The anniversary of my first mother’s death is here. She passed away last year on November 3, 2019. Her name was Ann Marie.
Last week I was sitting in the Costco parking lot and read a post on Facebook around loss. Immediately I began to cry. I sat in the Costco parking lot for 45 minutes trying to gather myself. It dawned on me, it was this exact time last year that my first mother became gravely ill and was hospitalized. It was this time last year that I was asked to become the power of attorney and decision maker over her life. I felt so lost during that time.
That time was surreal. Looking back it plays like a movie. I can see myself but I was dissociated from the experience. I was in survival mode. No time to process, no time to think about myself and no time to breathe. In that moment, I needed to be her daughter. I needed to be the family she never had. I needed to take action.
I have thought about how to memorialize Ann Marie as this day has approached. How to give her story a face. She was known for all of the hard things she went through, for all of her diagnoses, for her mental health challenges, and for her negative behaviors. I never heard anyone describe her from a strengths perspective, her positive personality or her character traits. As I type this out, it sounds much like my own childhood. It is something we share. Ann Marie’s story was told from a place of pain, a place of burden, a place of determining she was unfit and unworthy. Her story was used against her. There was no one to tell her story from a place of love and a place of admiration. She deserved that. She is one of the strongest people I have met. I only wish she had the support of family she so deserved.
I wanted to retell her story from the paperwork I received but in a different light. The story of her childhood, the amazing person she was and the resilient life she lived. Below is a snapshot of her but does not encompass everything. I did the best I could with what information I had because in adoption we dont get all the details. We can’t interview family (unless we are in reunion), we dont have access to medical histories or documents. Everything I used to compile this narrative comes from the stack of files I received from my time in foster care and from the words from her peer specialist. Lauren, Ann Marie’s peer specialist was an individual who Ann Marie trusted and felt accepted by. I am so happy she had her.
Ann Marie was born prematurely on August 3, 1961 in New Britain, Connecticut. She only weighed 3 pounds 5 ounces at birth. She spent the first two months in the hospital’s NICU. She was born a strong fighter.
Ann Marie was the third child born to her parents. She had an older sister and brother, 5 years and 3 years older, respectively. Their home life was not stable and her parents were not healthy, Ann Marie spent much of her time alone or with animals. When her siblings went to school, Ann Marie took care of herself. She was particularly close to their family dog. Her connection to animals remained throughout her lifetime and it is something that she has passed on to my daughter, her granddaughter.
Ann Marie was put into foster care when she and her siblings found their mother deceased in their family home. Their father was hospitalized shortly after and within the same year passed away. Ann Marie and her siblings were placed in a family members home. After the family member realized she could not handle the needs of Ann Marie and her siblings, she and her brother were placed into a foster home. Her older sister remained with family. She was sadly separated from her brother and spent many years being shuffled from institutional settings, residential facilities and foster homes. Ann Marie spoke fondly of her brother, she connected with him on their similar experience of foster care. Being separated from him was devastating to her emotionally, mentally and physically.
Ann Marie was then sent to a residential setting in Connecticut and was then transferred to a different location in Pennsylvania. She stayed in their program until she was 21 years old. She was described as a hard worker who took pride in making sure her work was clean and orderly. She participated in work programs and enjoyed her peers.
Ann Marie began her life fighting. She used animals to cope and dissociated as a way to protect herself. She was resilient.
Lauren G., Ann Marie’s peer specialist described Ann Marie as a “force to be reckoned with”. At times she was the most gentle, kind, generous and fun-loving person you would ever meet. Ann Marie loved people and knew everyone in her community. She would often visit the different stores around town. On her birthday one year, each store manager gave her a gift when she came in to visit that day. This made her feel very special and loved. Her nickname was “Little Wolf” because of her fascination and love of wolves.
Ann Marie always came back and apologized if she was in the wrong. It took her time to cool down but she always came back to “right her wrongs”. When she was healthy, she could sit and talk to you for hours. She loved meeting new people and would often stop others and start a conversation when she was out on walks around town. She greeted everyone.
Ann Marie enjoyed board games, and Jenga was one of her favorites. She loved watching movies about animals. She enjoyed dancing to her favorite music and making others laugh. She had the best laugh and it was contagious when others heard it. Her favorite job was working at the animal rescue taking care of the dogs and cats. She loved to take the dogs on walks.
Lauren recalled that Ann Marie’s world was her daughters. She carried around our pictures and showed them off to everyone she bumped into. She would have done anything for us if she could. She was so proud of both of us and loved us very much. She waited for 18 years to be reunited with us. Each year she would call the CYF agency they were adopted from and request updates. She wanted to know how we were doing. She never missed a year, even when she knew agency staff and my adoptive mother were frustrated and annoyed by this. Through all of the instability, mental health crises, homelessness, and institutional stays, Ann Marie never lost the Polaroid pictures she had of my sister and I before we were adopted.
When she reunited with me she gave me these pictures. They were tattered, discolored, taped and had holes in them where she would use a thumb tac to hang them up. They were well loved and the only piece she had of my sister and I over the years. She never lost them. That made me feel so loved and wanted.
Ann Marie was very religious and loved God. She was Catholic and attended church as often as she could. One of the things I still hold close is her bible. It is one of the only possessions she owned and it was well loved by her.
She wanted so badly to be well and worked hard even despite her diagnoses and disorders. Ann Marie was grateful and appreciated being treated with respect, and she would thank you for it. Ann Marie had a “strong spirit with a fire of determination that burned within in“ (Lauren G.). She inspired many of those around her.
Ann Marie did not have a family in the traditional sense but she created her family with those around her. Ann Marie was a beautiful soul who deserved more than what she got in life. However, even though she went through so many things that no one should ever go through. She was a survivor, she was resilient and she was strong. She pushed forward despite setbacks, despite others expectations and despite the world around her that she struggled to navigate.