Family Matters-Finding Jim
=== PART I ===
It’s hard to know how to begin…
When I was four years old (which would have been 1946), I remember my mother having a baby, a boy. I was told that two days later he died. It was a “dark” time that I recall was filled with sadness and shrouded in gloom. It had to be winter, because I remember clearly that the apartment where we lived was cold. I was in the living room alone; Mom and Dad in the bedroom crying. I was told by Dad and Grandma Brophey that I should never mention the baby again because it would only hurt Mom, so I didn’t. Three years later, my brother Denny, was born. I don’t believe we ever mentioned our brother who had died.
My Dad passed away in 1986. Mom and Dad had been married about 47 years (a wonderful marriage).
By January 2005, my mother had developed very advanced alzheimers so I took over her affairs. I became responsibility for Mom with power of attorney. I moved her to a lovely secure facility in the Florida community where she had lived since the early 1980’s.
On March 20, 2005, after a month-long visit with Mom, I invited my Aunt Norma (Mom’s favorite and closest sister) to come over so I could fill her in on Mom’s condition.
By then I had access to all of Mom’s medical records. As part of her care, she had been evaluated by a psychiatrist. During that interview she told her doctor that she had three children: me (Sharon), my brother (Denny) and an adopted son (??). Since there have always been just my brother (Denny) and me, I attributed the comment about the “adopted” son as confusion caused by her dementia.
I told my aunt about what Mom had told the doctor. I just figured she’d confused the facts.
But Aunt Norma burst into tears and said she had to tell me something. The story unfolded.
The child who was born when I was four hadn’t died (in 1946). It was during the Second World War, and my dad had just returned from two years in the Marines. Mom had the baby six months after his return. The baby was over eight pounds, a full-term infant, so this child was clearly not my father’s. Dad gave my mother the option. She could either give the baby boy up for adoption, or he would divorce her and take me.
Mom gave the baby up. Grandma Clara Brophey, my great grandmother, a wonderful leading citizen in our community, arranged it all. (Note: When Grandma Brophey was quite old, she told me Mom had a secret I had a right to know and I should ask Mom. I didn’t follow up on her suggestion. Grandma B. died before I learned the truth.)
Aunt Norma couldn’t remember the date nor the details, but she knew it was in 1946 near either Thanksgiving or Christmas. She couldn’t remember the name of the family who had adopted him.
She’d promised my mother never to reveal the truth.
So why would Aunt Norma tell me after all this time?
The sermon topic at her church service that day was “You’ll know when it’s time.” The sermon suggested that when God is speaking to you, you should listen. When I presented the statements about my mother’s confusion regarding her “adopted” son, Aunt Norma felt it was “time” for me to know.
The evening of this revelation, I went to the internet and signed up for membership in a Yahoo email list for Michigan folks looking for a parent, child, or sibling who had been given up for adoption. (The list is called Michigan Searching.) I posted a message explaining that my half brother had been adopted, and that I had no idea how to start looking for him. I asked for help. I only knew that he’d been born in Midland, MI, in 1946.
A wonderful lady named Sandra who had grown up in Midland replied in answer to my Michigan Searching email posting. She’d been adopted as an infant and had used this internet resources to find her birth parents. She said she’d assist me.
She put me in touch with a friend of hers, Jennifer. Jennifer had been instrumental in helping Sandra find her birth parents. Jennifer is a volunteer public records researcher based in Wayne County and she facilitates reunions of this nature. Sandy was a godsend. She encouraged me and gave me lots of pointers.
I was fortunate because I knew that the baby had been adopted in Midland, I knew the approximate date, and I knew the original parents of record. I could even speak for my mother with her Power of Attorney.
At Sandra’s suggestion, my first stop was the archive of the Midland Daily News where I tried to find a public posting of a birth announcement. I failed, but I did find a mention of Baby Layman (my parents’ last name) in a Midland County births file, but no date. All I knew was the baby was born in 1946. (The listing was unlike any of the others .. an over-written, erased entry.)
About a week later, my Aunt Norma invited her older sister, my Aunt Hazel, to come to her house and asked me join them. Aunt Hazel was then 95 years old but she had known about the adoption.
We talked at length. Aunt Hazel said at one time she had known who had adopted the baby, but over the years, she’d forgotten the name of the family. She said that memory was totally gone. At 95, I could certainly understand that.
But suddenly she said, “Bliss. The mother’s maiden name was Bliss. The family name was Hedelund.”
I wrote the name down. A few minutes later she’d again forgotten, but that one moment’s recollection was all it took.
I emailed Sandy’s friend, the records researcher, Jennifer. I explained that I had the adopted family name of my brother, and soon she got back to me with the other details of my brother’s birth.
His name is Jim Hedelund. He was born December 18, 1946. I understand his adoptive parents received him on Christmas Eve.
I had started my search March 20, 2005, I found him, March 29, 2005 (less than two weeks later).
But I need to tell you about the most bazaar connection. The totally wonderful person, Sandra, who directed my search and gave me so many pointers was talking on the phone to Jennifer when my email message came in announcing the family name. Sandra was flabbergasted.
