Michael becomes Mark…
The phone call I had received from Greg from Network Seven in Australia left me absolutely broken, not only for myself but more so for Mum. I received the call from him just before midnight and sat up the entire night just sobbing hysterically like I have never sobbed either before or after. As a funeral celebrant I had carried other peoples grief for many years, but I didn’t know how to even start processing this. So many times I had said words along the line of “cherish the memories, remember the good times” – but I had no memories, no good times to remember. How do you start to grieve for someone you have never met, and yet someone you have dreamed of and longed to meet for so many years? (22 years for me, but 42 years for Gloria).
I had to go and conduct a funeral the next morning at 10am, and to this day I still don’t know how I got through it. I cried all the way to the crematorium, re-applied my make up, got through the ceremony with my professional face on, and then cried all the way home again. I cried and cried and cried and I honestly thought there was no way I would ever even start to get over it.
I still had a million questions which I had been too shocked and numb to think of asking Greg the night before, and couldn’t simply take “he died in America in 2003” and leave it at that. I fired an email back to the researcher I had been dealing with and asked if there was any more information they had obtained about Michael? How did they find out he’d died? Had they spoken to a family member? How did he die? Was he buried and if so where was his grave? Who was he? What was he? …plus the question I knew had been burning on Mums lips for so many years; did he have any children? – did Gloria have more Grandchildren? I prayed that he did, as that might just be a small comfort to her in the wake of such tragic news.
Dominique, the researcher called me back the next day. She told me that at the time of his adoption Michael’s name had been changed to Mark.
(from here on in I am going to change the identity of Mark’s surname, along with the first names of his adoptive family, as I am not able to obtain their permission to include their true identity in this story).
The adoption records showed he had been adopted by the Sullivan family and his name changed from Michael William Bayliss to Mark Christopher Sullivan.
Having finally found a name of ‘Mark Sullivan’ the researcher had set about looking in the Sydney telephone directory for M.Sullivans. Having one call answered by a female, the lady responded the researchers enquiry by saying “I am not ‘the’ M.Sullivan you are looking for, but I know who you are talking about – that is my brother Mark who died 5 years ago, I am his younger sister Melanie”
Dominique kindly called Melanie back after receiving my email and came back to me with additional information; she told me Mark was a teacher, a very popular teacher, he was good looking and always had lots of friends. He enjoyed singing, and had never married or had children. She also added that his adoptive mother was still alive but that their Dad had died when they were children.
That was it, she had obviously made a few notes, not a huge amount but it was at least the first few pieces of jigsaw.
I sent back another email to Australia, this time I addressed it to Melanie and her mother, expressing my deepest sorrow for their loss, explaining a little bit about Gloria’s story and my search and telling them that I would love to have contact with them if they wished to, and added all my contact details. I asked Dominique if she would pass this on to the family which she willingly agreed to do.
In the meantime, I had to work out a way to break the devastating news to Gloria. There was a part of me that was thinking “maybe I’ll just tell her that they couldn’t trace him and save her the pain” – but a) I knew the pain she was already carrying, and b) as someone who is obsessed with truth I knew I’d never carry it off!!
Mum and Dad’s Ruby (40th) Wedding Anniversary was coming up in exactly a months time, followed by Mum’s 70th birthday 11 days later. We had celebrations planned for both occasions, so maybe I could just wait until after that and I would tell her afterwards to save spoiling the celebrations. That would mean waiting another 6 weeks though, and I knew I couldn’t do it. Virtually every time I opened my mouth I cried, and as I spoke to Mum every 2-3 days on the phone and every time recently she had asked “any news from Australia yet?” I knew I couldn’t lie to her for the next 6 weeks. Deep in my heart I knew I owed it to her to tell her the truth as soon as possible – face to face, and not over the phone, but she lived over 200 miles from me.
