Friday, February 25, 2011

Please See Us

There are experiences in life which are, truly, unimaginable for most. The duty for the sufferer of such an experience is to ensure that others truly see them and that others do not forget...

On Mother's Day, 2011, the MISS Foundation will host its inaugural event, Empty Strollers, Empty Shoes: We walk for them. Mothers, Fathers, sisters, brothers, grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends, neighbors, caregivers, and supporters will come together with their empty strollers and empty shoes in solidarity and walk on Mother's Day.

We invite you, wherever you are, to organize an event in your area!

Our objectives are: 1) Public awareness: To help others truly see bereaved families who have experienced child death, 2) Honoring: To recognize and remember the children who died and the family member/s left behind to mourn their absence, 3) Solidarity: To commune with like others who have experienced the same knowing of the unthinkable, 4) Resource building: To help raise much-needed funds for the MISS Foundation so that we can continue our outreach around the world. Parents and others are building teams in their child/children's names and recruiting friends and family members to sponsor them for the walk.

One such team that has already started is "M-Bug's team", initiated by her devoted mom Ashley, a MISS Foundation member in Phoenix, Arizona who is walking to remember her precious baby, Mckenna Jodell, who died at nine-months-old. A clinical intern for the MISS Foundation, Bianca Mera, MSW candidate, has already raised more than $700 on her team. There are many stories- and plenty of love and tears- behind every team.

We hope you will participate with us. Because this picture will truly help others to see bereaved parents and families, really see them, in a very different way...

For more information and to organize an event in your area please contact MISS Foundation Executive Director, Kathy Sandler, MSW at To register for the Phoenix event, visit the registration page.

About the Walk: Each day around the world, parents walk their babies, safely nestled in their strollers, aroundparks, neighborhoods, schools, and even zoos. Each day around the world, parents hear the steps of their children come through the door at the end of their school day. Each day around the world, parents experience theirchildren's feet returning home for family gatherings and holidays.

But, tragically, not all children get to ride in their strollers, return home at the end of the school day, or spend holidays with family.

The Empty Strollers-Empty Shoes Walk is an international memorial walk to remember all the mothers, fathers, and families- and their beloved children - and to honor those relationships on the most sacred of days for families; Mother's Day. Because death is not bigger than a family's love, and because even intheir absence, they continue to walk with us, as we walk for them.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Elusive Past

The past is never where you think you left it.
-Katherine Porter

I was born by accident. My brother, Mark, enjoyed the crown of the family baby for nine years. Then, a very annoying sister usurped his place in the family and life would never be the same. This was the family story I'd always known, for more than four decades of my life.

But family stories are, sometimes, revisioned. And those important conversations about painful truths are sometimes pieces of the elusive past, better unspoken to once-passed generations.

I had a dream about my mom and dad a few nights ago. They hadn't yet died in my dream. Rather, I knew death was impending, and I wanted to video tape them to capture more memories. I spent very little time on my mom, focusing the camera on my dad instead. In a moment of sustained eye contact, he looked at me and said, "I love you baby." The dream bothered me because there was so little focus on my mother. In all my dreams of her since her death many years ago, she's looking away from me, I cannot quite touch or reach her. She is unapproachable and fleeting...

During my most formative years, I felt much closer to my father, seeking his comfort when I was hurt or afraid or lonely. He was affectionate, warm, and nurturing. He called me "sweetheart" and "baby" frequently. He was my caregiver, my primary source of life and sustenance on this Earth. And, when not angered by my innate iconoclasm, I could see love in his eyes even though he was not particularly effusive.

My mother, on the other hand, was detached, distant, and phlegmatic. She achieved remuneration once my eldest son was born as she showered him- and the other children who would later follow- with unmitigated love, devotion, and affection. She was a model 'Nana' to the children and they adored her. And while I was overjoyed at the bountiful relationships she had with each of my children, it never made sense to me that so much felt lacking during my own childhood. And the container that held my little-child-heart was always saddened by a sublime pining for my wished-for-mother.

After my dream this week, I called my older sister, Eda. I told her about my dream. We both cried. She called my older brother, Johnny, and during the triune conversation, whilst repeating my dream again, he said, "You know mommy almost died once before you were born."

