Adoption, Children, Choices, Consequences, Courage, Emotional Health, Family, Generations, Gifts, Grace, Grandchildren, Grief, Honor, Hope, Music, Parents, Peace, Relationships, Songs, Spirituality, Stories, Thoughts From the Porch, Truth, What Can I Do, Writing

Jeremy and I

I got up early this morning to study for the final in a course I’m taking in Indigenous Religion and Ecology. Unfortunately, the coffee hadn’t kicked in and I fell down a rabbit hole and cleaned up my personal email instead. I apparently stopped doing so on May 29, 2020 – the day my son Jeremy died. Life seemed to take a different path after that day.

I wrote about the grief and the loss for a few weeks after he died. My public blog became my personal journal in the hope it would be cathartic for me and somewhat hopeful that it would shorten, or at least make bearable, the grief process. It didn’t. It simply became easier to write about Opal’s Farm and passing on quotes I came across that meant something to me than to speak of the pain of grief.

So, I’ve been silent the last few weeks unless it’s about Opal’s Farm. Spring planting has taken up most of my time. It’s hard to stay on top of all the great things happening at the farm – and there are some fantastic things happening there this Spring. I’m grateful for all of it. I wish I had more hours in the day so I could tell you all about it, but I don’t so I do the best I can business-wise.

When it came to writing anything else I found myself relying on the old “writer’s block” excuse -and that’s just what it was – an excuse. The reality is grief has reared its ugly head and clouded my thinking for some time now. It started around Christmas – that’s my deceased son’s birthday – and hasn’t let up.

I told my wife that I may need to finally see a grief therapist. This was becoming somewhat debilitating, but I didn’t want to spend a hundred dollars an hour for someone to tell me grief and loss sucks. I get it.

I also get that people don’t want to hear about my loss anymore whatever their reason may be.

Grief is incredibly isolating. People who haven’t lost a child don’t get it. They may have the best of intentions, or they may think it’s time (it’s been a year-and-a-half) to just “get over it” and move on. I understand. I’m ashamed to admit it but I’ve treated others the same way. Not because I want to but because of the discomfort, and often fear, I feel being around grief. We all do it…

This morning I read once again all the emails and articles written about Jeremy after his passing. He was loved by many. Although his talent as an artist lives on through his body of work, I find myself wondering if at best, he’s thought of from time, and at worst, if he’s been forgotten – everyone’s moved on. COVID robbed us of the celebration of life he wanted should he pass. We honored one of his requests at the small family homegoing we had for him – we had honey buns but couldn’t have a taco truck. I’m still waiting on that one.

Several years ago, Jeremy and I were headed out to a remodeling job we were doing. I miss our time in the truck together – the conversations, the laughter – although I must admit that working with Jeremy was rarely easy. We’re both pretty set in our ways! Still, we had a lot to laugh about. He told me that we should write a book together. I asked him why he thought that. His reply still haunts me today – “We could write about you and me. It’d be so crazy no one would believe it. We’d make the non-fiction bestseller’s list.” I can’t argue with that…

Jeremy 2019

There were several things that Jeremy wanted from me that I just never got around to while he was here. Some of them I’ve done, some I haven’t yet. He always wanted me to find my birth parents. He loved my adopted parents, especially my dad, but he always wondered about who were really were – where and who did we come from. I found that out last year when I met my birth mother – his grandmother – and learned so much of our family history. When I go to Kentucky in May I’ll be taking some of his ashes to lay at the family cemetery on the family farm we will be having our reunion at. My brother’s sons look so much like Adrian and Jeremy. Part of Jeremy belongs there too.

I’ve also begun the book he always wanted. I realized that Jeremy had a private persona and a public one as an artist. While most people know Jeremy the artist, few know Jeremy the man. It’s time for a broader (and crazier) picture of he and I both.

