know my daughter?” The excitement in her mother’s voice was electric. “I’ve been trying to find her for years! Please tell me where she is! Is she all right? I need to know she’s all right, and not on drugs, and that she’s okay … I tried for so long to find her … My daughter! My daughter!”
The young woman felt a lump in her throat. Her mind spun, and she finally was able to choke out one word:
Her mother was now screaming hysterically. She was shouting her daughter’s name and literally pounding the table with excitement. Her daughter was afraid her mother might have a heart attack. But soon both calmed down, and now they were both crying, sobbing. Neither could speak. Finally, they regained their composure.
The young woman spoke with her mother for hours that evening. She learned that her mother never abandoned her or her brother. Her children were taken from her.
Her mother spent years trying to find her kids; she put ads in newspapers, asked the police for help, and exhausted every avenue available to her. With little money and an entire country to search — and not knowing the social security numbers — the mother never knew what had happened to her children.
She explained that she divorced her husband soon after he left, never remarried, and never had other children. She wallowed in despair for a long time, then decided to try to build a life for herself. She went back to school and got two college degrees. She ran a restaurant, later became a teacher, and now she runs her own farm. She’s a hard working woman; a gentle soul who found peace, except for one thing.
As she explained, there was always that hole in her heart. Always the void. Always the questions: Are they okay? Are they married? Are they alive? Are they alone? Do they miss me? Do they even remember me?
One night a few weeks ago, at TF Green airport, the young woman rode down an escalator, holding a package of flowers in both hands, and spotted a petite, silver-haired woman in a long red coat. There was a flash of recognition, and then they were in each other’s arms. The tears were flowing again, and both were speaking at once.
“Momma … So sorry … My baby … 23 years … Oh, God I’m so sorry … I love you so much … Love you honey … “
The young woman and her mother spent the next four days together. They walked, stayed up all night talking, cooked, shopped, shared stories, and had breakfast at the woman’s favorite breakfast nook that Saturday morning.
She learned a lot of things she never knew, and got the other side of the story. Her mother told her how she still kept her son’s little shoes by her bed, and kissed them every night. She still had the baby spoon she fed her daughter with, and the rosary she placed in her infant daughter’s hands hours after her birth. She told her daughter that birthdays and Christmas had been the hardest times of the year.
The not knowing was the worst part.
The night before she left, her mother called her son — the young woman’s brother. They spoke at length, and while he is not ready to meet her just yet, the door is now open. The mother believes that when the time is right, God will bring them together. Just knowing her son is alive and well, and that they spoke, is enough for now. She puts her trust in God for the rest.
The young woman’s life has changed for the better. The pain that she has carried for 23 years has started to dull; the scars have begun to heal. There is much work to be done, much thinking to do, much discussion ahead. She will need to balance what she has believed all her life with so much new information.
To her credit, the young woman has decided to leave the past in the past; she is not willing to blame her father or rehash family history. She is still grateful for how he raised her, will always love him, and she will always hold him in her heart.
But now the missing part of her heart has been returned. The healing has begun. Mother and daughter have many, many happy years ahead of them, getting to know each other again, sharing their lives, and creating new memories. With a loving smile, her mother has also put in a request for grandchildren as soon as possible.
Their reunion is a true miracle, and one of the greatest events of my entire life. For the young woman in this story is my wife, Susan Gillis.
This month, she learned that one of God’s greatest gifts is that a mother’s love is forever.