Frances and William Hedelund (Jim’s adoptive parents) are her God Parents! That’s right! Jim’s parents are Sandra’s God Parents! It’s not just remarkable — it’s destiny! The Supreme Being was calling the shots! Sandra knew Jim all along. They lived near each other. She had visited their home. Of all the folks who could have seen my email, Sandra was the ONE who responded.
I called Jim that night and talked with him and his wife (Louise) for over an hour. It was a wonderful experience. But I left the ball in his court. I knew I had barged in on his life. I couldn’t interfere if he wasn’t willing. I couldn’t bond if he wasn’t the one to decide it would happen.
At the end of the call, I told him I wouldn’t bother him again. I left it up to him to get back to me. That night, I also spoke at length with his wife, Louise, and she was so excited about us finding each other that I was sure she’d prompt him to get in touch with me.
That was March 29, 2005. It took until February 28, 2006, before he contacted me.
=== PART II – Getting Acquainted ===
I was in Florida (again caring for Mom) when I heard from Jim by email. That message started a flood of messages between us. I continually filled him in on how Mom was doing.
I found that, during the period I had waited for him to contact me, Jim had major health problems. During that year, he’d lost his vision. He’s now totally blind. He underwent several surgical procedures and when they failed, it took time for him to adjust.
By the end of March, John and I were home in Michigan.
During our email exchanges, I had discovered that Louise, Jim’s wife, works for the optometric practice where my husband and I get our glasses/contacts. When we got back to Saginaw, I used that connection as an excuse to “stop by” and visit Louise. After a warm, affectionate meeting, it was an easy step to invite them to our home.
On March 31st, 2006, I finally met my brother face-to-face. He’s funny with a buoyancy which is remarkable.
I had told my brother, Denny, seven years younger than me, the whole story about our “newly discovered” brother. On August 14th, 2006, John and I hosted a get together so Denny could meet Jim and Louise. The five of us enjoyed a pleasant evening.
It took from March 2005 until February 2006 for Jim to get back to me, but Louise said it’s just the way he is… very slow and deliberate.
Louise, my “new” sister-in-law,” is exactly the kind of person I would select as a best friend. She’s a warm, charming lady.
On June 28, 2006, Jim, Louise, and two of his three children showed up at one of the concerts my husband and I host. (I’m always the emcee.) We had a large receptive audience that night (several hundred.) Many of our closest music-playing friends were also present.) What an experience! Jim was in the audience so I asked him and his family to stand and I proudly introduced him as my brother. I briefly explained that he’s MY FAMILY! I couldn’t keep back the tears as I explained that I’d just “found him.” He was 60, but he was my “new” brother.
Jim and his wife also came to the Evart festival in 2006 and 2007. (That’s the big hammered dulcimer event where I am workshop chairman.)
And in August, 2006, Jim bravely brought his whole family to my mother’s family reunion. He met all of his aunts, uncle, and cousins. Jim, who no one had known about, was definitely accepted by everyone and immediately loved. He also brought his family to that annual reunion in August, 2007, 2008 and 2009. And in June, 2008, I attended his older daughter, Emily’s, wedding. Jim took me around the reception, introducing me to everyone as his “big sister.”
Despite his blindness, Jim is very mobile with a lead dog named Jake.
Jim and I had grown up in the same community, and in fact, my Michigan home is only about 10 miles from his. We went to the same high school, but I graduated four years ahead of him.
After I found Jim in 2005, I continued to go back and forth to Florida caring for my mother. Mom continued to slip further away.
It wasn’t easy to communicate with her. She spoke very little and was unaware most of the time. Those who came in contact with her, told me she was totally lost, but I could generally get her to respond to me.
I waited patiently for an opportunity when she seemed most alert.
There were just the two of us in her quiet room at Aston Gardens; she was in her wheel chair while I sat on the edge of her bed. As I held her hands, I quietly explained that she needed to listen carefully because I needed to talk to her about something very important. I could see a level of response and understanding which others would have denied was possible.
I reminded her of the difficult time in 1946 when she’d had the baby who wasn’t my dad’s. I told her I knew it had to be awfully hard to give up that baby but I said, “You did it for the best of reasons, to give that baby a good life and to keep your family together.”
I explained that I’d found her son and he and I had become friends. I told her his name is Jim and I assured her that Jim has had a great life and she’d done the right thing. I kept holding her hands and I could see the understanding was there. Her eyes had tears as she nodded.
I know medical people would say that she wasn’t capable of grasping what I’d said, but I believe she knew that I had found her son.
When she died on September 14, 2008, it was a peaceful passing. I brought her back to Michigan for her burial and Jim and Louise attended her funeral sitting in the front row beside me. It was at the funeral home that Jim met his mother for first time.
Although “our” mother is gone, Jim and I have a special friendship which I’m sure will continue for our rest of our lives.
I love to share this beautiful story.
When people say how horrid Alzheimers is, I say, “Not always.” In this case, it brought me very close to my mother, and because of the disease, doors were opened to the brother I would never have known otherwise.
April 4, 2015
Sadly Jim died March 28, 2015.
I wish I’d known him better. Unfortunately we never had a chance to be close.
The last time I spoke with him (last summer), he was fighting cancer but he felt it was in remission. Apparently the struggle was far from over. Here’s his obituary.
I sure wish I’d been closer to him. He impressed me as a super sweet guy.