Her mother had died years earlier and her father was gravely ill. But Lois was about to get the shock of her life. Author Lois Rabey tells how she felt when a family secret that had been hidden for 48 years was finally revealed.
Her mother had died years earlier and her father was gravely ill. But Lois was about to get the shock of her life. Author Lois Rabey tells how she felt when a family secret that had been hidden for 48 years was finally revealed.
Bob: When Lois Rabey’s father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, he started asking her an unusual question. He would look at her and say, “Are you adopted?” Here’s Lois.
Lois: Right before he got sick—up to that time—he would say, “You are my daughter!” with a kind of passion that I couldn’t explain. I didn’t do that with my own children. I didn’t keep reaffirming to them, “You are my daughter.” That was evident. On Saturday, when I called the four people, I said the same thing to each one of them. I said, “Daddy is talking about my adoption,” which was true. “What do you know?” Every one of them said, “I don’t know any details. All I know is that you’re adopted.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, December 25th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Imagine being 47 years old and learning for the first time, ever, that you were adopted. That’s the story we’re going to hear today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us; and Merry Christmas, by the way, for those of you who are tuned in today on Christmas Day.
Dennis: That’s right. Merry Christmas!
Bob: And we’ll just let you in on the truth. We’re not actually working on Christmas. We’re home with our families; but thanks to the magic of recorded media, we’re able to provide today’s program.
Dennis: And you’re going to hear a great story today. I don’t want to tip off what’s about to happen too much here, Bob; but you’re going to hear a great story that really has a connection to Christmas.
Bob: And I don’t know if you remember this; but actually, we first heard this story many years ago. We had a guest who we had invited in—Lois Rabey. We were talking with her about a book that she had written called The Snare; and just in the middle of conversation with her, —
Dennis: Right, right.
Bob: —we just asked her a little bit about her story. We found out some things that were remarkable. We said, “Well, can we talk to you about that on-air?” She said, “Yes.”
So, the story you’re going to hear today comes from a conversation we had with Lois Rabey. Lois and her husband Steve live in Colorado Springs. They’re both authors—they’ve written for periodicals, written a number of books—both separately and together. We think you’re going to enjoy this story on Christmas Day.
Lois: I grew up in Wilmington, Delaware. My parents were both from Delaware. They were moral people. We went to church and so forth, but not that kind of a Christian environment growing up. I became a believer when I was a teenager at a Bible camp. My dad—I had a very strained relationship with my father. He was a very strict disciplinarian. He was a very angry man.
Basically, had a very close relationship with my mother and a very—we would have called it codependent—if we’d had the words when I was growing up—relationship with my father. Our house revolved around not making daddy angry. It was a stressful kind of situation. I feel like accepting Christ, as a teenager, was a lot of what allowed me to not rebel or walk away from that. I thought, “I’m supposed to honor them, so I’ll try to be a good daughter.”
Bob: Did you ever have anything, growing up, that caused you to think, “I wonder if I’m adopted?”
Lois: I really did not. There was one instance—when I was probably eight years old—where I remember neighborhood children kind of taunting me and saying, “You’re adopted;” but I ran home crying. My mother reassured me that I was not adopted—that if I had been, it would be very special—but of course I wasn’t—I was their own.
So, there was really no indication; in fact, quite the opposite. My adopted parents did things like reinforcing—you know, “You have hands, like your grandfather,” —my grandfather was an artist—and, “You have this, like So-and-so.” So there was not anything evident to me that would have told me I was adopted.
Dennis: Brothers and sisters?
Lois: No, no; only child.
Bob: When we go places with our family, people are, all the time, saying, “John looks just like you,” “Jimmy looks just like you.” Did people say that about you and your parents?
Lois: No, they didn’t. Yet, you know—it’s funny—I’ve read some books, since I found out about my adoption. I’ve read some books that talk about characteristics of adopted children. A number of those characteristics were in evident in my life; but because it was my life, it felt normal. I didn’t know, until looking back, what those things meant.
