Meeting My Family

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The intercom burst into life with the customary 'ding-dong' - "British Airways announces that flight BA6209 from Johannesburg has landed". I sat upright and came out of the depths of my thoughts. The moment I had been waiting for over two months had arrived. Could this really be true? Did I really have a brother and sister - or was this all a dream? But it must be true - after all, why else was I sitting in the arrivals lounge of Durban Airport on a hot and sunny Wednesday afternoon having driven down earlier from Hilton if it was some sort of dream? It seemed like a dream though - here I was, 55 years of age waiting in this busy airport concourse on my own to meet a sister and a brother and his wife - two siblings out of a family of five whom I had never met, and until three days short of three months ago I had never even known existed!!! And now they were arriving from England to meet me and spend two weeks with our family.

Who were they? What were they going to be like? Where did it all start?

Let's go back to the beginning...well, the beginning as I know it!

I was born in the West Midlands town of Walsall in England on the 23rd of July 1945. The war in Europe had ended two months before I arrived on the scene but the after-effects were still very evident in England and Europe as people struggled through those hard days. I had never been told about my true background - indeed my adoptive parents were never told much about my background themselves. What little they knew of me would only be disclosed to me years later, because there were many things not spoken of in those days. Suffice to say that I was adopted as a baby of eight months old and at the age of two and a half years my adoptive parents emigrated from England with their two adopted children, my adoptive sister and myself, to Africa and to the former British Colony of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Times, as we all know, were tough in England after the War and work was hard to come by. But the Colonies, on the other hand, were booming - and there was a new hope there. There was work and there was the sunshine of Africa. I grew up in rural Southern Rhodesia in a delightfully simple, farming background. Years later, the Colony would seek independence from the Crown, and later revolutionary forces would rise up and plunge that beautiful country into a long, bitter and bloody civil war, never to be the same again.

I was a young man through those years of conflict, with a young wife and family and after some 8 years of serving in the Rhodesian Army's Territorial Forces, we made the decision to emigrate from the country of our upbringing and our youth and head south across the Limpopo River to South Africa and settle in the verdant hills of Natal in the delightful village of Hilton. My adoptive father had passed away and my adoptive mother had moved back to Europe to settle in Greece and later to make her home in the Herefordshire countryside, in the village of Eardisley. She lived to the ripe old age of 91 and last September, on our elder daughter's 27th birthday, and only days before her own 92nd birthday, I received a phone call from my cousin in England with the news that my adoptive mother had passed away peacefully.

It was the end of a chapter in my life - my beloved adoptive parents - the people who had taken me in as a small baby from an orphanage in the midlands of England in 1946 and given me a life, who had brought me out to the wild beauty of Africa and raised me as best they knew how, who had cared for me, fed me, educated me and looked after me - had now both passed away. They'd lived their life and now it had ended. For the man I knew as 'Dad', it had ended with the trauma and agonising pain of cancer nearly 30 years ago, before I really felt I knew him. And sadly, the lady I knew as 'Mom' had lived in the mountains of Greece on her own after Dad's death and before returning to her native England some 10 years ago. As such, we never really knew much of each other, and in the past 30 years, we had only managed to get across to see her on 4 occasions. The last occasion had been in November of 1999, when I had made the trip across on my own to spend two weeks in the UK. At that stage, she was living in a wonderfully caring home for the aged in Kington on the Welsh border of Herefordshire. She was a frail old lady whose memory had gone, and it was only after much patience and perseverance that she realized who I was. Those two weeks were to be very special as I knew, and I believe she did as well, that this was going to be our last time together.

So, who was I then? What were my roots? I mean, where was I born and to whom? Why had my birth mother had to give me up for adoption? Who was she? Was she still alive? Where was she? I wondered if she still remembered the little baby that she gave birth to so long ago. Come to think of it, now that I have some of the maturity and wisdom that the years bring, I bet there had never been a day when she didn't think about me. And what about my birthday each year - I bet she'd never forgotten that either - in fact quite the opposite. Why have I never given thought to her like this before but put these thoughts to the back of my mind all these years? I'm sure that she's remembered me for all these past 55 years! Then, where is she? Who is she? What has become of her? I must find out - I know I've got to. Maybe she's out there right now hoping and praying that one day I'd feel like this and search for her. Hoping that one day, before her life is through - one day, that little baby boy, now a man of 55, would come back and knock on her door and introduce himself - that little boy she conceived and brought into this world and had as her own until placed for adoption. One day - before she put her head on that pillow for the last time - I've got to do this - I've got to find her - I've got to do this for her - to meet her and give her heart the joy and peace of knowing her son before her life's end. She would undoubtedly be an old lady now -in fact I wonder if she's still alive? There's probably not much time left. I've got to find her soon - but where do I start. I must pray. I must ask the Lord if this is really what He wants me to do. And if it is, I know that He will guide me, He will open the right doors and He'll show me where to find her.

