Chris Ray couldn’t help but wonder: Who was she? Where is she now? Why did she give me away?
Like other adopted children, Ray often thought about the mother he never met, the woman who brought him into the world but was unable to keep him.
Last year, the Cheney resident decided to look for her, only to learn that it was too late. Jean Violet Malm, who gave birth to him 48 years ago, had been dead for nearly a decade.
But his search didn’t end in vain.
Although Ray never met his biological mother, he discovered an entire family – four half-brothers, aunts, uncles and other relatives who have embraced him as one of their own.
This weekend, children of all ages will honor the women who tucked them into bed when they were little, who helped them get ready for school, who beamed with pride on their graduation day. Rarely celebrated, or even remembered, are the sacrifices made by women like Ray’s birth mom, who relinquished her son to give him a chance at a better life.
Before she died of cancer in 1996, Malm never stopped thinking about the baby boy she gave up for adoption, her siblings later told Ray. When she got pregnant in 1958 while unmarried, she chose to live with nuns in a Sprague convent until she delivered the baby. The child’s existence became the family secret, and even Jean Malm’s three younger children never knew about Ray.
The baby who would later be known as Chris Ray was adopted through Catholic Charities’ maternity care and adoption program, which housed pregnant women and newborns at the old St. Anne’s on North Cedar Street. From the late 1920s until the ‘80s, the old brick building was a sacred place for many of the women who sought refuge there. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of infants were adopted out of St. Anne’s.
In the last decade or so, some of these children have contacted Sandy Maher of Catholic Charities trying to locate their birth mothers and biological families. Every year, at least 15 and as many as 25 people seek her investigative work and expertise.
Maher can’t guarantee the outcome of each search. Some reunions have happy endings; in other cases, someone in the adoption triad of birth mothers, adoptees and adoptive parents may object to meeting.
“It’s highly emotional and very complicated,” said Maher, a court-appointed intermediary. “It’s extremely painful for birth moms who have to relive that loss. So many are still grieving that choice they made, even if it was the best choice they could make at the time.”
Ray and his four half-brothers consider themselves lucky to have found one another.
“I’ve always wanted an older brother,” said Randy Roach, a sergeant for the Pasco Police Department and the oldest of the four. “At first we were shocked, but the trepidation turned into excitement. Now we’re just happy to have him.”
Before Ray’s adopted mother died, she encouraged him to seek information about his birth mother. But Ray wasn’t expecting to get more than his own medical history from Maher’s search. So he was both touched and amazed to receive such a warm reception.
When Ray first laid eyes on Roach and the three other siblings – Ron, Joe and Mitch, they all were astounded at how much they resembled each other. For the first time in his life, Ray met someone else who had the same eye color of dark hazel-green with a starburst of brown, he said. They had similar facial features and mannerisms. Even their hands were similar, according to Ray’s wife, Christie.
After meeting the brothers’ families and other relatives, it became clear to Ray that his own daughter, Nichole, mirrored the features of his biological mother’s side of the family.
Soon after the brothers met last August in Pasco, they took Ray to his mother’s gravesite in the small, Eastern Washington town of Kahlotus. They also inundated him with details of her life. A farmer’s wife, Jean Malm was strong, disciplined and loving, they told him. She was also resourceful – when the boys refused to eat squash, she took the leftovers and hid them in the next day’s meatloaf.
Ray was shocked by all the parallels in their lives. While his half-brothers were busy bucking hay and doing odd jobs around the Kahlotus farm, he led a similar existence in nearby Pasco, where his adoptive parents raised him and four other kids. Before moving to Kahlotus, his biological family lived in Cheney, where Randy Roach served as an altar boy at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church – the same parish where Ray and his wife now belong.
Since that initial meeting less than a year ago, the brothers have seen each other dozens of times, even spending the Christmas holidays together. Ray has attended family reunions and parties, slowly becoming acquainted with all the aunts, uncles and cousins who have treated him like one of their own.
In the last few months, Randy Roach has given Ray old photographs of their mom and some of her prized possessions, including an antique metal trunk where she kept her personal items and an old black prayer book that she received for her first communion.
“My life has been greatly enriched,” Ray said. “It’s weird. I barely know them, but at the same time, it feels like I’ve known them forever.”