Friday, July 18, 2008

A Life Framed by Two.


When I read the letter aloud to her she said, "Wha's at mean, dear?"

"Fanny", I replied, "It means you have a family, and they're looking for you!"

She clasped her hands together in a certain gesture of excitement and delight which I have never seen, not in the ten years we have been friends.

"Family! I have a family!" she chortled through her laughter. And she didn't stop laughing for a full five minutes. I can't imagine what it must be like to find out that the family you thought was "lost" for many, many years, has suddenly been found.

"Wha's her name, dear?" she asked.

"Who?" I said, in a feeble attempt at a tease.

"My sister."

"Marian," I said. "Your sister's name is Marian. And your niece's name is Pam."

"Mary" she said, not able for some reason to form the last syllable. "Mary," she repeated. "I haf a sister named Mary."

"That's right, Fanny" I rejoiced with her. "You have a family"

"I have a family."

"Who has a family?" I would ask her over and over again that evening.

"Fanny does," she would reply with a self-satisfied smile. "Fanny does."

It's something she has been waiting to hear all of her life. She has never given up hope, but has told me many times, many times that she has a family. She just didn't know "where".

Although the details of her past are sketchy at best, Fanny's parents were likely told what most parents of developmentally delayed children were advised to do in her day. "The best thing you can for this child and for your family, is to put her in an institution and forget you ever had her. She will be looked after and it is what is best for her and for the rest of your family." Although there were many good things that happened in those institutions, and some good people who were caregivers there, they were largely dark places and a blight on our history as a society. In 1997, Fanny was set free from the institution, choosing to move along with her best friend, to a group home in Barrie when that option finally became available. Now in declining health, and her best friend Rosie having passed away, she is in a nursing home not far from where I live. We are fast friends and watch out for each other, but it's not the same as being related by blood and knowing your roots - where you came from and who you belong to. It’s not like knowing somewhat of the why of who you are and how you came to be.

Meanwhile Fanny has been waiting these 70 years. She's never quite given up hope.

It was her birthday on Saturday. I bought a pile of gifts. A new baby doll, a few t-shirts, some cough candies and a picture frame.

The frame is the kind that is quite trendy these days. It has a place for several photographs and then a large label across the middle that says, "Friends".

"This is for your friends", I told her. "Where are you going to put me?" She pointed to a spot in the picture frame where she was going to put a photo of me and then told me which of her other friends' photos she was going to put in the other places.

I handed her my last gift. "This is something you've never needed before, Fanny. But you'll need it now..."

When she opened it, she found another picture frame almost identical to the first. "What's it say?" she asked, pointing to the word in the frame.

"It says "FAMILY"", I told her, fighting to keep tears from welling up in my eyes. "The other one is for pictures of your friends, but you’re going to need this one for pictures of your family."

She listened carefully, paused for a moment, and then she started to cry. I put an arm around her, but there was no need to comfort. They were tears of the purest joy.

Welcome home, Fanny. We are all so glad you have finally, finally found your family. Psalm 68: 6 says: God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing. You have experienced both of these joys in your life - from the institution you have been set free, and now - joy of joys - you have found your family.

(Note: A special thank you to all the writers and readers of this blog who have had a part in this! Some of you were directly involved in Fanny's emancipation from institutional life, and others worked hard, sending out inquiries about her family. Others have supported, cheered, and prayed along the way. God bless you all. And celebrate! This is your moment, too!)

6 comments:

Belinda said...

The phone rang in my office at the end of an intensely busy day, and it was Susan. She said, "Fanny is here. She wants to tell you something."

Fanny said, "How are you dear, I've got a secret."

I said, "You have? What is it Fanny?"

She laughed mysteriously, drawing the delightful tension out until the last possible minute.

"It's a secret," and she laughed again until I begged her to tell me.

"I've got family," she said at last, revealing the surprise in a tone of voice usually reserved for a new birth, which indeed this might as well have been.

"Fanny!" I squealed my delight at her news, "What a wonderful birthday gift God has given you."

And then Fanny wanted to know what I was going to buy her for her birthday. Which reminds me....:)

Belinda said...

And I have to say this too, that when God gave Fanny the Stewart family for friends, he gave her the very best of families to wrap themselves around her.

I know that nothing can compare with the gift of finding out you have flesh and blood family when you thought you had no one in the world; but no family, no matter how close, could have loved Fanny more, or been kinder or more faithful than you.

MARILYN said...

Lovely, moving story. Wow.
To make a difference in one person's life....the greatest privilege. We cast about for purpose and meaning, and pursue many things in life trying to find it, but making a difference in one person's life....being given both the opportunity and the ability...that's a gift from God.

We miss it a lot, I think, often hurrying to finish the work of it, eager to get on to the REALLY important things. Oh, to have God's perspective!

sorry for the sermon....my reflections...prompted by this excellent blog entry....

elaine said...

Praise God.. what a moving story of love, faith, friendship and hope.Susan you are the best. how did Fanny find her family. I hope she had a wonderful birthday.....elaine

Dave Hingsburger said...

Susan, what a lovely story - while we can never 'right' history, we can certainly now do the 'right' thing. I hope that Fanny realizes that it's ok to put you in the 'family' frame.

Angcat said...

Wow Susan. That was most beautiful and moving.
I agree with Dave. You fit in both frames.
Do we get to know more of the story? I know it may just be private, and that's ok.
Reunions are just so wonderful and I can just imagine the joy when Fanny meets her sister and niece.
Wow.