These and others then were the thoughts, questions, and burden on my heart in those days immediately after my adoptive mother died. I prayed, and the more I prayed, the stronger the burden God gave me to search for my roots. I shared it with a Christian friend and he suggested that I use the Internet as a starting point. He downloaded a lot of information on the subject of 'Adoption', giving me addresses where I could write to or e-mail to search the records. Sue has a cousin living in Los Angeles who is a computer 'guru' and who is busy researching his own family history through the internet. He knew a lot about genealogy. I'd contact Roy and see if he'd be willing to help a real greenhorn like me!

And so it all began. That was at the end of September 2000.

I started by e-mailing all my details to the General Register Office in the UK. They are part of the Office of National Statistics and hold a record of all births, marriages, and deaths and so I sent them all that was on the only birth certificate I'd ever known - my Adoption Birth Certificate. They replied, advising me of my mother's name and my name at birth. I remember the night I opened that letter and looked at those names for the first time. "Your birth mother's name was 'Joan Hayward' and you were given the name 'Alan Hayward'".

Alan Hayward - Andrew Hillman - both 'AH' - so that has never changed, I thought. Was 'Hayward' her maiden name or her married name? I would have to wait to find out since no mention was made of my birth father.

A week later my official birth certificate arrived. It had been sent to the Durban Children's Society, the officially recognised body appointed by the British Government to deal with such matters and undertake the necessary councelling. They had contacted me during the week and on the grounds of my age, we had mutually agreed that councelling was unnecessary. They would therefore post the certificate on to me!

Again, the birth certificate gave my name and my mother's name but no reference was given to my birth father. That space had been left blank. This time, though, her maiden name was given as 'Holden' and her address was given as 78, Hollemeadow Avenue, Walsall. It also disclosed that I had been born at the Manor Hospital in Walsall. I checked on the internet - No78 was not now given as residential but was a commercial site. So, I wrote off to the Walsall Borough, as well as to the County Court in nearby Dudley which had handled my adoption and kept the court records, and to the Manor Hospital in Walsall where I was born. In the meantime, with Roy's help on the internet, we found out that there was a Victor Hayward who had lived at that address and who was mentioned in the local newspaper of the day in 1942 as serving in Burma. In fact, there was an article giving details and photos of the two Hayward brothers, Victor and Fred, from Bloxwich meeting up in Burma during the War. It now seemed certain that what my adoptive mother had told me only 5 years ago was going to prove true - that I was born out of wedlock during the War to a lady who's husband was away from home.

She also said at that time that my birth father had been an Officer serving in the Allied Forces in England at that time. And that's all she said - whether it was all she knew, I'll never know.

Later, in November, I received a reply from the Dudley Courts and I quote "Your birth father is named as Earl Fraley of the USA. He was an American Serviceman here in Walsall in 1944. No other details are given concerning him". As I write, I have not found any trace of my birth father. If that is how God wants it to be - I am at peace and so be it. He will reveal what He wants me to know of that side of my being in His time. It may yet be another chapter of my life!

On the internet, I checked the Mormon/ Latter Day Saints website, I checked their Family History Centre website, and I checked many sites specialising in missing persons, adoptees, tracing birth parents and the very powerful Roots website. I prayed. I knew my birth mother's name, her maiden name, her address at that time, where I was born, and I knew my mother's husband's name. I had my original birth certificate, and I had registered my details on the Adoption Contact Register, but seemingly I couldn't get further. So I prayed and trusted that God would guide me - according to His plan, purpose and will and in His time.

Sue was overseas at the time - visiting her parents in the UK. Sadly, her own mother passed away suddenly in her arms, and Sue had extended her stay to spend time with her father and sort matters out. With the passing away of my dear mother-in-law, I had to come to terms with losing a second 'mother' in two weeks. I spent all my spare evenings on the internet and found a link to a site called 'Searchline,' operated by Gwen Richardson from Broadstone in Dorset. She specialised in reuniting adoptees with their birth parents. A break through at last, I thought. "Thank you, Lord". I e-mailed Gwen and waited for her reply. Over the next couple of days, we 'chatted' through the e-mail. She sent me details of her service and costs. When I converted these to our depreciating Rand, my heart sank. "Lord", I prayed, "You know I can't afford to go further".

