Ever since I was a child, Ive wondered what it would be like to be part of an adoptive family.
Many of my friends have had the experience. Several of them were adopted, and many others have brought adopted children into their homes.
Spending my own early childhood in a home with my birth mom and dad and my natural siblings, and now as the father of three children, I have long been curious about the bonding that takes place in an adoptive home.
The closest I have come to finding out was one childhood summer with my Aunt Bobbie and Uncle Charles Gable.
After their marriage in 1951, Aunt Bobbie and Uncle Charles set out to build a home and raise their three children: two girls and a boy. Sadly, the boy - my cousin - died in infancy.
Grief over the loss of a child, especially a newborn, can be profound. Nowadays, there are support groups for people who need help during such trying times. One, for example, is a wonderful organization called Angels Touch. It was started at Trinity-on-the-Hill United Methodist Church by mothers whose children had died. Their comfort and support for each other is a thing of beauty.
But back in the early 60s in rural South Carolina, the closest thing to a support group was the sometimes-awkward compassion of friends and relatives.
When Aunt Bobbies son died, she certainly had plenty of friends and relatives willing and able to help, including my mother. The pain mom shared with her older sister must have carried a degree of survivors guilt, because while Aunt Bobbie grieved over the loss of her third child, my mother was celebrating the third birthday of her third son:
What happened next was a mystery. Maybe it was an offer made through the generosity of my mother, who always was a generous soul. Or maybe it was because of a needful request from Aunt Bobbie. Maybe it was both, coming together at the right time.
Whatever the reason, I became a surrogate son.
To them, it probably wasnt that big a deal. My mom had an extra boy, and my aunt and uncle had come up short, so Aunt Bobbie and Uncle Charles borrowed me for a few weekends and summer days.
All these years later, my brush with adoption remains a big deal to me. The feeling of wanted-ness that came with it lingers, along with a special fondness for the aunt and uncle who adopted me. In the great scheme of things, though, I doubt there was anything more to it than sisters looking after each other.
Last week, the final support group was the six pallbearers carrying Aunt Bobbie out of Bethany Baptist Church in McCormick, S.C., the church where she and Uncle Charles had recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
They were just over 10 years into that marriage when little Charles Jr. passed away. Through sometimes tough times - he was a sawmill worker, she labored in a textile plant - they had a good 38 years since.
It may be that the last few years were the toughest for Aunt Bobbie, even as hard as losing a child in infancy. The spot that started as breast cancer spread to vital organs and eventually to bone, and like the thief it is, it stole Aunt Bobbie away.
The good news is that shes now been delivered to a reunion with her little boy and with my mother. That heavenly support group beats anything we can put together down here, even if it includes a semi-adopted nephew who was lucky enough, for a little while, to help fill a kid-shaped hole in someones heart.
Rest in peace, Aunt Bobbie.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barrypaschal@ yahoo.com, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
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