"It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life," said Marion Coombs, who gave birth to a boy when she was 19 and living in Alberta.
Unable to provide the life for him that she wanted, she agreed to adoption — her pain compounded by the fact that soon after making her decision, hospital staff told her he had not survived.
"I used to think, 'if only I could have held him. If only I could have had a picture of him,' " Coombs told CBC News.
Her grief lingered for almost five decades — until Alberta opened up its adoption records, and she received a letter from Andrew Allan, who had gone searching for his mother.
Allan had a happy childhood, but had always felt something was missing.
"[I had been] wondering who I was, and not understanding and feeling like I was lost. I dreamt that someone was going to come and find me, that it was a mistake," he said in an interview.
Now 46 and engaged, Allan, who lives in St. Albert, had been eager to know his roots. His fiancée, Heidi-Ann Wild, encouraged him to do something about it.
"Heidi-Ann put me on to the adoption agency. We filled out some paper work and at that point decided we'll take it as it comes," he said.
Letter arrived out the blue
He found out about Coombs, who had moved to the small community of Heart's Desire, in eastern Newfoundland, a few years ago.
When Allan's letter arrived at her home — it had only been sent to her name, with no address other than the name of the town — Coombs was shocked.
"I thought, 'Oh my God, somebody is playing such a cruel joke on me.' It was just mind-boggling. This can't be," she said.
Relieved to learn it was no prank, Coombs made contact with Allan. They were reunited in person on the Labour Day weekend, when her son came to her home.
"For the first time in my life, I got to hold my son on my knee," she said. "It was like a burden was lifted off me, and I could not let him go."
Another reunion planned
They speak each Thursday by phone, and plan another reunion later this fall, this time in Alberta.
Coombs said she marvels at the fact that she and her son had lived for years in the same province, and not that far away from each other.
"To think when I was in Alberta, he was maybe 10 kilometres away from me," she said. "We must have crossed paths hundreds of times."
Allan said the reunion was the moment of a lifetime.
"I felt like I was complete again, you know. I finally felt right," he said.
Coombs said she thinks back to her initial sorrow, of not having had the chance to hold her infant son and then being told that he had died.
"Sometimes I get angry [about] what happened," she said.
"But, I got to put all that in the past now and live for the future and live for my sons and grandchildren," she said. "Don't even look back. It's too painful. At least I got him now."
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