Then, on Thursday, 26th October, Gwen e-mailed me to say that she was going to undertake the search for me at no cost. She was doing it 'as to the Lord' and could I please forward all details to her. I couldn't believe it - but again I knew the hand of God in this whole matter. 'Thank you, Lord', I said, and I forwarded all that I knew. Meanwhile, Gwen had e-mailed to say that she had certain commitments to get through and would only start the search for my family on the Monday. Imagine my surprise when I received four e-mails on the Friday morning to say that she had read my e-mail and started immediately to search the records. This is what she wrote:

"Hi Andy,

This is what I've found so far.

Your birth was registered as you said, so I have worked backwards to find the marriage of Joan Holden and I have found Joan Holden to Victor Hayward registered Walsall in the Sept. quarter 1941. They obviously married on his embarkation leave. You already know that Victor had a brother Fred so we are starting to piece the jigsaw together. I will start looking for other children from this marriage and then who knows what....Will keep you posted. Best wishes. Gwen."

Later Thursday night she wrote, "I've looked for births registered to this marriage and this is what I've found so far:

Sept 1942 Sheila J Hayward
Sept 1946 Brenda V Hayward
Mar 1948 William J Hayward
I'm not bothering to look for more children at this stage - there are quite enough to search on. I will now be looking for marriages for all three. How do you like the idea of having two sisters and a brother? Albeit half siblings because I think we can assume that Victor was in India when you popped out! Please let me know if I'm going too fast for you - it's very difficult to stop finding out information once the process is in operation. Hope this is OK - meantime will start on these marriages. Wish me luck. Gwen"

And still later that night she wrote:

"Hello Andy

This is the last bulletin before I go to bed. What a night!! I have found the following: Marriage of Brenda V Hayward to Ivan T Grocutt at Walsall in Dec quarter 1967. Can only find one birth from this marriage - Stephen James Grocutt registered Walsall Sept 1971. I cannot find Brenda and Ivan together now - it looks like they could have parted and re-married. I haven't had time to look for the re-marriage of Brenda yet. I'm off to bed now - it's almost midnight. I hope this is going as you wished - there are plenty of leads to work on - you are very lucky in that respect. God bless. Gwen"

That Friday, I could hardly concentrate on anything else and then at 13:15, Gwen e-mailed me to say that she had established a contact telephone number for the family. She wrote:

"Hi Andy

Is it OK for me to go ahead with contacting the family - are you prepared for it? Best wishes Gwen"

I replied "Yes, thank you Gwen. Please go ahead. I will be praying for you. You have my contact telephone numbers to pass on if need be. Thank you again. Andy"

I phoned a couple of Christian friends who were in the picture and asked them to pray as well. I had no idea who she had found or to whom she would be speaking to - I would have to wait and see!

The afternoon dragged by. With Sue away, the girls and I had been invited to spend the evening next door with friends. When we got home after 10pm, I checked and found the following e-mails from Gwen:

"Hello Andy

Right here goes - are you sitting down and ready for this. It may make your legs go wobbly.
I have contacted your sister Brenda and given her the biggest surprise of her life. This is what she was able to tell me.

Firstly I am sorry to have to tell you that your mother, Joan passed away in 1985 some nine years before her husband Victor. Sheila also died when she was 3 1/2 . Brenda was conceived in January 1946 when Victor returned from Burma - Sheila died in May 1946 just after Victor returned. There are other siblings for you as well as William (Billy). Jane is nearly 50, Roger 42 and Sally nearly 40. Brenda believed that she was the eldest of the family but now she finds that she has a big brother, I could hear what a shock it was for her.

She tells me that Joan's sister also passed away so there is nobody to ask about you on her mother's side of the family. It seems that Victor's sister is still alive, and Brenda is wondering if she knew about you. She also wondered if her Dad knew. Brenda has asked that you contact her and let her have copies of your birth certificate and any other relevant information. Brenda's address is: -
Brenda V Crutchley,31 Harden Road, Walsall, West Midlands,WS3 1EL Telephone 01922

I forgot to tell you that Brenda re-married in 1984 to Ian Crutchley - again at Walsall. Her son has taken the name Crutchley. She recognised the address that I read out to her but she was definitely shocked. I know exactly how she feels - I found my sister and it takes a while to digest the truth. Brenda is going to contact the other siblings and then telephone me back this evening. Is there any other information that I can give to her about yourself? I told her that you live in South Africa, but she is bound to be curious about your family and how long you have lived there. I haven't told her your surname - only Andy. Well Andy are you still with me or have you descended to the floor? Makes the knees go funny doesn't it. I doubt very much if you will sleep tonight. Please let me know that you have received this e-mail. I will wait to hear from you. Best wishes Gwen".