For instance, when my older daughter found out that I was adopted—she was away in college, and I called her and told her. She was not terribly surprised. I said, “Why are you not surprised? I mean, I’m so shocked! Why are you not surprised?”
She said, “Well you know, Nanny” —which was my mother to her— “you know, Nanny used to tell us all these stories;” —she was a great storyteller—“but she never told us anything about when you were born. And yet you always told us about—” You know, I, like most women—my children know exactly, minute for minute, what happened the day they were born. I talk about the day that my children were born. She picked up that my mother didn’t do that. My adoptive parents didn’t die until I was in my late 40s; and all my life, I never asked them one question about my birth.
Dennis: Well, several years after your mother passed away, you had one of what has to be the greatest shocking revelations that you’d ever had in your entire life.
Lois: Yes, it certainly was, to say the least. I had been in California, visiting my daughter. We were coming home. On a Sunday night, I arrived back in Colorado. Steve—my husband Steve—said he’d gotten a phone call that day from my father. My father sounded strange and was saying things like, “I don’t know where the freezer is.”
I said, “Well, I’ll call first thing in the morning.” Well, before I could even call to see what was happening—where he was living in an assisted living apartment—they called me and they said, “Your dad woke up. He doesn’t know any of us. He’s 30 years in the past. He thinks he’s back in Delaware. Get down here, right away!”
My daughter and I got down there. We walked into his room. He was lying on a bed in this apartment he lived in, with people around the bed, trying to comfort him. He looked up at me, and shaking, he said, “Are you adopted?” I said, “No Daddy, I’m not adopted.” I kind of patted him on the arm because he was confused about everything else—so, I thought he was confused about that.
That was on a Monday. During the course of that week, he was hospitalized. He was diagnosed as having severe dementia. It looks like a late case of Alzheimer’s, but it wasn’t Alzheimer’s because it came on quickly. Every time I re-entered a room, during that week, he would say to me, “Are you adopted?” —kind of frantic.
Dennis: Now, how old were you, at this point?
Dennis: Forty-seven years old.
Lois: Almost 47 years old.
Bob: And with him asking that question, was that triggering anything?
Lois: You know, I do a real slow take. I mean, initially, no. I mean, it had been 47 years of being reaffirmed the other way, in the opposite direction. Plus, it wasn’t just once a day. With short-term memory loss—I’d go out of the room; I’d come back in the room—he couldn’t remember I was there; and he’d do the same thing, all over again.
Finally, on Thursday, my daughter and I were driving back home. We got in the car and I said, “You know, Laura—” and she interrupted me. She said, “Yes, Mom, it is very strange that Pop keeps asking you that.”
So, when I got home, I called the nurse—his floor nurse that day. I told her who I was. I said, “Does he talk about my being adopted?” She said, “Oh yes, all the time. Of course, he assures us he loves you as much, —” you know, the typical language. I was quiet; and she said, “Why did you ask that?” I said, “Because this is the first I’ve heard of it.” So, that was on Thursday, and—
Bob: Hang on. That’s the first you’d heard of it. What did you do after you hung up the phone?
Lois: Well, I don’t know that I knew what to do with it. I thought I needed to verify it. Part of this, see, was in the context of him being very confused about everything. I mean, he thought that Roosevelt was the President. So, I still didn’t feel like, “Yes, this is reality.”
Dennis: You were giving him the benefit of the doubt.
Lois: Right; right. And then, the fact that he was so very confused—that maybe this was part of a matter of being confused.
Bob: So, did you even allow it as a possibility to consider?
Lois: Well, yes, I did. I did allow it. I thought what I needed to do was I needed to confirm it with somebody who’s rational. On Saturday morning, I called, for instance, an uncle I had not seen since I was ten years old.
Dennis: I’ve got to stop you and ask you, “You didn’t talk to Steve about this? Do you remember the conversation you had with him about this?”
