Cousin’s demise opens hidden secrets

I lost my cousin Maretta last week. She entered high school as I entered grade school, married about the time I began learning long division and moved a long way away before I finished high school. Our paths crossed a few times over the years and for years my late mother kept me informed of the family news.

Some years before she died, as we sat at the table talking, my mom mentioned that years before Maretta had been a divorced, the mother of a young son and pregnant. Looking at her circumstances, my cousin decided to give her infant up for adoption. No dates, no place, just a missing child never seen – yet greatly missed by my cousin, her mother and the rest of the family – even those who did not know.

Maretta went on to re-marry and have two more children. With the advent of the Internet, we caught up with each other first via e-mail and then through Facebook. A couple of times, my husband and I took a detour from our trip and went to her house. We talked and chatted freely about our families, their successes and failures and our personal histories. I left understanding her urgent need to leave her first marriage. We talked of everything except that missing child.

When she died, I knew nothing more than the fact that in a difficult situation she had chosen adoption over abortion.

Facebook messages posted after her passing told me the rest of the story.

First I noticed a posting by her youngest son, “One thing to share about our mother. For many, many years she repeatedly has said ‘I cannot leave this world until I know ALL my children are OK and happy!’

For those of us close to home she’s lived our tribulations and heartache, been there for advice and also to put us in our place when needed as she so lovingly did!

She recently met her son – whom for personal reasons she gave for adoption. She met his beautiful/sweet wife and loving family. She experienced her three other children become married with children and shared in their happiness!

Mom found her peace! She left this world with what she longed for. – her kids to be happy and OK! We all have grown together in her wish becoming fulfilled!”

Then the one given up for adoption – a son – posted his thoughts on her passing.

“Some of you may know, or not, that I was adopted when I was three months old. I was always told I was adopted but never really cared because I didn’t feel like I was adopted. I look like most of my adoptive mother’s family and I was loved like a natural born child.

“A short time after my parents passed away I saw a story on the Christian singer Jason Upton about his adoption and how he found his bio- mother.

“He said ‘She had a hole in her heart that only I could fill’”.

“I asked my wife, ‘Do you think my bio- mom has a whole in her heart that can only be filled by me”? “She said ‘Yes.’ So then began my search. I hired an attorney in Indiana ( my birthplace) and within two months I was making the phone call to Maretta.

She was thrilled to talk and had a lot to share.

We both cried.

“She told me how to find my birth father and that was the beginning. It was June 15th of 2013, my birthday, when Sonya, Andrew and I drove to Huntington, Indiana, to meet my half siblings Jerry, Brannen and DaVonna along with my biological mom, Maretta.

We had a birthday party and stayed a couple of days then went home. In that couple of days I learned a lot about my biological family history and she learned a lot about me. We had differences and things that were alike. All in all in was a good time and I never regret having searched for her.

“She died yesterday from a short struggle with lung cancer. It’s not in the genes, she was a heavy smoker.

“I pay honor to her today because she gave me life. She made a decision to put me up for adoption and not abort me. She chose life. God has a way with timing. Had I waited just another year and a half she would have died never knowing about the life of the son she gave up on the birthing table and never saw, or knew the sex of – until I was 23 years old and a sorrowful DHS worker told her.

“And I would have never met my siblings or known from whom my heritage came.

“My hope is that she died with that Brent-‘shaped hole filled with peace, knowing that she did the right thing and that I had great parents and a wonderful life.

It it all started with her unselfish decision. Thank you Maretta Kirk for giving me life.”

(Joan Hershberger is a staff writer at the News-Times and author of “Twenty Gallons of Milk and Other Columns from the El Dorado News-Times.” Email her at