"What?" I said.

He repeated himself.

"What are you talking about, John?"

"Mommy lost a baby before you were born and she almost bled to death," he said.

My sister confirmed my mother's near-death experience.

"When? What happened?" I asked, nonplussed by his delinquent disclosure.

"Oh, I don't know what year. Hmmmm," he mustered. After some brief bantering about years, he said she had become pregnant about two years before I was born, some seven years after the original baby, Mark. "A boy," John said. She was in her second trimester when she began to bleed. "She was very sad, she took it very hard," John remembered in a solemn tone. "Do you remember that, Eda?" My sister affirmed. He went on to describe the family as "changed" after that. My father was very sad and expressed his sadness. My mother, on the other hand, withdrew and spoke to no one of the baby or her own nearly-lost-life. She had depressive symptoms, slept more than usual, and remained stoic and silent. Not even two years later, I was born.

I was both perplexed and speechless. My mother said, in passing once, that she'd had a miscarriage long ago but when I pried her more, she told me it was "no big deal" and refused to discuss it with me. She certainly didn't mention the prolonged hospital stay or that she'd nearly lost her own life or that she loved and wanted the baby so much that her grief was untouchable for her.

When I hung up the phone, I got out the pictures I'd kept of my mother and a little-girl-Joanne. They were the photos that always gnawed at my sense of self in the world. She was rarely touching me, rarely smiling, rarely looked happy. The photos were a testament to the emotional dysplasia I'd sensed during my early childhood and that remained in my implicit memory. I looked at her face carefully, mindfully. I really looked at her. And then, I saw her. My mother.

For a moment, the dead were resurrected to a place of truth, where her ghosts and mine gazed into one another intently. The past became the present. A mere glimpse was all I needed. And I understood, and I forgave.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

1944, Daisy, and all her Children

I read an amazing story today, and I held Daisy and the little girl with whom I hope she was reunited close to my heart....

Lost sister finally found her four brothers after 65 years

More than 65 years after her mother gave her up for adoption, Suzanne Brett went looking for her birth family – and discovered four younger brothers, who knew nothing of her existence, living less than 30 miles away. ALICE HUTTON hears about her remarkable story

The envelope looked out of place on the doormat. Next to the bills, it had a neat, hand-written address label taped to the front. Chris turned it over in his hands, then slit the top open carefully and took out a letter. Its contents revealed a secret that had lain hidden since its inception on June 25, 1944, at Mill Road Maternity Hospital in Cambridge.

Blowing the cobwebs off a decades-old mystery, the letter was filled with wartime love affairs, a lost daughter and potential new families, which, if the landscape gardener from Fowlmere was honest, was quite a lot to take in on a Friday morning.

Step back to 1944. The officers’ mess at RAF Bassingbourn is filled with cigarette smoke and pilots with Brylcreemed side partings living on the brittle edge of life.

Young Englishmen are training, and dying, to protect Britain’s skies, while Cambridgeshire’s women are leaving the security of their parents’ homes and signing up to the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) in their droves.

Around the corner there’s a camp of American soldiers, their pockets full of treasures rationed to the point of myth; silk stockings, make-up and chocolate. Among the flocks of young WAAF members, caps perched on their victory-rolled hair, the often-doomed servicemen make love as well as war. It is, at the same time, a liberating, exciting and dangerous time for all involved.

More than six decades later, sitting around an oak table in The Fox pub in Bar Hill, Suzanne Brett, 66, and Chris Wall, 57, speculate about the events that led to the letter which brought them together.

They admit they will never know the circumstances that saw their mother, Daisy Taylor, a member of the WAAF, unmarried and pregnant at 23 years old. Or why, soon after Angela Mary Taylor was born, Daisy gave her up, and died 60 years later without telling her four sons about their older sister.

For Suzanne, from St Ives, being given up at birth could easily have been the end of the story.

Taken in and re-named Suzanne by a loving couple at just six weeks old, she found out she was adopted at the age of 6. Determined never to hurt her parents, she decided to wait until they died before looking for answers. With just her birth certificate to go on, she scoured adoption websites, but came away empty handed and gave up.

