Girl Voluntarily Caring for an Old Woman Discovers Her Long-Lost Grandmother through an Unexpected Item in Her Home

When Sam starts to feel college burnout, she begins to volunteer at a community outreach program — where she meets Dorothy, an old and lonely woman. Little do they know that an old photograph will change their lives forever.

In between my studies, I found myself volunteering through a local community outreach program. It wasn’t something that I would have usually found myself doing — but there I was, at a crossroad.

I was so close to getting my degree, but at the same time, I was doubting myself. As much as I loved psychology — did I have it in me to further?

A person with a book on their face | Source: Pexels

A person with a book on their face | Source: Pexels

“Get out of your head, Sam,” my mother told me on the phone. “Make a cup of tea or some soup, and figure out something to do.”

“Like drop out?” I asked.

“Don’t you dare,” she chuckled. “I mean, get involved with the community. Meet new people. You’ve been spending too much time alone, that’s why it feels like the world is caving in on you.”

My mother was rarely wrong.

A person talking on the phone | Source: Pexels

A person talking on the phone | Source: Pexels

So, I went to the library’s bulletin board and amid the myriad opportunities to touch lives, my path crossed with Mrs. Dawson.

She was a sweet little woman whose health was on a steady decline. She lived alone in an apartment two blocks from my own and all she wanted was companionship.

“All you have to do is spend time with her,” Gina, the woman from the outreach program said.

“Like cooking and cleaning?” I asked.

People standing in front of a bulletin board | Source: Pexels

People standing in front of a bulletin board | Source: Pexels

“Not if you don’t want to,” Gina said. “Most of the time there are caregivers who go in and out to sort these things out, but if Dorothy decides that she feels like having a toasted cheese, then you’re more than welcome to make it for her.”

I nodded, trying to understand the limitations of the role.

“Got it,” I said.

Two women talking | Source: Pexels

Two women talking | Source: Pexels

The first time I met Dorothy, she was quiet and didn’t really want to engage with me. We exchanged polite conversation and pleasantries, while she gave me a list of chores to do around the apartment.

She put on an old record player and head bobbed along to the music. I watched her, trying to figure her out.

“Why are you really here, Samantha?” she asked, her eyes closed.

“Would you like the truth?” I asked, dropping the duster onto the coffee table.

“Of course, I would,” she said, opening her eyes.

An old woman sitting with a magazine | Source: Pexels

An old woman sitting with a magazine | Source: Pexels

“I’m lonely, and now that I’m almost ready to join the world as a college graduate, I couldn’t be more afraid. I feel like I’ve wasted my time.”

And that’s all it took.

Dorothy and I grew closer, although she always wanted me to lead the conversation. If I were honest, I didn’t know much about her.

But as the weeks turned into months, a bond, profound and ineffable, began to weave itself between us. Shared stories over cups of tea revealed parallel pains and joys, and I found in her a kindred spirit, a reflection of the loneliness and resilience that also resided in me.

Two cups of tea | Source: Pexels

Two cups of tea | Source: Pexels

“Do you have a good relationship with your grandparents?” Dorothy asked one day as I gave her the Danish she had been asking for.

“Not really,” I said. “They don’t live around us, back home. So I don’t see them much. They are very close to my cousins though.”

“Does that bother you?” she asked.

“No, my Mom isn’t that close to them either. She’s always felt like she didn’t belong.”

An old woman sitting and looking out the window | Source: Pexels

An old woman sitting and looking out the window | Source: Pexels

Mrs. Dawson’s apartment was a capsule of her life. It was filled with mementoes and photographs that spoke of happier times. Or at least, less lonely times.

“My husband walked out on me a long time ago,” she confessed one evening.

“We had been struggling with our relationship, but also life in general. So he decided that enough was enough.”

“Have you seen him since?” I asked.

“No,” she shook her head. “But I also walked away from my family, too.”

Suitcases on a bed | Source: Pexels

Suitcases on a bed | Source: Pexels

We were silent as I made us dinner.

“Sam,” Dorothy asked. “Would you like to see some old photographs?”

Mrs. Dawson instructed me to open a cupboard.

“Take the box out, Sam.”

Inside the box, was an old photo album which seemed to hum with the weight of untold stories. Carefully, I paged through them, landing on a single photograph — a portrait of a toddler with the largest smile I had ever seen.

Old photographs of a child | Source: Pexels

Old photographs of a child | Source: Pexels

But it was not her smile that caught my breath. It was the unmistakable birthmark that adorned her neck, mirroring the one that had always been a distinctive feature of my mother’s.

“Dorothy,” I asked carefully. “Who is this? Where did you get this photo?”

“That, my dear,” she said. “That is my daughter, Erica.”