Lois: I don’t remember the conversation, but I do remember that my initial feeling was relief because of the strained relationship I had with my dad. Prior to this incident, about a year before, I spent some time with a friend of mine, who’s a counselor in Colorado Springs. I said to this man, “I need to come and see you because there is something wrong in my relationship with my dad.”
I just wanted to know the truth. I remember saying—kind of crying out to God—“I just want to know what the truth is and there is something—” Part of what my conversations with Steve and with my children were— that, “If this is true, it explains his possessiveness—my dad’s possessiveness. It explains his control.” My father used to say to me, right before he got sick—up to that time—he would say, “You are my daughter!” with a kind of passion that I couldn’t explain. I mean, I didn’t do that with my own children. I didn’t keep reaffirming to them, “You are my daughter.” That was evident.
It answered questions for me. There was an element of, “Perhaps this is going to reveal the truth that I’ve been asking for—that would never have been revealed to me if he hadn’t gotten sick.” There was confusion in the first few days, but there was not any concrete feeling of, “This is real.” On Saturday, when I called the four people, I said the same thing to each one of them. I said, “Daddy is talking about....” I told them what happened to him. I said, “Daddy is talking about my adoption,” which was true. “What do you know?” Every one of them said, “I don’t know any details. All I know is that you’re adopted.”
With the first phone call—it was an uncle of mine that I had not talked to since I was ten years old. He was listed in the phone book. With the first—hearing a human voice say to me, “All I know is that you’re adopted,”—there was a sense of shock—mixed feelings of anger, abandonment, understanding—understanding why they did it, understanding why there was such paranoia about family secrecy when I was growing up—a lot of things that surrounded my growing up that I had never really understood—you know, “What are you so paranoid about?”—that kind of thing.
There was a sense of understanding. There was relief that I wasn’t crazy—that there was something that I knew that was wrong—which was basically a huge lie about me. So, there was shock. There was a huge—just a huge question mark of, “Well then, who am I?” It was a very mixed bag. With the relief, were all these other things, and the sense of, “I have been lied to!” What do you do with that?
Bob: You flash back to being eight years old and your mom saying, “Oh no, you’re not adopted.”
Lois: Yes; and at the same time, I have real trouble being angry with her. I don’t know if maybe it’s because, at that point, she was already gone; but I really understand the mentality from that day and age.
It’s hard for me, when I think about being an adult. For instance, you know, when I had my children and there was a question about blood type, they thought I had A negative blood. I remember getting mad at my parents, saying, “Why didn’t you ever tell me?” They were in an absolute state; and you know, they didn’t tell me because that wasn’t information they were given when I was born. I didn’t know any of that, and I think that might have been a time when they could have told me. My mother was an adult diabetic. I went through testing for diabetes—hypoglycemia, all that stuff—and they let me do all that rather than tell me the truth.
Yet, at the same time, I think that our lives would have been—certainly, my relationship with my dad—would have been much better, much calmer, if I had known. I think that their fear—it also showed me how fear really overruled any kind of reason.
Bob: When you say, “If you had known,” —if you had known from the beginning?
Lois: You know, I don’t know. I had somebody ask me that the other day—in talking about, “When should children be told that they’re adopted?” I think it would be—it’s very hard for me to imagine knowing that when I was growing up because they had such a mission to convince me of the opposite. But certainly, by the time of, say, I’m having my own children and there’s things like heredity and health issues—and those kinds of things start to come into play—that would have been good to know.
Dennis: You said you didn’t hold it against your mother because she was dead. At this point, your father was still alive.
Lois: Right. Well, and see, my mother was not angry. I didn’t have a difficult relationship with my mother. I had a difficult relationship with my father. So, I think that that probably plays into it, too. He was the one that tried to demand that I be like him, and I’m really not like him at all.
Of course, I felt—I mean, I know a lot of people who are not like their parents—so I didn’t ever think that that meant that I was adopted. I just felt that we were different. But I couldn’t understand his demanding this of me—needing to be like him—and that as an adult—at the age of 46, almost 47 years old—his identity being very wrapped up in being my father. That was all a real mystery to me, until I found this out.
