Last Thanksgiving, my husband Carl and I had the good fortune to have our children and grandchildren come home for a long awaited family reunion. We took a group photo, and when I saw the developed picture of thirteen smiling faces—three generations—I was overcome with the realization that this is my family, the people I love unconditionally, and yet I share not one ounce of blood with any of them. Gazing at this picture reminds me that from pain and loss can arise joy beyond measure: the joy of family created in unexpected ways.
Long before Carl and I met each other, we both had suffered the disappointments and despair of our first failed marriages. My divorce was double painful, because my first husband and I had adopted two baby boys, three years apart, after we conceded defeat in our struggles with infertility. The joy I felt when I held my babies used to leave me almost breathless, and yet I always remembered that someone else’s heartache at having to give up these babies to strangers was the source of such miracles in my life. My divorce left me not only with shatttered dreams of what I had expected to be a lifelong marriage but also with the terrible torment of disappointing two innocent children, whom we had adopted with so much faith in the future.
When I remarried, I became the stepmother to two more sons. Every time I looked at the photo of my second wedding—Carl and me, with our four sons—I thought, with satisfaction, “I guess I proved that infertility doctor wrong, the one who told me to go home and accept the fact that I would never become a mother!”
As I gaze at our family photo from Thanksgiving, 2005, I have to admit that there is a great deal of pain beneath the foundation of this family. But there is also faith, hope and love. I see my husband, our sons, our daughters-in-law, and our four grandchildren: two are the biological children of my older stepson, and two are the biological children of my older adopted son. Not one is related to me by blood, and yet all four call me “Nonna.”
During difficult times in my life, my mother has often reminded me of the Italian proverb, “When God closes a door, He opens a window.” Although I never would have chosen to have certain “doors” close, close they did. And in spite of what seemed like unending darkness and irreparable heartache each time, I did eventually find light, laughter, and love again.
I have a husband, children, and grandchildren who are my family, not because I am bound to them biologically, but because I am bound to them emotionally. Our family portrait is testimony to the power of hope and to the joy that can grow out of sorrow. This, I believe, and I have the picture to prove it.