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Dear Ellen (A Reunion Story)

March 14th, 2013

Dear Ellen,

My sister Kimmy and I learned how to dance from watching your show. I’m sure you get a lot of letters like this, but what makes ours a little different is that Kimmy and I haven’t yet met. In 1977, when I was born, I was adopted. Only 3 days old, I went home to live with the Swensons, knowing only that I was adopted and that I was very, very, very loved. I had questions over the years, but the adoption was closed; no contact and little information.

I’m married to a wonderful woman, have a good career, a nice house, and the two best chocolate labs. We’re working on starting our own little family here in Toronto. But a few years ago, I lost my dad. And in 2011, my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma. I spent the first part of 2012 as her caretaker as she went through a successful stem cell transplant and recovery. In December, I turned 35. Maybe because of all of this, maybe in spite of it, I decided to find what I could about my birth family.

I found out that Illinois would now issue an original, unaltered birth certificate to adoptees. Where possible, it would include the birth mother and father’s name, address, ages, and other information that could help answer some of those questions. I filled out the form, using my mom’s address in St. Charles since it would be quicker. I paid my $15. I waited 3 weeks. On the Saturday morning that Mom called, we were actually in the middle of our adoption homestudy. I pressed ‘ignore’ and called her that afternoon. She read the birth certificate out loud and my heart stopped.

My birth mom’s name was Denise Lynn Johnson. She was 19. She lived in St. Charles at the time. I had history.

The internet is kind of amazing. I work on the web, developing applications and strategies for the province of Ontario. But I never thought how much I could find with just a name and approximate age. I found Denise’s yearbook photo first, and then her married name. I then found her obituary – she passed away in 2008.

This floored me. I’d waited more than four years too long. I would never know her. And since my father’s name was blank, I would never find my birth father.

I realize that I’ve already given away the best part of the story. You can probably guess what happened next. The obituary listed surviving children; a girl and two boys. Somewhere out there, I had a half-sister and half-brothers and what felt like a dozen aunts. I googled my sister’s name and found and old myspace page. And a picture. And then, I almost fainted.

My wife was sitting next to me and she looked over. “That could be you!” she said.

Never in my life had I met anyone who looked anything like me. I looked at Kimmy and knew; I had found a sister.

It only took two weeks to get in touch. I’d ‘friended’ the aunts on Facebook and one saw my messages. Within hours, I was chatting with Kimmy, who couldn’t have been more delighted to have a sister. But I still wanted to know… who was my father?

She didn’t even hesitate. “My dad is your dad”, she said. Our parents had been in love from a very young age and there was no doubt. After I was born, they moved to Florida, got married, had three children together. When Denise died in 2008, our dad didn’t know how to go on. He’s rebuilding, but it’s taking time. And it’s been so hard.

Now it’s been a few more weeks and I’ve bought a ticket to go meet her in Florida on April 13. We’ve lived such very different kinds of lives, but we’re continually amazed at how much we’re the same. We both have crazy long toes; we call them ‘fingertoes’. We both love cilantro, and sushi, and cheese. (Not all at the same time!) As I mentioned before, we both learned some killer dance moves from your show.

And most importantly, we are both having the time of our lives getting to know each other, crafting private jokes, making up for 30 years of not knowing.

What does this have to do with you? Nothing. Well, except for the killer moves we’ve learned over the years of watching. I

I just wanted to share that one of the things me and my sister (I’m still not used to saying that!) have in common is you. Thank you.

Amy Swenson
Toronto ON

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