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A death in the family

I never thought I’d be thankful for allergies or the death of Robin Williams. And I’m certainly not in either case, but I am thankful for the excuse they gave me when I went into work this week with watery eyes and broke down at my desk when someone asked me how I was doing.

Early Wednesday morning I talked to Ingrid and found out that Sandy, her/our mother was dead. How weird to type that and just stare at the words willing some kind of emotion.

Despite being so far away I was sure I would know the moment when she died, you know, that I would intuitively feel it. If something beyond my logical brain was guiding me to get in touch with Ingrid again after 5 years and only weeks before we all learned of our mother’s terminal condition, then perhaps I could believe in the cellular connection between birth mother and child.

What a load of old bollocks. Ingrid was away the day her/our mother died, finally getting a few days much needed break with her family. And Erik and I went out of town for the day and had the loveliest time together. I didn’t give Sandy a moment’s thought.

But I’m fine with that, actually glad of it. Because if I had felt something then this would be all be much harder than just dealing with the simple facts. Sandy was the woman that slept with a Charles Aznavour lookalike, carried me for 9 months, brought me into the world and then gave me up. We had chances over the last 25 years to have a relationship but neither of us took them. That may be the one and only thing we have in common.


I admit to pushing her away after we first met. I was 22, unprepared and I’ll be honest and say that it was a bit of a power trip for me in a situation I’d previously felt powerless in. You dump me, I dump you back. But she gave up without much of a fight, just this letter from 1989 referring to our relationship as ‘unfinished business’.  She writes that ‘once Pandora’s box is open you cannot put everything back together again’. Never issue me a challenge without knowing that I will rise to it.

My favorite part of the letter is her sign-off – ‘Enjoy your Christmas, love Sandy’.

That was our last communication. Until last month. Realistically I wasn’t expecting much from that phone call. She was in liver failure, facing her last few weeks and according to Ingrid in no mood for grand declarations of love or remorse. If not to her husband, to Ingrid or her brother then certainly not to me. And I hadn’t truly realised that I even wanted that from her, until I heard her voice and knew there wasn’t a chance in hell that I’d get it.

Her obsession with Armenian history and the matter of fact way that she talked about my bleak chances of finding my father made all those conversations with my adoptive mother about the garden, the weather and the comings and goings of Lenham village feel intimate and full of warmth.

If I sound bitter I suppose I am. Her parting gift to was to corrupt my perfect fantasy of my father. The more I’ve learned about Dicran Haratian the less I want to know. I may be naive to have believed the adoption agency’s description of my French father and their idealized version of events leading to my adoption. But it’s been my story since I was 11 years old and my grief over losing that version of him is strong.

But now she’s gone and I have to let it all go. I have said all along that the best part of all of this is gaining a sister and I couldn’t be happier that Ingrid and I are reconnected and that she and I will spend time together in New York next month over what what would have been Sandy’s 70th birthday. Ingrid put it best when she said she wasn’t as upset at losing her mother as she was that her mother’s life hadn’t seemed to be particularly happy and that her children apparently hadn’t brought her much joy.

So maybe I turned out to be the lucky one, the one that got away. Because whatever the generational limitations of Mr and Mrs Gallant, I know the joy  they felt on meeting and bringing home a 4 month old baby girl was genuine and that I was wanted and longed for, even if they were unable to tell me so.

As  I wrote in my last entry, Sandy told me back in 1989 that it would take the death of my adoptive parents for me to really be able to appreciate her. But in the end maybe it’s the other way around.



3 thoughts on “A death in the family”

  1. Thanks Selma, I miss you too very much. Having a corporate job is a lot less fun than spending my days with you all. I love you and hope to see you soon. xx

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