I’ll keep you posted on the progress and maybe post a chapter here and there. I don’t know if it will be a bestseller. In fact, I don’t even know if you’ll read it. I do know that what will happen will happen and maybe his loss and the pain I feel will mean something to me and the healing will begin…

This song plays almost everyday on my streaming station. It has become my song for Jeremy.
Adoption, Connection, Emotional Health, Events, Faith, Family, Generations, Gifts, Gratitude, History, Kentucky, Relationships, Stories, Texas, Thoughts From the Porch, Writing

Home At Last

We drove all night last Monday evening – or rather, my son Adrian drove all night. I sat in the passenger seat trying to process the events of the previous three days…

I’ve shared with you, gentle readers, that I’m adopted and after sixty-three years I found my birth mother. Last Saturday, Adrian and I went to Kentucky for a couple of days to meet her and my brothers and sisters (Mom says we don’t have “half” siblings, just family…).

I’ve spent this week reflecting on our visit. In a four-day trip my life came full circle. Everything makes sense. I call my birth mother “Mom”. It felt weird calling her by her name. “Mom” naturally rolls of my lips and Mom she is. I’m not confused by this. I’m doubly blessed to have two amazing mothers.

Adrian, Mom, and I

My mom was at the front door before I even got out of the truck last Saturday evening. I don’t know who smiled bigger – Mom or me. We hugged tightly for a long time, as though we had to make up for the years that had passed us by. She held me back and said, “I thought I’d seen a ghost. You look exactly like your Uncle David. You even walk like him”. No one has ever told me I have a family resemblance to anyone. That’s one thing adopted kids rarely hear. It was proverbial “music to my ears”.

My brother, Danny, lives with Mom and I met him right away. If families have “chemistry” then ours was strong. I watched Danny all weekend. The way he takes care of Mom is wonderous. His gentle spirit is what I always wanted in a little brother.

My sister, Dana

My sister, Dana, came by shortly after we got there. We had texted each other that we were both looking forward to meeting in person, but that it’s a little weird meeting your sixty-three-year-old sibling for the first time. I can’t speak for my sister, but any discomfort faded immediately. I belonged…

Belonging was always an abstract concept for me. I was as much a part of the Joel family as one could dream. My parents and Grandmother Joel made sure of that. Still, there was always that lingering question – “Where do I really come from?”

It hit home when I was tracing the Joel family tree on a well-known genealogical website. No matter how much I want to belong or how proud I am of my Joel family tree, the lineage isn’t truly mine. It in no way means I don’t take pride in the Joel history. In fact, I’m surprised by how many times it overlaps with my birth family.

The family all came together on Sunday for lunch at Mom’s house. My youngest sister, Anne, sat down at the kitchen table with us and promptly announced she had looked me up on the internet. I think I passed muster. One never knows what the internet has to say. Thankfully it wasn’t a mugshot that came up!

My brothers, Mark and Danny

Brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, and their kids filled the house. I stopped many times during the day to simply be amazed by the chorus of voices and endless activity around me. Family spoke loudly and Mom was the matriarch. Repeatedly I heard, “I wish you could have been here when…” I’m still feeling elation at being part of this family, albeit a recently recognized addition.

My sisters, Anne and Becky I have a beautiful family!

My brother-in-law took Adrian and I on a tour of town and our family farm. He’s a history buff like me and every place we stopped, I learned more and more of my family’s long history in Logan County. So much so that I still can’t completely process it all. The family has been there a long time and shares a multitude of cousins in Texas as well. The farm has stood since 1804. I know who my ancestors are. It’s a dream come true.

I’ve thought a great deal about the whole “nature versus nurture” argument this week. I’ve concluded that, for me at least, nature plays a huge role in growing up. There were always little things that couldn’t be explained in my life – missing pieces of a big puzzle, things that I knew and had no reason to know. There are simply some things in life that are handed down through DNA: no other explanation is possible.

My siblings all returned to Mom’s house Monday to say goodbye. This was a short, but necessary trip. Opal’s Farm was anxiously awaiting my return to Texas. It was hard to say goodbye after the last two days. I had sixty-three years of life to catch up on. To do so in a weekend was impossible.

