Mother and daughter reunite for the holidays

12.13.2012 Dean Rhodes People

For 43-year-old Veronica Gaston, this Christmas will end 40 years of holidays without her mother.

"It wasn't until after her health went down that I reached out to her," says Veronica from the home in Elder housing that she now shares with her long-estranged mother, Elder Donna Casey, 72. "And she reached back."

This was in August, just after Casey had had a fall at the house and was recovering in the hospital.

Veronica said to herself, "I need to reach out to her."

After nearly a lifetime of estrangement, mother and daughter will enjoy their first Christmas together this year since "R-Bears" --Donna's long ago nickname for Veronica -- was adopted out at three years of age when Donna and the late Oren George Pichette were divorcing.

"We looked for somebody that we both agreed on," Donna remembers. Pichette walked on soon after the adoption was completed, but what followed for Veronica was a youth she remembers filled with prayers for being reunited with her mother.

"I also wish I could find pictures of my dad holding me," Veronica says. "I have nothing of my dad's."

"Her dad worshipped her," Donna recalls.

For four decades, mother and daughter were kept apart by rumors that each had heard about the other -- the daughter as ungrateful, the mom as uncaring.

"I always wondered what was going through Veronica's head," says Donna of her daughter's childhood years, "but I felt like it would be better for her if I didn't make waves."

Even at 21, when Veronica remembers moving out of her adoptive parents' home, she says she had no desire to see her mother.

Veronica says she kicked around the country, from California and the Northwest to Maryland, Virginia, Florida and Arizona, working at Disneyland, the Grand Canyon and McDonald's for almost 20 years before returning to Grand Ronde for her health.

She returned to the reservation area a few times over the years before returning a few years ago to settle down for good. In the 1990s, she returned to honor the death of her grandmother, Elder Blanche Lillard.

More recently, however, "My health was so bad," Veronica says, "I thought I was going to pass away, and wanted to go home." Still, with heads full of bad thoughts for the other, it was a few years here in Grand Ronde before the two reconciled this summer.

"I went out and purchased a stuffed bear and flowers for her," says Veronica. "She was asleep, but I left a note. (I wrote) if she wanted to call me she could. She did and thanked me for the flowers and the bear. She let me know she was going into Lifecare, a nursing home."

Veronica says she "was a little scared (at the first meeting) because I didn't know what to expect, but it was very positive. We sat and talked for a good hour."

They talked about "anything and everything, how I was doing and what I was up to. I shared places I had been.

"She said the three words I thought I would never hear from her: 'I love you.' I thought I would never hear that from my mother. She said she wanted to come home (from Lifecare), but she needed to find someone who could be with her and I volunteered. To my delight, she accepted."

"R-Bears is my menu maker, dish washer, she picks up my pens. She does everything for me," Donna says.

"Right now," says Veronica, "I am working on a very special present to give to my mom for Christmas and hoping I get it done in time. It will have a flower, which is the symbol of love.

"When I lived in Spokane, (where she grew up), I prayed every day that mom would take me home. Now, 40 years later, it has happened. God does answer prayers, but on His time, not ours."