“I didn’t know that you had a daughter!” I exclaimed, momentarily forgetting that I was convinced it was my mother in the photograph.

“I did,” she said. “But my daughter went missing shortly after that photograph was taken. My husband, Hugh, and I, took Erica to the circus. She loved animals. So when we found out that the circus was going to be in town, we had to take her.”

A circus tent at night | Source: Pexels

A circus tent at night | Source: Pexels

While Dorothy was talking, I was making up the connections between Erica and my mother. Could they be the same person? Birthmarks were common, but how could they be identical?

“Erica got scared of the clowns, and she bolted from her seat. Hugh and I searched every inch of that circus ground, but we could never find our child. The security guards did their bit, but also didn’t find a trace. And then the police got involved. My child was on a milk carton for months, Samantha. Little Missing Erica Dawson.”

“And then?” I asked, hanging off my seat.

A clown at a circus | Source: Pexels

A clown at a circus | Source: Pexels

“And then time went by and Erica was gone. Of course, my husband couldn’t handle it — me, he couldn’t handle me. And the loss. So he left.”

I knew that Dorothy’s life was filled with loneliness, but I didn’t know that prior to that, it was filled with such tragedy.

“And the birthmark?” I asked.

Dorothy chuckled.

“Yeah, that’s how I knew I’d be able to find her out of a crowd. Birthmarks like that don’t come around often.”

“My mother has one exactly like that. In that exact place,” I blurted out.

A birthmark on a woman's neck | Source: Pexels

A birthmark on a woman’s neck | Source: Pexels

Dorothy looked at me, her eyes wide and she clutched her chest.

“I can’t breathe.”

I ended up calling for an ambulance to take Dorothy to the hospital. I got in with her and held her hand the entire time.

Did I really just give a sweet old woman a heart attack?

Pacing through the hospital waiting room, I felt panic set in. I didn’t know what was happening behind closed doors. But I knew that we were in the hospital because of me.

An ambulance at night | Source: Pexels

An ambulance at night | Source: Pexels

I phoned my mother and told her exactly what had happened. She listened in silence on the other side, at one point I wasn’t sure if she was still on the phone.

“Mom? Are you there?” I asked, sitting down.

“Sam,” she said, her voice strained. “You do remember that your grandparents are my adopted parents, right? And that I was placed in an orphanage because I had apparently run away from my parents?”

I was silent. Of course, I knew all of this. Which is why I was so shocked when I came across the photograph in the first place. There was a tiny possibility that Dorothy was my grandmother. And as slim as it was, I didn’t think that we should miss the opportunity. Especially because Dorothy was all alone.

“Mom? Can you come?” I asked.

A hospital hallway | Source: Pexels

A hospital hallway | Source: Pexels

“I’ll leave home now,” she said. “But Sam, don’t hope for anything to come of it.”

And I knew that my mother would be here in three hours. She would drive through the night to get to me.

My mother arrived carrying two cups of coffee.

“Oh, honey,” she said, wrapping me in her arms. “Are you okay?”

I had been battling with my own sense of loneliness for a while before meeting Dorothy, but since she had let me into her life, I felt so much better about what lay ahead of me.

A person holding a coffee cup | Source: Pexels

A person holding a coffee cup | Source: Pexels

A nurse led us to the ward Dorothy had been put in.

When she saw my mother she cried with everything she had in her. My mother began to explain what she knew of her adoption.

“But I was so young, I don’t remember any of it,” she said.

“There’s one way to know for sure,” the nurse said. She had been too invested in the story to leave.

“We can do a DNA test,” she said. “We’d just need a swab of saliva from you both.”

Dorothy agreed immediately, color returning to her face for the first time since she had been taken to the hospital.

A doctor putting on gloves | Source: Pexels

A doctor putting on gloves | Source: Pexels

“I thought I’d never see you again, Erica,” Dorothy told my mother.

My mother smiled, and I knew that she was talking in the shape of Dorothy’s eyes — which matched hers. They also had the exact same eye color.

“I’ll let you know the moment the results are in,” the nurse said.

“Thank you,” Dorothy whispered, taking my mother’s hands in her own.

Eventually, the nurse showed up with the results — confirming my hunch all along. Dorothy and my mother were family.

A person using a microscope | Source: Pexels

A person using a microscope | Source: Pexels

We sat in the hospital ward eating jelly and custard while Dorothy explained her side of the story. And I could see that for once, my mother finally understood why she had always felt so alone.

Now, we just have to speak to my mom’s adopted parents — which is not a conversation my mother is looking forward to.

We visit Dorothy every day, taking food or snacks or just flowers. Slowly, she’s beginning to heal.

Two women beside each other | Source: Pexels

Two women beside each other | Source: Pexels

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