Adop­tion search an­gel helps re­unites fam­i­lies

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - FRONT PAGE - HEATHER RIVERS - The Lon­don Free Press

“Fifty-one years is a long time to won­der if your child is OK.”

Synda Lock­yer re­cently was re­united with her bi­o­log­i­cal son, and joined hun­dreds of peo­ple brought to­gether by a for­mer South­west­ern On­tario woman known as an “adop­tion search an­gel” for re­uni­fy­ing fam­i­lies sep­a­rated by adop­tions.

Sit­ting across from her son at a Lon­don res­tau­rant, the Ip­per­wash res­i­dent said the re­union with her son Jim Wine­gar­den, 51, oc­curred af­ter a series of co­in­ci­dences laid a trail to the Lon­don res­i­dent.

At age 17, un­der pres­sure from her par­ents, Lock­yer said she gave up her son for adop­tion in 1966.

“It was hor­ri­ble. I cried for two weeks, “Lock­yer said. “I thought about him ev­ery day.”

“I was hop­ing he was in a good home and be­ing raised prop­erly.”

As it turned out, Wine­gar­den grew up just 15 min­utes away from his bi­o­log­i­cal mom in Grand Bend, and had often spent time on the beach near where his bi­o­log­i­cal mother’s home was lo­cated.

Mean­while, in Ip­per­wash, Lock­yer went on to marry Wine­gar­den’s bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther and had two more chil­dren, sib­lings to Wine­gar­den.

While Lock­yer had searched un­suc­cess­fully for her son dur­ing the years, her search in­ten­si­fied af­ter she was wid­owed and ad­vised by a psy­chic last sum­mer to search out her lost son.

Mean­while, Wine­gar­den, who had har­boured some “anger” over his adop­tion, also re­cently had started to look for his mother.

“I al­ways wanted to find out the big ques­tion, why?” Wine­gar­den said.

Hours af­ter hear­ing what the psy­chic said, Lock­yer con­fided in a girl­friend, who hap­pened to have a friend who could help.

En­ter Colleen O’Grady-John­son, who works as a Cam­bridge teacher by day but is known as an adop­tion search an­gel.

Dur­ing the years, O’Grady-John­son, who grew up in Wood­stock and later grad­u­ated from West­ern Uni­ver­sity, has solved more than 300 cases, many in the Lon­don area, where fam­ily mem­bers were un­suc­cess­ful at find­ing each other.

“I help birth par­ents lo­cate the child they gave up for adop­tion, and adoptees lo­cate their birth fam­i­lies,” said O’Grady-John­son, who now lives in Mil­ton. “I not only search for and lo­cate fam­ily mem­bers, I fa­cil­i­tate re­unions by help­ing both par­ties through the process of re­unit­ing.”

O’Grady-John­son went to work to find Wine­gar­den, help­ing Lock­yer fill out gov­ern­ment pa­per work to en­able her to first de­ter­mine her son’s name.

Once they learned his name, O’Grady-John­son nar­rowed her search down to five peo­ple, af­ter blast­ing out 75 mes­sages on so­cial me­dia.

On Aug. 6, O’Grady-John­son was sit­ting at Indigo with her lap­top when a re­ply to one of those so­cial me­dia blasts came from a woman who knew Wine­gar­den.

“He has been search­ing for his birth mom for quite some time but has had no luck,” the mes­sage read. “Your tim­ing is per­fect!”

Soon af­ter, Lock­yer and Wine­gar­den had an emo­tional meet­ing at her home in Ip­per­wash.

“The buildup was in­tense,” said Wine­gar­den, who was ea­ger to learn why his mother had given him up.

“I told him I had no choice and that I was still in school and my par­ents said there was no way I could keep him,” Lock­yer said.

Wine­gar­den, who said the rev­e­la­tion made him “sad,” told his mother he had “a good life” with “ex­cel­lent” par­ents, but later strug­gled with ad­dic­tion is­sues.

Now, months later, they are work­ing through their re­la­tion­ship with daily texts and are co-or­di­nat­ing fu­ture plans.

“We’re com­fort­able with each other,” Lock­yer said.

Both are grate­ful to O’GradyJohn­son for bring­ing them to­gether.

“Colleen was there with me all the way,” Lock­yer said. “She’s an an­gel, no doubt about that.”

World Adop­tion Day, Nov. 9, is mean­ing­ful to O’Grady-John­son.

“It be­gan five years ago as a move­ment of birth moth­ers, adoptees, adop­tive par­ents and those who have been touched by adop­tion,” she said. “This is a day to cel­e­brate the chil­dren, par­ents, moth­ers, fa­thers and brave ones we call fam­ily.”

O’Grady-John­son said she fell into her hobby — she charges lit­tle or noth­ing to con­duct the searches — af­ter a friend asked her to help search for his fa­ther.

“I like to mend re­la­tion­ships and pro­vide peace and clo­sure to peo­ple,” she said. “I be­lieve adoptees have a moral right to know their ori­gins. I feel it is un­just that the cir­cum­stances around their adop­tion re­main a se­cret. I also be­lieve that, in most cases, bi­o­log­i­cal par­ents should be al­lowed an op­por­tu­nity to know the iden­tity of the child they gave up.”

But not ev­ery­one will get their happy end­ing.

“Ev­ery one of my clients dreams of a happy end­ing, but this doesn’t al­ways hap­pen. A re­union — even the pos­si­bil­ity of a re­union — brings on a mul­ti­tude of un­ex­pected emo­tions,” she said. “I try to pre­pare my clients for any re­sult.”

HEATHER RIVERS/POST­MEDIA NEWS

With help from Colleen O’Grady-John­son, Synda Lock­yer was re­cently re­united with her bi­o­log­i­cal son Jim Wine­gar­den of Lon­don, whom she gave up for adop­tion al­most 52 years ago.

Colleen O’Grady-John­son

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