For as long as I could remember, she was an idea. She was the elusive fantasy that my mother held closely. She was someone who my mother had never met, except in the time and space before she had memories – but she was her deepest longing. I remember her talking about this mysterious woman as if she would make all things right in the world…or at least in her world. Something about my mom had been buried under clouds for much of the time that I remember, so if this mystical unicorn woman would right those feelings of discontent, loss, unrest, and disconnect, hey…bring on the unicorn!
In 2010, I moved back to Tulsa. I’d been back for just a few months when I received some shocking news – my mother found her unicorn! You see, my mom was adopted. Not only was she adopted, but she found out she was adopted at the funeral of the woman she thought was her mother. She was 22 years old, and I was 1. Not only did she find out she was adopted at her mom’s funeral…but the manner in which she found out only added layers to the trauma. Her world and identity were COMPLETELY disrupted, and trust was obliterated among those who were supposed to be her family. After this point, she determined that she would absolutely seek out her birth mother.
The search was only passive for many years, and it wasn’t until 23 years after the initial “revealing” of her adoption that it was indeed confirmed by the Bureau of Vital Statistics. But then 12 years after that confirmation, she got the call she’d dreamed of her whole adult life. Her cousin – the daughter of her adoptive father’s sister – called to let her know she knew her birth mother. [Follow me carefully…otherwise, you’ll get lost as the relationships are mapped out.] Turns out that my mom’s aunt (this particular cousin’s mom) was best friends with my mom’s birth mother. Did you get that? Basically, my grandmother was never “out of reach” for my mother, except for the commitment her entire adoptive family had to keeping the adoption a secret. My mom’s cousin was sworn to secrecy by her mom. And when her mom died, so did her contract to keep the secret…so she called my mom and gave her her birth mother’s contact information. My mom was introduced to her unicorn.
After carrying the pain of betrayal and broken trust around for so many years, it all seemed to disappear when she spoke to her mother for the first time. I wasn’t a part of that sacred moment, but I remember speaking to my mom after she spoke to hers…and she sounded like a completely different person. I’d never heard “healing” in a person’s voice before then…but I heard it in hers. She sounded whole. She sounded restored. She sounded checked in. I felt her love be replenished, and all doubts and fears about who she “might have been” vanished. These two women connected and melted into each other in the same way that butter melts into bread, adding a savory richness unlike no other.
My grandmother flew out to meet her baby within a month of their first conversation. Then my mom and one of my brothers flew out to visit my grandmother, and to meet the rest of our unicorn family. As the daughter of two only children, I used to be jealous of my friends who talked about having aunts, uncles, and cousins. Because any time I referred to those, it was always 2nd generation…which wasn’t quite the same. But lo and behold, my mom had siblings with children…which gave me COUSINS!!! (Don’t judge my excitement, y’all; cousins were valuable connections where I grew up.)
I was so excited to know that this whole portal of family connection had been opened to us. I started planning to go visit and meet everybody. From the phone conversations I had with the few members of our “new” family, everyone was so warm and inviting. The proverbial air was so refreshing with them! My mom and siblings were SO welcomed…and it was indeed healing. It was indeed restorative. And it did the hearts of me and my siblings good to finally see our mom smile not just to keep from crying, but genuinely, from her heart.
I couldn’t wait to finally meet my grandmother and observe her in action. I looked forward to seeing the little familiar nuances of her personality and gestures that were like my mom. I looked forward to learning her vibe and way of being, and having the opportunity to learn and grow from just sharing time with her. Were there things that I did intuitively that I picked up from her somehow? What traits of mine would I find in her? I didn’t know, but I was looking forward to finding out.
The subsequent 7 years flew by. Every year, I’d put it on my list of trips to make for the year, meanwhile enjoying hearing from my brother and mother about their trips to see “Mama/Grandma J”. Last year, I felt really strongly that I needed to really get out there to see her. And I kept saying I “needed” to do it. Then I learned of a diagnosis that would make all my “needing” a compelling priority…but I still hadn’t figured out how to make it happen. I knew I didn’t want to “meet” my grandmother for the first time at her funeral.
Today, I got the call. Our unicorn passed away. She held on as long as she could, but she was tired. She was ready to release the pain and the frustration of not being who she knew herself to be. And I missed my opportunity. I never met her…and my heart is stinging. So now, I’m preparing to say hello and goodbye to my family’s unicorn all at once; although she’s more like a pegasus now…