"It's like a hole in you," Loretta Sue Miracle-Grondin said. Having no connection with her past -- no knowledge of who she really was -- put Loretta on a path of discovery 23 years ago that ultimately ended this summer. What she discovered has profoundly changed her life.
"It's fulfilled me as just being human," Loretta said.
Living now in Cornville with her husband, Dave Grondin, and having four grown children, Loretta was born 55 years ago in Michigan. She lived the first four months of her life in an orphanage until she was adopted.
She, her adopted parents and adopted sister all lived on a Michigan farm with orchards and gardens. Life was good. Family ties were growing strong and true.
"We had a wonderful home," Loretta said. "We had all the advantages."
The adopted mother doted on the girls, and Loretta became her adopted father's tagalong. She watched as he worked on cars. She rode along as he plowed fields. And, after his night shift at General Motors, she went fishing with him at 4 in the morning, holding a flashlight so he could see the water.
She remembers her father taking her to town to buy her a pair of red patent shoes, which she really didn't need. He once surprised the girls when they were sick with a hunting jacket full of puppies.
In 1956, before Loretta turned 5, her family sold the farm and moved to Tucson, seeking a drier climate for her ailing sister. But the move temporarily split up the family. Unable to find work in Tucson, her father commuted back and forth to Michigan. After three years, he found work and the family was reunited.
Loretta remembers that it was around her 10th birthday when she began to ask questions about being adopted. Her mother answered those questions the best she could, but very little was known about Loretta's birth mother. Loretta knew only that her "real" mother was too young to take care of her.
Loretta used to daydream about seeing her birth mother. "What if I hid and just watcher her?" she asked herself. "Would I know her? Would I love her?"
The questions would not go away, and Loretta realized that she had a "hole in my heart that I was saving for my biological mother with hope that someday I would meet her."
Unfortunately, she also realized that ever meeting her birth mother was almost impossible. Michigan law prohibited any connection between birth parent and child. When she asked to see her birth certificate she was shown a certificate of registration with the name: Patricia Ann Rightler.
Having children of her own only deepened Loretta's resolve to know her past. It was 1982 when she began to write many letters, but she never received the answers she was looking for.
One day she did receive a packet of documents. "My biological mother's name had been cut out of each paper," Loretta said. But she continued reading and was excited to learn that she was Pennsylvania Dutch.
"I called my husband crying," she said. "'I am somebody,'" she told Dave.
Although Michigan officials refused to give Loretta her mother's name, someone made a mistake and left the birth mother's address in the document. Within minutes, Loretta obtained the name of her grandfather through Michigan tax records. Instead of finding her mother or grandfather, Loretta made contact with an uncle who lived at the address. He gave her names of uncles and aunts. But contact with those relatives resulted in further disappointment and little useful information. About all Loretta learned from those contacts was that she had five half-sisters, but that information was accompanied with an admonition not to pursue this "any further."
Each summer, Loretta continued to drag out her files and send more letters in hopes of finding some small nugget that would introduce her to the past. She even hired US Search without any success. She said that on family trips to Ohio, she would travel to Michigan and call her grandparents just to listen to their voices.
"One trip, I sat on the curb in front of my grandparents' house praying they would come out so that I could just see them," she said.
After her grandfather died, Loretta visited her grandmother in a nursing home. "She was very ill and did not even respond to me. But I talked to her.
"I told her all about me and I touched her face and hands. I told her how much I needed her in my life."
Two months later, Loretta's grandmother passed away.
A couple of years ago, after 21 years of searching, Loretta decided to spend the entire summer pursuing her past. She wrote more letters and hired a detective. Sadly, the detective soon notified Loretta that her birth mother had died a year and half earlier. But it was that disheartening news that turned Loretta's luck around.
On the Internet in search of her mother's obituary, Loretta came across a message board with the matching name of a man looking for his brother and mother. It turned out to be her brother. He didn't know he had any sisters and Loretta didn't know she had brothers.
The two connected and soon learned they had five sisters who had been raised by their birth mother.
Loretta contacted them all and heard back immediately from her youngest sister. A flurry of e-mails was exchanged and records were opened.
The records revealed that there were 10 children in all: five raised by Loretta's birth mother, and five adopted out.
One by one, the siblings were finding each other and making plans to meet.
Some of them did meet that Christmas, but there were still brothers and sisters to find.
This summer, it all finally came together for Loretta, and her search for connections is complete.
"Believe it or not," she said. "We found the last four, three weeks ago. We have everyone."
The family circle for Loretta's children has also grown. "They got 11 new cousins in one day," she said. In all, there are 24 new cousins and eight, second cousins.
Loretta's now large family is planning a full family reunion for next summer, and some of her brothers and sisters are starting to talk about the family going together to buy a vacation home some place where they can all get together.
As Loretta now begins the year as librarian at Oak Creek School, her 18th year working for Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District, she does so with a new sense of who she is.
Learning the details of her past has been fun and exciting. "There are so many connections we've made," she said. "We say things at the same time, and we've had similar experiences in life."
Some of the brothers and sisters visited their grandparents' graves. "I never had that connection," Loretta said. "I always wanted a connection to the past. Now I have it."
And that connection has changed her life.
"I have a better idea of who I am," she said. "I'm more at peace.
"The past you can't change, but this makes me understand where I came from."