Pictures were taken, numbers and hugs exchanged. One by one, my brothers and sisters left for their respective homes. It was time to go, but I wanted to stay just a bit longer. Adrian and I had a long drive ahead of us and time was growing short.

Mom and I hugged for what seemed like hours. Neither wanted to let go of the other. I got in the truck and watched her as we pulled out of the driveway and drove away. Part of me would love to come home, load up Margaret and a moving van, and head for Kentucky. The other part, and somewhat more rational one, tells me that Opal’s Farm is waiting, and God has important work to do in Fort Worth, Texas. Besides, Mom would want me here doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m sure I just need to take more vacations…

The drive home was marked by sporadic conversation and total silence: partly because of driving through the night, but mainly because there were so many emotions to process – both for Adrian and me. I called Mom to let her know we’d arrived home safely. The overall consensus among my brothers and sisters was that we are family. I couldn’t imagine anything better.

Adoption, Connection, Faith, Family, Generations, History, Hope, Monday Mornings, Parents, Relationships, Spirituality

My Old Kentucky Home

(Disclaimer – I do not speak for all adopted folks. I need to make that clear from the start. The process of adoption was much different in 1958 than it is today. I don’t ever recall hearing about “open” adoptions with other adopted people my age. Everything was “closed” – court records, original birth certificates, anything that might indicate who the birth parents were. Adopted kids had little to no information to go on when it came to the birth parents.)

Photo by Amy Reed on Unsplash

I recently wrote about finding my birth mother after sixty-three years. I haven’t named locations, names, or siblings out of respect for family privacy. No one ever knew of her first pregnancy, and I waited to share the details until she said it was okay for me to do so. That changed a week ago. She had lunch with some of my siblings on Friday. She wanted them to know about me.

I was on the tractor Friday morning and just happened to idle down so I could talk to one of Opal’s volunteers. I heard the phone rang. It was a Kentucky number with no ID. I thought it might be my insurance company since they’re in Kentucky, so I answered. “This is Greg. May I help you?”

“Hello, this is your sister Dana. Mom told us about you, and we can’t wait to meet you” (I now have two sisters named Dana). An explosion of joy burst in my gut. We’ve spoken, texted, and messaged several times since.

I found out I have two brothers and three sisters. My youngest brother, Danny, sent me a message Saturday morning telling me how excited he was to have an older brother and to come be part of my family in Kentucky.

I’ve learned so many things that overlap my birth and adopted families. In fact, it’s almost a little eerie when I think about it. My sister and her husband farmed until her husband couldn’t anymore. My other sister, Becky, writes for the local paper and has the old family farm place.

I won’t take up your time, gentle reader, with all the stories and conversations that have taken place in the last couple of days. It’s been a lot for me to process and I’m not sure I could anyway. My wife, Margaret, and I were sitting out on the front porch last night enjoying a quiet summer evening. She told me how happy she was for me. I feel a bit of guilt though. She would love to see the child she had to give up for adoption so many years ago.

Like my own mother, she thought that would never happen. I recently purchased a DNA test for her so maybe, just maybe…

Margaret asked me how I feel about this blessing. I had to pause. I fell silent for a couple of minutes. Finally, I had to admit that I was at a complete loss for words. It’s something I can’t explain. It’s as though my life finally came together. The pieces of the puzzle fell into place, and life makes sense.

I could never have asked for a better family than my adopted parents and sister. I loved my parents (both are gone now) more than I can say. My sister, Dana, is and will always be my sister. I was so grateful when my birth mother asked if I had a good life. The answer was an emphatic yes. Far more than I deserve I can assure you.

My parents may have let me know how special I was to them, but the rest of the world doesn’t usually think so. I once asked my maternal grandmother why she treated my cousins so much better than me. She promptly, with bitterness in her voice, informed me that they were blood, and I was not.

(Aside – I found out in my adult years that Mom had once told her that our family would no longer attend family functions if I wasn’t accepted as their son. Thanks Mom!)

