by Sandra Higgins Smith, LUT
I would like to share my story about a rose–a rare Dominican rose, named Maria. In 1995, my husband, two children, and I lived in St. Petersburg, Florida. I was a nurse at a pediatric hospital and my children were nine and seven. We were living our best life; enjoying
the beach, and loving the beautiful Florida sunshine.
I went for my yearly pap smear in May. About a week later, my doctor called me at work. When I picked up the phone, he said, “Sandra I have some disappointing news to tell you. The specimen came back carcinoma in situ.” At first, I thought that I had misheard him, so I asked him to repeat it. He said, “You have cancer. We can do a procedure under local anesthesia in two weeks to take care of it. If I get it all, it should be the only procedure that you need.”
I was devastated. I was only 35. How could I have cancer? I left work and called my husband and told him the news. He supported me the best that he could. Those two weeks were the longest of my life. I was afraid that cancer would grow during that time. I even had a nightmare that my kids had an “ugly stepmother” because I had died. As a side note, I wasn’t in Unity at the time. The surgery was a success and I am happy to say that I haven’t had any problems since then.
As an infant, I was adopted through Catholic Charities. Because of this health scare and the fact that I was a registered nurse, I decided to find my biological parents in order to know more about my health history. As Divine Order would have it, that evening I saw a story on the
11 o’clock news about a woman named Nancy who had found her biological mother. In fact, the story featured Nancy and her biological mother together and went on to say that Nancy had formed an adoption support group in Tampa (which was only about 20 minutes from my
house). I joined the adoption support group and attended weekly meetings. Nancy suggested I ask my parents for my non-identifying information. This was a letter from Catholic Charities that gives basic information about the adoptee’s parents, grandparents, and siblings. When I told my adoptive parents what I planned to do. My dad who still lived in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky informed me that he had my non-identifying information in a lock box and that he would mail it to me. When I received the information from my dad, there was a 3×5 card included with the typewritten name, Shawn Marie Helm. The card had been placed in the envelope by mistake and later when I asked my dad about it, he said that he had never seen it before.
I shared the information with Nancy and she helped and supported me along the way. I continued to participate in the adoption support group and I was very grateful that I did. The support group helped me to understand that not all adopted children’s circumstances are
pleasant. That 3×5 card gave me a great starting point. My mother’s last name had been Helm. Back then, we didn’t have computers and long-distance calls cost 39 cents a minute. Nancy told me how to investigate by requesting city records and obituaries (that were on microfilm) from the Louisville Public Library. My search took about a year and a half. I had an old phone book from when I lived in Louisville, and I knew from my non-identifying information that my paternal grandfather was a photographer. Bingo! There was a
photography studio in Louisville with the same last name as my biological father. Maybe my biological father worked at the family business. Nancy told me exactly what to say: I called the studio and asked for my father by name. His secretary said that he was in the dark room. I told
her it was a “matter of urgent importance that I speak to him” so she put me through. Before I said anything to John, I asked him to write my name and number down in case he thought it was a hoax, or became afraid, and hung up the phone. John answered yes to all of the questions that I asked him based on my non-identifying information. He remembered my biological mother and said that she never told him about me.
He was shocked to find that he had a daughter and wanted to meet me right away. He asked me to mail a photo of myself and the non-identifying information to his studio. At the end of our conversation John said, “there is just one problem. My wife Maria is from the Dominican Republic and she is very religious. I’m afraid that she will not understand even though you were conceived many years before Maria and I met.”
John said that he was going to a photography convention with his best friend over the weekend and he was going to ask his friend how to break the news to his wife and his only son Alex (who was 26 at the time). When John returned from the convention, he told Maria and
Alex that he had something very important to tell them. Maria later told me that she thought he was dying because she had never seen him so nervous. John told them about me and showed them the picture that I had mailed him along with my non-identifying information. Alex
said immediately that there was no doubt that I was his sister because I looked exactly like his grandmother. Alex loved Christmas and said that he couldn’t wait to spend the holidays with his new sister and niece and nephew. Maria remained silent and asked John to call me so she could talk to me. When I answered the phone, John and I talked briefly and then he handed the phone over to Maria. The first thing that Maria said was, “Sandra, I am so happy to hear that John and I have a daughter. I would like to welcome you into our family!” Maria went on to tell me that she had always wanted a daughter.
She said that after Alex was born, she had an ectopic pregnancy and had to have an emergency hysterectomy. Then she went on to say that she felt that God had blessed her with the daughter that she always wanted! I was so touched by the loving welcome that I received from Maria. We met for the first time a few months later and I discovered that Maria loved roses. For our first Mother’s Day I wrote this poem for Maria. A Rose
In my search for identity…I found a rose
A rare Dominican rose that is difficult to find
A rose that is compassionate and kind
A rose that knows God’s love
A rose that is far above
A rose blooming with care
A rose accepting and fair
A rose so caring and sweet
A rose that has made my life complete
A beautiful rose, like no other
John, Maria, and Alex spent many holidays and vacations with us in Florida and we also visited them in Louisville. Maria and I shared a special bond like none that I have experienced. Our hearts were connected at the deepest level of our souls. We talked weekly, laughed often, and she became the mother that I always wanted. She was an exceptional wife to John, a loving mother to Alex and I, and an adoring grandmother to my children. Maria died in 2020. I am so grateful to have had my beautiful Dominican rose, Maria. She taught me what unconditional love was like and she will always be in my heart. Happy Mother’s Day, Maria! With all my love!
Sandra Higgins Smith, LUT
Sandra Higgins Smith, BSN, LUT, is in the UUMS Ministerial Studies Program. She has been a Truth student since 1999, and she was introduced to Unity in St. Petersburg Florida. Sandra and ,her husband Patrick Smith moved to Louisville, Kentucky in 2015, where they made Unity of East Louisville their spiritual home. Sandra currently volunteers at Unity of East Louisville as a Prayer Chaplain, platform assistant, and speaker. Sandra completed her certification as a Licensed Unity Teacher with Unity Worldwide Spiritual Institute in November 2022. She is the Director of Adult Education at Unity of East Louisville where she teaches SEE classes while pursuing licensure and ordination as a ministerial student at Unity Urban Ministerial School. Sandra retired in 2021 after a 42-year-long nursing career. Together Patrick and Sandra have a blended family of a daughter Stephanie Scott (St. Petersburg, Florida), Bryan Scott (Bristol, England), and Brandon Smith (Denver, Colorado). Sandra enjoys being with family and friends, walking in nature, traveling the world, yoga, reading, and art. This story is published with permission of the author, who shared it as part of an assignment in The Art of Storytelling in Ministry class taught by Rev. Sandra J. Campbell in Spring 2023.