Bob: Once you had talked to two people who said, “Yes, you were adopted,” why did you call the other two?
Lois: I don’t know—maybe disbelief. Maybe part of it was disbelief. Frankly, there was another time, later, I petitioned the court in Delaware to have records, which I still don’t have. There was a few months’ time that passed from the first phone call till the time that I got a phone call—and somebody said—this woman got on the phone and she said, “I have your record in front of me.”
That was really the moment when I felt anger—that this record of who I really am existed and had existed all my life—and I didn’t know about it. Other people knew about it—this woman had it in front of her. She had all this information about me—that I still don’t have. I felt very—I felt very abandoned, at that point, and left out of a loop that’s a rather significant loop.
Dennis: I want to come back to that in a moment; but I want you to take us to the bedside when you walked back into your dad’s hospital room, at that point, and talked to him about this new information you’d come upon.
Lois: Well, I went back. He was sitting in a chair. He was not in bed. He was sitting in a chair, and I pulled up a chair in front of him. I just took both of his hands, and he looked up. I just said, “Daddy, I want you to know that I know.” He looked a little afraid; and I said, “I know I’m adopted.”
He just started sobbing. I started crying. He was shaking and sobbing; and this was not my father’s normal stance. Normally, he was angry—he would have been swearing at me—but he was completely dissolved, crying. I just hugged him and said, “I’m not leaving. I’m not going to go anywhere. I’m sorry you felt you had to keep that a secret all my life.”
It was the first time in my life that I remember being with him and feeling like this knot inside of me—this thing that was wrong—wasn’t there anymore. It was very positive; it was very freeing; it was very sad because he didn’t have the mental capability to really tell me much of anything. He felt tremendous relief. I mean, he really cried, and cried, and cried.
It was a very mixed feeling of relief, sadness, and wishing things had been different. I think back—I’ve thought back many times—“What could I have done differently?” I don’t know that I could have done anything because I didn’t have any clue as to what the truth really was.
Bob: Did his dementia continue until his death?
Lois: Yes. In fact, I learned a lot about dementia; and one thing is, it’s not reversible. He died in October of ’95. He spent—from the time he was sick, until his death—in a psychiatric nursing home. It was the only time in my life where I had a relationship with him, where I wasn’t afraid.
Dennis: Did he ever say, “I’m sorry”? Was he ever able to form the words to comfort your soul?
Lois: He didn’t do that. I did try to find out from him what he remembered. He would talk about the day they picked me up at the hospital, and that I came right from the hospital to be with them. He kept reassuring me about how much they loved me; and all of that, which I knew. I knew that, even when I was growing up and he was angry. I knew that he loved me, but he didn’t say he was sorry. It wasn’t really part of his consciousness to talk about—being able to discern whether he should have told me or not. That was never really there; and I’m not sure he was capable of that, at that point.
Dennis: Have you been able to forgive?
Lois: Oh yes, I really do feel like I’ve been able to forgive. It’s been interesting to try and piece together—you know, when people say to me, “How do you really feel?” It’s still such a mixed bag for me. There’s still so much information I don’t have, and I think the primary thing I feel is outside—I just feel outside.
I feel like everybody has a history. This is a typical way for adoptees to feel, too; but most people do know some information from growing up because they’ve been told that they’re adopted. I don’t have that. So, I feel kind of outside of a rather large community of people; and I still don’t have any information on that—or not much.
Bob: When it finally began to sink in that this was for real, this was who you are, did you immediately think, “I want to know more. I have to dig in here and solve this mystery”?
Lois: Well, yes, but with limitations. I don’t have any desire to knock on somebody’s door and ruin their lives right now. I don’t want to go knock on my mother’s door, if she’s alive, and say, “Hi. I’m your long-lost daughter.”
Bob: So, if you found out the identity of your mother today, wouldn’t you contact her?