There was another e-mail from Gwen:

"Hi Andy

Just a very quick note to let you know that I have just heard from Brenda again. She has gathered all the family around and they have asked Victor's sister about your birth. She was able to confirm that you were born to their mum and that Victor knew about your birth. Your mum was only 18 when she married and both Victor and Joan decided to put the past behind them after the war. Your siblings are surprised that it was mum who had the child and not Victor who fathered one!! They are asking to know about you and all want to meet you. As they said - no matter who your father was - you are part of their mum, and because of this they want to know you. Well Andy, you've definitely not been rejected. I am so pleased for you. Now you start on the long process of getting to know one another.
I'm waiting to hear from you so that I can go back the Brenda and answer some of her questions.
God bless. Best wishes. Gwen"

What thoughts go through one's mind at a time like this? Could this all be true? It must be. Somebody I haven't met has contacted and spoken to my sister, whom I don't know! I have three sisters and two brothers! And all these years I've never known! For 55 years I've had five siblings that I've never known about. I've never had a brother - and now I have two. I've only ever had one sister - and now I have three more sisters! Amazing - absolutely amazing! I sat stunned, reading and re-reading the e-mail in front of me. Then I called my two daughters in from their bedrooms and told them. Amazing! And then it dawned on me as it would many times in the weeks ahead - that I had to face the loss of my mother, whom I'd never been old enough to know. The loss of a third mother in a little over three weeks. I sat quietly as tears filled my eyes. Tears of joy - and tears of sadness.

In my study, I knelt down and prayed "Thank you, Father, that You know all things, and that You have revealed all this to me. Help me now in my weakness to just trust You - and may Your Name be glorified through all of this. I'm not sure if I understand and I'm not sure what lies ahead - but help me Father and continue to guide me, for Jesus sake, Amen"

I phoned Sue in England and gave her all the news, asking her to phone Gwen and then to phone Brenda direct and speak to her. "What am I going to say to her?" she asked. "I don't know, just talk about me", I replied "reassure her, and then ask her if she'd like to phone me. Tell her, her brother is sitting next to the phone on the other side of the world waiting to hear from her - if she'd like to phone!" It was close to 11:00pm and we waited.

At 11:30pm the phone rang. My daughters ran to the other receiver to listen in! I answered and a lady's voice with an English accent said, "Is that Andy?" "Yes it is," I said. "Andy, this is your sister, Brenda". I choked up - I couldn't talk. "Are you there?" she asked. "Yes, sorry Brenda, I couldn't speak......" This time I knew my knees were weak - fortunately I was sitting down! We chatted and when we said goodbye, I just sat. Juliet, Brian and Wendy came in and chatted excitedly, but I just sat. A real live sister! It was all reality - I now knew it was. At 12:15am, the phone rang again. I answered. This time it was Billy, my brother. "How are you, mate? You alright?" He was so excited, just so excited. "I've got to see you" he said, "I'll start walking!" "Billy," I said "you can't walk - it's too far!" We chatted on - this was incredible - a real live brother as well! And they've both accepted me and love me - no matter what! "Thank you, Lord". What a night - Gwen was right - sleep was out! I sat in my thoughts for hours after the family had finally gone to bed - though not before cups of tea and much more excited chatter! Shame, I'd given the family in England a huge shock! Imagine getting a phone call from a stranger one-day when you're in your fifties and being told that you have a brother in South Africa! None of you has ever known or suspected anything, no one who knew has ever said a thing - and all of a sudden some stranger phones out of the blue and breaks this kind of news to you! Incredible!

On the Sunday, I phoned Brenda and Bill to see how they were after the shock of Friday. They were together discussing it all. Bill said, "We want to ask you a personal question, Andy". "Go ahead, Bill, ask whatever you like", I replied. "Andy", he asked, "are you a Christian - are you a born-again Christian?" "By the grace of God, I am", I replied "and by asking me such a question, I gather that you are as well?" Brenda replied that she became a Christian in 1989 and Bill and Ann in more recent years. And then she told me that our mother became a Christian in 1968. I know now that she would have prayed for me from that time on and what is interesting is that I became a Christian in April 1985, only a month before she passed on into glory! Our God works in the most amazing ways! And He is sovereign over all our lives and all of our days. The Psalmist, David reminds us of this when he says that God knew us before we were ever formed, before we were even conceived! Amazing!

