“Many men can make a fortune but very few can build a family.” – J.S. Bryan
We were sitting at the dinner table one evening discussing baby names; girl names, boy names, first names, middle names … we said the name and added the last name. One by one, we drifted through a selection trying in on for size. Suddenly, Francis looked up and asked with a very serious and sobering voice “Why does my last name have to be different?” Hubby and I looked at each other – oh boy. I didn’t see this coming. My heart leaped and hurt at the same time. What is the right answer here? What can I say to this precious boy about his name, about his new brother or sister and their name… What?
Hubby and I talked and talked about how to answer his question and facilitate a sense of belonging. I struggled. By now, Francis was calling Hubby ‘daddy’ and he had no memory of his father. Rocky’s parents lived in the Midwest and many of his siblings were in the Northwest; I only saw them the first few years after Rock’s death. In fact, after meeting Hubby, I hadn’t gone at all. I was terribly conflicted about having residual feelings for my dead husband and wanting a relationship with his family versus keeping my attention on the man in my current life and his family. It always felt as if I was being disrespectful to one of them if I was thinking of the other… I chose not to think. I focused on what was in front of me. Hubby was in front of me. I focused on him.
Francis went to visit every summer however, at least until Rocky’s parent’s health failed to the point where they required a caregiver. I recall the one time they came to visit us, Hubby wasn’t around at all. I’m not sure if it was because it was awkward or if he was simply giving us some space. I never felt he was very accepting of my prior life. He had never been married and therefore didn’t have a reference point from which to allow for me having feelings for or a relationship with another whole family. Rocky’s siblings were great people yet I hadn’t been ‘in’ the family for long and we never lived close. We were all raising our children, building careers, leading busy lives and while we did exchange Christmas Cards each year, it was generally the extent of our connection. Furthermore, I’m not sure that having meaningful relationships with them would even have been acceptable to Hubby, my perception was that he resented my enduring feelings toward the family-at-large. Although I don’t recall a confrontation, I distinctly remember feeling like I had to choose. It’s entirely possible that I was just too immature to process being a part of two families; the absence of connection wasn’t anyone’s fault.
Never-the-less, without his family in the picture on a regular basis, Francis didn’t have a compass from which he could experience his Rockefeller identity. Of course, a healthy child needs to feel as though he/she is a part of something larger than themselves and Hubby had a large family close in proximity. They were big on birthday’s and Holidays. There were a lot of them actually and it seemed as we were always celebrating something. They would be good surrogates.
The tug-of-war was constant – or seemed so at least. I sometimes dreamt of Rock. He was here – in real life, telling me it had been a huge mistake, that he hadn’t died – he had amnesia. (Remember, I never saw him in death … it makes one wonder.) It had taken him a long time to figure out who he was and to find us. He wasn’t the same as I remembered him. He was distant, happy that I had moved on and acting aloof with me. This dream would happen on and off for years and always I felt torn and devastated – wanting to go back to my life with him but realizing that I had a different one now, with someone else, and had committed to it. I always woke disappointed and emotionally exhausted.
Ultimately, we agreed on adoption – it seemed to be the only reasonable option. Francis and all of his siblings would have the same last name. I sat down to write the most difficult letter of my life. I wrote to Rocky’s parents to tell them that I was expecting and that my hope was to create a family for Francis – a mom, dad, and now a sibling…. And I explained how important it was for Francis to have a sense of belonging – to know that he was part of something big and special, part of this family. I shared that Hubby had a large and loving family also. I poured my heart out to them, told them how much I missed their son but that I was trying to move on – to live. I wished that we had lived closer and that we could somehow have established a more concrete sense of inclusion for Francis but I felt it was in his best interest to allow Hubby to adopt him. I promised to keep Rocky’s memory alive for him, to share stories, and photographs. I promised that they would always be a part of our lives, and that they could see Francis whenever it was possible. I cried through the entire process but I believed I was doing the right thing. They reached out in love and support – as they always did. It didn’t feel good, but I did feel settled. We set the wheels in motion.
My due date came and went – I walked and walked. (Someone told me walking would help with labor). Finally, on April 28th, I went to the hospital with some mild contractions and we agreed with the doctor that it was time to induce labor. In just under three hours our baby girl was born. Hubby was a trooper during the labor even though I didn’t know which end was up and Francis was able to hold her within the first hour. We named her after my childhood baby doll – the name I had always dreamed of for my daughter – Sara Elizabeth. Her big brother wouldn’t leave her side even when he was given the chance. I allowed the vision of our family to swell into something picturesque and I hoped.
The adoption had been approved and finalized just weeks before Sara’s birth and we celebrated both children on the day of Sara’s baptism. We were a family of four.