I always thought being adopted was special so most of my peers knew it. I remember having an argument with another kid back in elementary school. I don’t recall why we were arguing but the words “at least my mother wanted me” haunted me for years. Kids say the cruelest things…

I began to make up stories about where I came from. Imagination is the answer to not knowing. I could be whoever you wanted me to be. Fear of rejection or abandonment led to a chameleon approach to living and the addiction and co-dependency that often accompanied it. It took recovery and a loving God many years to deconstruct the lies I told to and about myself. But that’s another story…

Words fall short of explaining the emotions going on. This search could’ve gone in an entirely different direction – one leading to the fear I’ve spent so long overcoming. I’m more comfortable with facts and actions than I am words and feelings. So, I’ll be leaving for Kentucky in the next couple of weeks. The journey continues…

Photo by Joshua Michaels on Unsplash
Adoption, Belief, Children, Faith, Family, Generations, Gifts, Grandchildren, History, Love, Relationships, Spirituality, Thoughts From the Porch

Why This Birthday is so Special…

Saturday was my birthday. I turned sixty-three. I have no qualms about sharing my age. I never thought I’d live this long. My stubbornness, denial, and rebelliousness followed a downward path long past their expiration date. God had other plans and well, here I am – blessed to be one of His kids and grateful for the love, mercy, and grace He filled my life with.

I’m not big on birthdays. They’re just another day in my book. The farm still must be tended, chores still need to be done, and life doesn’t go on hold because its’ my birthday. However, this one was different. It was truly extra special.

I awoke to a message from my birth mother wishing me a happy birthday. I never thought that day would come. I called her later in the morning. She couldn’t believe the day had come either. Tears welled up in my eyes when she told me she had prayed for sixty-three years to be able to wish happy birthday to her firstborn.

Much has transpired since our initial phone call. We speak regularly. She’s waiting for the opportunity to gather my half-brothers and sisters around to tell them about me. Such things are better done in person. Once they know about me, I’ll be taking a trip to meet her soon. I’ll also be able to share more of the details of this miraculous time in our lives…

I learn more and more about my family history every time we talk. I’m constantly amazed by the synchronicities of my birth and adopted families. A bond has developed in a very short time.

She told me that August 17th was the birthday of her favorite nephew. Through family circumstance he became more than merely a nephew. He’s also sixty-three this year. She told me she often thought that God knew the pain of giving me up for adoption and placed Michael in her life to help deal with the loss. She told me that God sees us through loss in a loving and caring way. Her child was gone and yet she was given a special relationship with a nephew born days apart from me.

I thought about that a lot this week. My parents are both gone. Dad passed in 2002; Mom in 2017. My youngest son, Jeremy, died last year. God didn’t “take them” from me. The cycle of life goes on. Yet, God placed my birth mother in my life at just the right time. I’ve been given a special, special gift.

I’ve missed Jeremy terribly over these last few weeks. It was his constant urging that led me to find my mother. I wish he were here to celebrate this joyous moment together. I don’t know what it’s like in the world he finds himself in, but I do believe he knows. I did it Jeremy. Thanks for pestering me about it…

Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com

Adoption, Aging, Children, Choices, Culture, Emotional Health, Faith, Family, Gifts, Grandchildren, Gratitude, History, Monday Mornings, Patience, Prayer, Relationships, Respect, Responsibility, Stories, Thoughts From the Porch, Truth

She is My Mother…

It was a typical hot July morning last Wednesday at the farm. The heat and humidity was already oppressive and it was only nine AM. I’d just set up the pump and started the irrigation going. I drove down to the section I’d be irrigating and got out to move the hoses, muttering all the while about the sweat that had already soaked my t-shirt. It was going to be triple digits that day. “Summer’s finally here!”, I exclaimed and started down the walkway between sections. That’s when the phone rang.

Normally, I won’t answer a number from out of state and with no identification. However, my insurance is in the same area code as the one on my screen. “This is Greg. May I help you?”