Work wise I still had 3 days with funerals booked in which I had to honour, so somehow I clawed my way through the rest of that week delivering funerals whilst honouring the bereaved families I served with my usual professionalism and dignity. I trying hard not to let anyone see the agonising pain and raw grief which felt like it was oozing out of my every pore. I was lucky to have some very supportive friends and my own immediate family members who quite literally carried me through that week and without them I’m not sure I would have survived without breaking completely. I also managed NOT to speak to Mum for those few days as was much easier to let her calls go to voicemail than it would have been to lie to her.
But then the day came when I had to make the 233 mile journey from Sussex to Wales. I stopped off at one of my funeral directors first as I had arranged for their florist to make up a big bouquet of flowers for me to take with me; reds, whites and blues to match the colours of the Australian Flag, and to include pool Australian eucalyptus and white orchids which were among Mums favourites.
It was always a slow and winding road to Mum and Dads which generally took me around 5 hours. I remember barely being able to see the road through my tears and it poured with rain the entire journey which felt like the angels were crying with me. Although I had made this journey many times before I always had the sat-nab turned on, more for a time check than for the need of directions, but this time as I got closer the time to destination clock felt like that of a ticking time bomb “3 hours until I break my Mums heart – 2 hours until I break my Mums heart” I remember just stopping briefly once for a toilet break and receiving a lovely text from my dear friend Marian (herself now deceased) which said “I am right with you, I’ll be hugging you tightly and holding your Mums hand.” Even re-writing those words now fills me with tears, but they gave me so much strength at the time.
Finally I arrived at Mum and Dads house in Wales. I left the flowers in the car so not to raise suspicion and walked through the door. It was the first time I had ever visited them without calling first, so of course as they saw me walk in they were overjoyed by this ‘lovely surprise’. Thankfully a quick make-up touch up down the road had hidden my very red puffy eyes, but I could already feel the tears burning again and was fighting hard to hold them back.
Mum then went in to full ‘faffing’ mode “do you want a coffee? Are you staying the night? I must go and make up the spare bed. Sorry the house is a mess” (said whilst shuffling newspapers). I wanted to scream “will you just shut up and sit down!!!!!!” Obviously I didn’t, I let her make the coffee and finishing her faffing before she finally sat down beside me and said “so what do we owe the pleasure of this lovely surprise visit, and why didn’t you ring first?”
I knew I couldn’t hold back breaking the news to her a moment longer, and as hard as I tried I couldn’t hold back the tears either. I just reached over and held her hand and said “the TV company in Australia managed to make a break through to find Michael, I’m so so sorry Mum, but he died”
I watched the colour drain from her face and just heard my Dad let out a huge groan. Mum didn’t cry in that moment, she just leant over and held me as I couldn’t stop the tears from falling. She kissed my forehead and just said quietly “my little baby – I feel like I have lost him all over again”
If I had to pin point one day which was the worst day of my life, then that day was surely it. I can still see the look of pain in Mums eyes as I shared with her the limited information I had. “Michael DID want to find you Mum, all those years you believed he didn’t, he was out there searching for you, he was on the same register but you never got matched”
“I should have searched for him” she said “he went to his grave thinking I didn’t want to know him, when I did. I never stopped loving him or thinking of him, not for one day” – “He knows that now Mum, I’m sure of it” I told her whilst still clasping her hand.
We talked further and neither of us could understand how this reunion register failed to match them. It was to be a further three years before that mystery was to be solved, but let me just say that the Catholic Nuns played a big part in it!
I explained to Mum that I had sent an email to Michael/Mark’s adoptive Mum and Sister along with all my contact details on but as yet I hadn’t received any response. We still didn’t know how or when he died, nor whether he was buried and had a final resting place. Those along with a million and one other questions were still unanswered.
Four weeks later we celebrated Mum & Dads Ruby Wedding Anniversary the best we could, after that I treated all of us to a holiday in Devon where we tried our hardest to make Mums 70th Birthday as happy as possible. There was an air of sadness which hung over us though.
We were now 6 weeks on from when I first sent the email to his adoptive family in Australia and we still had no response. There was absolutely nothing more we could do other than once again wait, and hope……