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Family reunion

by donna gray

After all the letters, the photos, the phone calls, the day finally arrived. As Danielle Sentyrz drove into the parking lot of the motel she saw a woman’s face peering out from between the curtains of a room.The door opened. A woman she never met took her hand and said, “I would know you anywhere.”That day in May was the culmination of a stubborn search that led Sandra Graber to a motel room in Rifle and a reunion with her only child 35 years later.For Sentyrz, a customer service representative at the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, it all began when her brother Mark, who was also adopted, began his own search for his birth mother.Mark initiated the search through Catholic Charities, which acted as the adoption agency for both children. He was updating his search information on its Web site and noticed there was also up-to-date information for Sentyrz, who was living in Rifle and working at City Market in New Castle. He contacted Danielle. “They have a ton of information on you,” he told her.In 1967, when Mark was born, it was easy to obtain adoption records. But two years later, in 1969 when Sentyrz was born and adopted, her records were closed, making research all the more difficult.Apparently, Catholic Charities had tracked Sentyrz to Colorado. Neither knew at that time that Danielle’s birth mother Sharon was looking for her only child.Soon after talking to Mark, Sentyrz received a letter from Social Security in Minnesota, where she was born. The letter was very vague, asking her to contact the agency. She called, and she was told to call Catholic Charities.”The lady at Catholic Charities said, ‘We’re so happy to hear from you. We’ve been searching for a long time for you. Your birth parent would like to get ahold of you,'” Sentyrz said.She agreed to allow the agency to act as intermediary between her and her birth mother. Catholic Charities, like many other adoption organizations, is happy to reconnect parents with children given up for adoption, but does so with full protection for both parties until both are ready and willing to contact each other directly. Sentyrz and Sharon wrote back and forth for three years before they actually met face to face.”The first letter I got from her was in November 2000,” Sentyrz said. A social worker at Catholic Charities had written it.”It contained basic information, my medical history, that I had a big family,” Sentyrz said. “I cried at the end (of the letter).” Sharon had told the social worker, “Tell her I love her and I’ve always known she loved me.”After six months of writing letters Sharon and Sentyrz signed a release allowing them to communicate directly.”Then we started to send pictures,” Sentyrz said.Sharon sen a picture of herself at her wedding.”It was like looking into a mirror,” Sentyrz said. “It was so eerie. We have the same facial features … the same nose.”Sentyrz sent a picture of herself and her sister, Nicole, who had recently been in Minnesota to visit their grandparents. It was taken in Minneapolis at the Ribs Fest. When Sharon received the picture she couldn’t believe it. The photo was taken “about two blocks from where I work,” she said. She had a picture taken at the same spot and sent it to Sentyrz.Sharon also sent her a page from a calendar she’d kept. In the entry for April 23, 1997, Sentyrz’s birthday, she’d written, “I love you.”The letters continued. Then in 2001, Sentyrz became pregnant. Her daughter, Jessica, was born in 2002. Sharon sent a baby blanket.”I decided to call her on the phone,” Sentyrz said. “I said, ‘Hi, this is Danielle.’ Sharon said, ‘Oh my God’ and laughed.”They spent 45 minutes talking.After more letters and phone calls and pictures went back and forth from Colorado to Minnesota, last April Sentyrz decided it was time to meet.”I called her and invited her to Colorado. Within two hours she’d booked a flight and a motel room and had a rental car.”That day I was so nervous. I called everyone I knew and asked them, ‘How do I handle this?'”After their emotional meeting in the motel room, the two went to a nearby Burger King and spoke for hours.”We talked about everything,” Sentyrz said.The next morning she brought her daughter to the motel to meet her new grandmother.”They instantly bonded. Jessica doesn’t warm up to too many people,” Sentyrz said.Sharon came over for dinner and met Sentyrz’s , Ted. Again, it was love at first sight. Sentyrz has since learned her mother gave birth to her, her only child, when she was 28. Sharon also shared the pain of giving up her child. She never held her baby, but handed her over to the adoption agency immediately after her birth.”She told me she wanted the very best for me and she couldn’t give it to me,” Sentyrz said. “She didn’t hold me. She said if she’d have held me she would have kept me.” But Sharon also told her, ‘I never forgot that first cry.'””When I placed her it was very traumatic,” Sharon said from Minnesota Tuesday. “I cried for three weeks. I never doubted in my mind that I’d meet her some day.”As for her adoptive parents, Sentyrz said it’s been difficult for them. Neither of them know she and Sharon have reunited although she told them they’d written each other.”They have very mixed feelings,” Sentyrz said. “Their concern is that (Sharon) didn’t have a right to be a grandma because she was not a mother.”Sentyrz said she feels protective of their feelings and broaching her experience with them “is like walking on eggshells.””I don’t want them to feel that either one loved me more than the other. They’re my parents. They’ve seen every tear, every scrape. They saw everything,” she said.Now that Sharon is back in her life, Sentyrz said she feels more complete.”It’s given me something back. I know who I look like now … It’s made me appreciate my own daughter. The strength Sharon must have had when she made that decision, I can’t even fathom.”I have a really good person in my life I know I can count on,” she added.For Sharon, the tough part was the writing and the waiting.”My hope was that she’d come knocking at my door,” Sharon said.But the search and the first meeting was worth the wait.”It was like meeting an old friend, and having Jessica was an added bonus … It puts the circle together.”Now Danielle and Sharon e-mail each other every week. They’re also planning another reunion, this time in Minnesota sometime in February, to give Danielle a chance to meet Sharon’s extended family.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510dgray@postindependent.com


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