'A family I never knew': Long-lost sisters persist, find each other
Although they live hundreds of miles apart and have not met yet, Rita Betush and Judy Bottomley share a number of things in common, ranging from a strong sense of faith to a love of travel.
For decades, the two women have shared something else, too — the same yearning to be reunited with a long-lost sister separated from her by adoption.
Both knew something was missing. And both have spent years on a journey to find it.
According to Bottomley, a Mesa, Ariz., resident, the first thought in her mind upon seeing someone who looked like she could be related always was, “What if that is her?”
And, any time Betush, who lives on the Fawn-Frazer border, saw someone who bore a resemblance to herself, she wondered whether there could be a connection. She had pondered that possibility ever since she was a child growing up in Virginia. Her mother told her about an older sister born in 1938 who had been put up for adoption.
“After Mom told me, I wondered, ‘Where is she now?' ” Betush, 68, says.
And, now, after decades, she knows.
‘They found her?'
In August, Betush got a call from a social worker at the Children's Home Society of Virginia, an adoption agency.
“They asked me if anybody in my family had given up a baby for adoption,” she says. “That was so exciting.”
“ I said, ‘you mean, they found her?' ”
They had. Or, rather, she had found them. That baby, who turned out to be Bottomley, was now 74 and had been looking for members of her biological family for 10 years.
Bottomly had made numerous attempts to connect with them through the agency — including one try where a social worker had reached out to someone believed to be a sibling.
“I had been told, ‘Well, we contacted one of your siblings, and the case is closed because they don't know you,” Bottomley recalls, adding that she had cried “buckets” of tears out of frustration over the wall of secrecy, resulting from state regulations, that blocked her from finding out more about her family.
“I understood later on from the agency that my family tried so desperately to contact me,” she says.
The sisters conclude the earlier miscommunication was either the result of a wrong number or a half-sibling that didn't know about the adoption.
Betush and her siblings, including a brother, John, who died in 1999, had worked with a detective in hopes of tracking Bottomley down.
And that wasn't the only instance in which the sisters came close to crossing paths.
After growing up in Illinois, Bottomley had moved to Arizona in the '70s. Betush's husband, Bob, has a brother in Chandler, Ariz. Betush calls it a “crazy coincidence” to realize that, when she and her husband visited Bob, they were only a half-hour away from Bottomley's Mesa home.
‘I still can't believe it'
After establishing contact, the two sisters were able to email and call each other. A flurry of communication followed, and hasn't let up since.
“We cry a lot,” Betush says. “It's happy tears, of course. I'm just so happy. I feel like I've known her for a long time, because she made it easy, and I made it easy, too.”
“I instantly loved her. She was such a loving person. I just felt so deeply for her, especially now, that I know she's my sister.”
Bottomley, who grew up as an only child, feels the same.
“Rita's family is so warm, and so outgoing and loving,” she says. “I can hardly take it in. It's so new to me, that I have a sister.”
The two now share stories with each other, marveling at their similarities, asking lots of questions and exchanging photos.
Betush has filled her sister in on family history.
Perhaps more than anything, the two are counting the days until they meet.
“I still can't believe it,” Betush says. “I guess I won't, until I get out there and I'm able to see her.”
A lifetime of waiting is almost over. In February, she and her husband will travel to Arizona. But, this time, they won't only be visiting his brother. They will be going to see her sister, too.
“Everyone is so excited,” Betush says. “I know there'll be lots of tears, a ton of stories to tell, and millions of questions. ... But most of all, two hearts bursting with love.”
“We're going to hug every chance we get, going to make up for all these years we haven't seen each other,” she says.
Bottomley agrees. That's one thing she keeps telling her sister, that she “wants hugs, and a lot of them.”
“I just shake my head in wonder,” she says. “It's an awesome experience.”
“I have a whole new family that I never knew.”
Julie Martin is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media. Mary Lynn Davidek Alpino contributed to this story.