The days passed as we wrote to each other and I waited for Brenda's letter and photographs of our mother and the family. I had sent photos and as God would have it, I am the absolute image of my mother, even to the detail of my teeth! When Brenda and Bill received my photographs and invitation to come out to South Africa, they immediately accepted and after checking dates with me, booked their flights to come out. I learned much about my mother in those days from their letters and phone calls. One thing that stands out is the fact that so many of mother's close friends and extended family knew of me but for all the years no one had said anything! At no stage did anyone 'let the cat out of the bag'! Brenda spoke to one of mother's friends, 'Auntie' Fran who said that never for one day had my mother ever forgotten me and in fact had on more than one occasion in her life tried to search for me but in vain as no details of my adoption were available to her. Auntie Fran asked Brenda if she knew what our mother had really died from. Brenda replied that she had the stroke and then never really recovered. "I want you to know", said mother's friend of so many years,"that your mother died of a broken heart. She never did recover from having to give up her little boy. I want you to tell him that there was never a little boy so loved, and it broke your mother's heart to have to give him up for adoption."

I had asked Bill to video some places of interest before they came to South Africa and the week before, when he was videoing the street where they had lived as children, an elderly lady came out to greet him. She had known about me and when Bill explained why he was filming and where he was going, tears filled her eyes and she said, "Oh, Billy, your mother always prayed that even though she had never found her little boy that you as siblings would find each other one day and get together".

That day had arrived and God in His faithfulness had answered the prayer of His child. I stood at the arrivals gate waiting for what seemed an eternity until at last three people that I recognised immediately walked towards me - Brenda, Bill and Ann. I will never forget that moment as long as I live - a sister and a brother - I couldn't believe it! As Bill's eyes met mine, it was like looking into a mirror - a very strange experience! And so in one emotional moment began a lifetime of catching up and getting to know each other, starting with the fastest but most wonderful two weeks together!

In the days since last October, I have found myself sharing the news of my newfound family on countless occasions at each and every opportunity given to me. Far from my listeners being disinterested, I have been overwhelmed and humbled at the interest and excitement that each person has expressed - from family and close friends to acquaintances, work colleagues and people that I have come across in my day to day life whom I've never previously met. Without exception each person has been touched in some or other way and many have been brought to tears as the story unfolds. Why have I recorded this experience and these moments? So many of you have asked me to place these moments on record. The Psalmist writes, "Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what He has done for me". And so I have written this as a testimony to God's love and faithfulness and as an encouragement to each of you reading this that there is a God in heaven who loves you and has a plan and purpose for your life and who is intimately concerned for you.

And so to all of you who have encouraged me and been so much a part of this blessing to me - thank you for sharing this with me as you have. To my immediate family and close friends who have been such a support and so much a part of the excitement - thank you. To my dear wife, Sue, who has had to bear the loss of her own dear mother through this time - thank you for understanding and being there as my best friend through it all. To my siblings and your families - thank you for understanding it all, even though it came as a shock and thank you for accepting me and loving me as a brother as you all have. You've made me feel very special and I can't wait to meet you all and I look forward to the rest of our lives getting to know each other. To Gwen - how can I adequately say thank you? And thank you, Roy for your help and patience.

May God bless each one of you and may He encourage us all through this to realise His sovereignty in our lives in a new and fresh way. David wrote of God in Psalm 139: "O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
You hem me in behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain... For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.... All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be...."

I could have been aborted after conception or brought up under very difficult conditions by my birth mother. I could have been left in that orphanage to grow up without the love of home and family that I have experienced. But God in His grace had His hand on me and I am humbled by His blessings to my life and eternally filled with thanks to Him for His love and His care, His grace and His faithfulness, His provision and His protection.

Thank You, Lord Jesus. Thank You for the gift of life You've given me. Thank you for the mother who bore me. Thank You for the home and the adoptive parents You gave me. Thank You for the family that I now have. Thank you for Your boundless and eternal love shown to me and shown to each and every one of us in so many different and wonderful ways every day of our lives. Help us all never to take Your love and blessings for granted. Help us to never take our lives for granted but to realise that all our days are in Your hands. Help us to love our families despite our individual differences and, to love each other and not be shy to express that love. Help us to believe in You, believe that You died for our sin, believe that You died to save us and so help us to love You and to be willing to yield our lives to follow You, obey You and serve You all our days. And so may Your name be glorified through what has happened to me and indeed through all of our lives. Amen

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