“Hello. This is ******. I received your letter. I am your birth mother”. (I’ll explain the ****** in a moment.)

I had to take a second to let it sink in. “Wow. Thank you for calling me”. Words left. Her voice. I heard her voice. I heard my mother’s voice. Sixty-two years of wondering. Sixty-two years of not knowing and dreaming about where I come from stopped with those words, “I am your birth mother”.

“I want you to know I’ve often thought about you, especially in August (my birthday month). I’ve hoped and prayed you’ve had a loving family and a good life.” Her voice was sweet and soothing, chasing away the doubt I often felt about being wanted.

Tears filled my eyes. My face flushed. Emotions went wild. She cared. She thought about me. I had no idea how much it meant to me.

I regained my composure and told her how blessed I was to have been adopted by two loving parents who wanted me so desperately. They told me I was adopted, that my birth mother loved me enough to give them a wonderful son. From the earliest I can remember, they read The Chosen Baby, a popular book among adoptive parents back then, to remind me how special I was to them. I couldn’t have asked for better parents. I hoped she understood what a priceless gift she had given me.

We talked for over an hour. She told me she had looked me up on the internet. People run so many scams on older folks I can’t rightly blame her. She must’ve seen an old newspaper article which quoted my mom about my gardening experience. It turns out I inherited some of my birth mother’s DNA for gardening as well. She’s no longer to work outside due to her health and she misses it dearly.

I asked about my birth father. She confirmed what I’d figured out through DNA Detectives, the folks that started me on this journey. I suppose I have a half-sister in Southeast Texas.

I asked if her family knows about me – that a child was given up for adoption. She told me that no one has ever known except one of her sisters. The pregnancy was hushed and never spoken of again. She was sixteen, Catholic, and it was a different time. Such things were best left secret. Add her father (my grandfather) to the equation and it all makes sense. He was an alcoholic. She never wished to upset him. I understand completely. That’s for the best in an alcoholic home. Apparently, addiction and alcoholic DNA skip a generation, but that’s another story…

She raised a family of her own. I have half brothers and sisters, but time and circumstances prohibit me from contacting. If things were different…

For this reason, my birth mom shall remain nameless for now. I’m careful to omit any details that might reveal who or where she is. It’s out of respect for this sweet woman who gave me life. I tried to have no expectations when I began this search. It could have gone in directions I’d rather not go. My letter could have gone unanswered or worse, I could’ve heard “please don’t ever contact me again”. Like my friend Edgar always tells me: “Pray for the best and prepare for the worst…”. My prayers have been lovingly answered.

Now I know. I wasn’t discarded or placed for adoption because I wasn’t loved. I was given a chance at a wonderful life by sweet, probably scared, sixteen-year-old girl because that’s just how it was sixty-plus years ago.

This might not make sense in today’s culture or to someone who isn’t adopted. What does it matter if anyone knows about it? For one thing, it was a closed adoption. Neither party knew little, if anything, of each other. That’s the way the system kept it. It was 1958. There were few open adoptions in post-WWII America and even fewer in 1950s Texas. Besides, adoption agencies often painted a pretty, but blatantly false and misleading, picture of the biological parents so the baby would be more appealing to the new family.

I had a Zoom meeting getting ready to start so I had to get off the phone. I had to ask, “May I call you?”.

“Of course, please call”. Her voice cracked just a bit and I heard, “May I call you, too?”

My heart leapt out of my chest. She wants to call me! “Yes, yes, of course. Please call me anytime”.

She softly said, “I love you”.

I managed to blurt out, “I love you, too” before I hung up the phone. The tears flowed freely. “I love you, too…”

I immediately called my wife. “You’ll never guess who I talked to for the last hour. My mother.”

“Wow”. She said all she could say was wow. I get it.

I’ve had some time to think about my next steps. In fact, I’ve thought of little else. I’ve started a list of questions. I also want her to know how blessed my life is and I have her to thank for it all. After all, she put the ball in motion…

Photo by Liv Bruce on Unsplash