Then, last summer, into the frame stepped two of the unlikeliest white knights: daytime chat show host Trisha and a Scottish woman called Liz. Sipping a glass of white wine, Suzanne explains: “I happened to watch a Trisha programme last summer and she mentioned websites to trace birth relatives.

“I posted a message giving a short history with my name, my birth name, date and my mother’s name. And then I waited.” She reaches into a folder bulging with papers and pulls out a well-read email. “This arrived in my inbox 48 hours later.” In just two days, the now infamous ‘Liz of Scotland’ had scoured endless registration-only sites and, free of charge, gathered up a gold mine of ‘lost’ information, including Chris’s name, address and telephone number, plus Daisy’s marriage certificate and death certificate, which told Suzanne that, whoever else she now found, she was six years too late to meet her mother.

“She must have been up all night,” Suzanne explains, looking incredulous. “And she didn’t want any payment, she just wanted to help.”

Suzanne immediately wrote to Chris, who lives in Fowlmere.

“I opened the envelope very carefully because I just wasn’t sure what was in there,” says Chris. “I was shocked, stunned, all those things, to read Suzanne’s letter. All the information she had given was absolutely correct. So the next step was to email my three brothers and say, boys, we may have a sister.” After comparing names and addresses on birth certificates, the five of them decided to meet, bringing all of Daisy’s children together for the first time. It was an emotional evening for everyone, not least because not one, but two crucial people were missing.

Daisy died in 2004, aged 84. Many years earlier, she had given birth to a stillborn baby girl, who she told her sons she always longed to hold. “It was a real sadness for us boys,” says Chris, “because we knew that mum had had a little girl. Now we know she was longing for the daughter she gave up, as well as the daughter she lost.

“When I was younger, I always wanted a little sister, now I have a big sister.” Suzanne, tears flowing silently down her cheeks, still finds the memory of that first night overpowering.

“I grew up as an only child,” she explains softly, “so this is a bit overwhelming for me. We met for dinner and talked all night; they made me feel like one of them.” Flipping through the pages of the photo album the brothers put together for their new sister, a beautiful, fresh-faced woman beams out from every page, and from the brothers’ stories emerges a picture of a fun-loving, kind mother who was well respected by the local community.

So well respected, Chris believes, that it explains how Suzanne’s birth almost remained hidden from them forever.

“I spoke to family members, widows of uncles, friends of the family, even the woman who made my wife’s wedding dress, and as it turns out, everybody already knew – everyone but us. What they said to me was it wasn’t a secret, they just never spoke of it out of respect for our mother.

“There must have been hundreds that knew, apart from us four brothers, including our father.” Daisy married Horace Wall in 1946 and the couple moved to Melbourn, where they raised four sons: Peter, Edward, Michael and Chris.

But what of Suzanne’s birth father? The section on the birth certificate is blank. Was he an officer she met when working at RAF Bassingbourn, an American soldier, or a local man?

For the brothers there is no proof that Horace, who died a few years ago, is not her father as well. And that is the way they would like it to stay.

“Horace and our mum were childhood sweethearts and got ‘married’ in the school play when they were 5 years old, so in our minds they were married 20 years before anyway,” says Chris.

“We will never know for sure, but that is what we would like to think.” For Suzanne, the journey is over and she is clearly overjoyed to find such warmth and acceptance.

“When I was growing up I never thought about being adopted, it never bothered me as I had such a happy childhood.

“But if I had met Daisy, I would have asked her many questions.

“Why did you give me up? Did you miss me?”

“I’m sure she did,” adds Chris quietly.

“If you want to trace your birth family then don’t give up,” Suzanne continues.

“I didn’t give up. I found my family and that’s what I wanted. I have my brothers.”

“Well, it might have worked a little better,” teases Chris. “We might have got a sister who was a bit taller.”

And that is what little brothers are for.

-- From Royston News, UK


The soul still sings in the darkness telling of the beauty she found there; and daring us not to think that because she passed through such tortures of anguish, doubt, dread, and horror, as has been said, she ran any the more danger of being lost in the night. Nay, in the darkness did she, rather, find herself.

--St. John, Dark Night of the Soul

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