ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - It has been three weeks since Jessica King eagerly sat by the Christmas tree with her boyfriend in their St. John’s home on Christmas Day morning to open gifts.
But she’s still on Cloud 9 after receiving the one gift that would change her life forever.
“It was the most significant gift I’ve ever received,” King said.
Wrapped in pretty paper, with a ribbon and bow — decorated meticulously by her boyfriend of four years, Ryan MacFarlane — a box contained something she had waited decades to receive: a declaration that she had an official family.
“It was the most significant gift I’ve ever received."
— Jessica King
Amidst sheets of tissue paper were adoption papers, which would see the 30-year-old woman officially be adopted by the foster family that raised her from the time she was six months old.
“For a few minutes, I was in complete shock,” King said, describing the moment she opened the box and saw the documents. “I thought, what’s happening? What am I reading? Is this real?”
When she realized what it was, she broke down in tears.
“No words can describe it,” she said.
King was born in Stephenville and raised by the Pilgrim family, who took her into their home and cared for her after her birth mother wasn’t able to. Even when she required emergency heart surgery in St. John’s for a ventricular septal defect at six months old, her foster family was there.
King had a wonderful childhood, with loving, patient, steadfast and supportive foster parents, Clayton and Dinah Pilgrim, but deep down, she always wished they would adopt her, she said.
She gave up on the idea once she became an adult.
But a trip to a St. John’s supermarket gave MacFarlane the idea of making it happen for her.
In June of last year, he was in a checkout lineup when he saw a copy of The Telegram that featured a story about a Conception Bay South family adopting their 24-year-old foster son.
That set the wheels in motion and MacFarlane contacted King’s foster father. It turned out that the 87-year-old, who lives in Deer Lake, had been thinking about it for years. He and his wife, who died in 2007, had adopted their other foster children, but they were prevented from adopting King because her birth mother had been fighting any attempts to go to court, he said.
When some time had passed and King’s birth mother had died, her foster father wanted to finally make it happen, but was overwhelmed by the court process.
With her foster father’s blessing, MacFarlane got to work, notifying the rest of the family and collecting all the necessary signatures and legal papers.
Having kept it a secret from her for weeks, he couldn’t wait to see her reaction on Christmas morning.
“The way she broke down, I saw 30 years of pain finally being released,” MacFarlane said. “It had been burdening her and holding her down her whole life. … She was shaking two hours later. … I have never seen her, or anyone, so happy in all my life.
“It was overwhelming for both of us. I’ve shed as many tears as she has.”
In the box with the adoption papers, MacFarlane included an introductory letter, in which he wrote about the importance of a family name.
“Our name is our lineage, our history, our culture and tradition. It is the context of our very being and without it, we are adrift in this world like an iceberg at sea,” the letter states.
“You’ve been deprived of your name for far too long, Jessica. And so, this Christmas morning, it’s time to finally say, with utmost resolve: Hello, Jessica Pilgrim.”
She was so grateful for such an incredible gift.
“I feel like a weight I’ve been carrying for the past 30 years is finally gone. I feel complete. I’m finally (officially) a part of my family.”
In an Instagram post on Boxing Day, King said, “The gift represents the truth and allows me to let go of many insecurities that I have carried with me for the past 30 years. Thoughts and doubts of never being good enough in all aspects of my life, of not belonging.
“On Dec. 25, 2018, I have received the gift of belonging thanks to my Dad, my sisters and last, but certainly not least, the love of my life, Ryan MacFarlane.
“I was born with a hole in my heart, but my heart is finally whole.”
Last week, the couple filed the adoption papers at Newfoundland and Labrador Family Court. Once approved by a judge, the documents will officially be issued at the department of vital statistics. King will then be free to officially change her name. The process is expected to be completed by the end of February.
MacFarlane said he is glad he was at the supermarket that day to see The Telegram article, which inspired him to do what he did.
“The result was there was another family brought together and I hope to pay it forward,” he said. “Maybe after seeing this article, another family or 100 will be inspired to be brought together in a similar way.”