Lois: Well, I would like to contact her. I don’t know if I’d do it directly or use an arbitrator so she could protect herself if she wanted to, but there are answers to questions. But I also know that, as you get the answer to one question, it creates another one because I did find out I have a sibling. The court gave me some non-identifying information. I have a sibling, two years older than I am. I don’t know if it’s a man or a woman.
Bob: A boy or a girl?
Lois: No. It’s much more likely that person is still alive than even a parent might be. I have a lot of curiosity about that. I’ve been an only child all my life. I’ve always wanted brothers or sisters; and then, I find out there’s at least one out there. I would love to know that. I’d love to know genealogy. I’d love to know, “Am I really Italian?”—which my husband thinks I am. I don’t know why, but—
Dennis: Your sibling has the same father?
Lois: According to the birth certificate, but I don’t know—my birth mother put her husband as my father on the birth certificate, but he abandoned her before I was born. One of the people that I called and asked if they knew if I was adopted, they said to me that my birth mother had had an affair with somebody coming back from World War II—which would fit with where I lived and the timeframe—and that either one or both of those people were married, and that’s why I was given up for adoption. So, that would fit. If she were still married at that time, she certainly would have put her husband’s name on a birth certificate anyway. So, I’m not convinced that that’s actually the truth.
Bob: Well, we’ve been listening to a conversation we had a number of years ago with Lois Rabey—really, a remarkable story. The thing that has stuck with me from that story—and by the way, we’re going to hear Part Two of that story tomorrow.
I think the thing that has always stuck with me about that conversation is that—as many questions as Lois has had and still has about her birth mom, and her birth dad, and siblings, and kind of what her identity is, who her identity is—she has found that what’s more important than her biological identity is her spiritual identity—that her sense of self comes more from what God has to say is true about her than what the genealogist would say is true about her.
Dennis: And we have Christmas to thank for that. Christmas is the celebration of the One who became flesh and dwelt among us—Emmanuel, Jesus Christ—who came to give us a new identity—a name—and to adopt us into His family.
Dennis: I think it’s only fitting that we have a story of adoption, here on Christmas Day, because, ultimately, that was the Father’s heart as He had a young couple go to a manger in Bethlehem, over 2,000 years ago, and give birth to the King of kings, the Lord of lords—our Savior.
Bob: And you’ve asked people for years—in audiences, you’ve said, “How many of you in this room are adopted?” A few hands will go up.
Dennis: Usually, two or three hands, out of a 100 people.
Bob: And then you read from Ephesians, Chapter 1; right?
Dennis: Right, where it talks about God predestining us to be adopted as His children.
Bob: And then you ask the question, “Okay, now, how many of you are adopted?” and a lot more hands go up, at that point.
Bob: The reality is—God sends His Son into the world, as John says, “Not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him,”—that we might become the adopted children of the King. He is our older brother. We are joint-heirs—co-inheritors, with Him, as adopted sons and daughters of the King—
Dennis: —if—if, —and I want to say it a third time—if we have placed out faith in Him and received the gift of eternal life, as found in His Son, Jesus Christ. You know, here it is—Christmas. What better day to make a commitment to Christ? If you find yourself listening to this broadcast alone—perhaps, tuning in—in hopes of finding some comfort or companionship, here on the radio—maybe, the real comfort and companionship you need is in a real relationship with Almighty God that was made possible by the message of Christmas Day.
Bob: If you go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, there is a link there that says, “Two Ways to Live”. It really does spell out what are the only two options for any of us about how we’re going to live—about the choice that is before us. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click on that link. Ask yourself this question, “Which path am I on? Am I on the path that leads to a relationship with God through Jesus, or am I on a different path?” Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com. We’d encourage you to head there and click the link that says, “Two Ways to Live”.
And we’d encourage you to join us back here again tomorrow when we’re going to hear Part Two of Lois Rabey’s story, where, after learning late-in-life that she was adopted, she went on a journey to try to find out what she could learn about her birth mom. That comes up tomorrow. Hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. Have a Merry Christmas! We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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