A sharp pain seared through her side – a reminder of an uncomfortable feeling that lingered there for two years. From one doctors’ appointment to the next, Theresa Clark, fell short of any answer to what was causing the pain. Then the news came, in October of 2009, Theresa was told that she had a tumor and was diagnosed with stomach cancer.
A month later, Theresa went into surgery to get the tumor removed. However, during the procedure, the tumor burst, causing the cancer to spread through her bloodstream.
“She was a very private person so none of us really knew how bad it was,” said Thelma Grimes, Theresa’s niece. “It was incredibly aggressive and just took over her. There was no way to fix it.”
In April of 2010 Theresa passed away, leaving behind four daughters. Two of the daughters, Brianna and Katie, were already adults, but Tracy was 15 and Amy was 4 years old at the time. With no plan for the girls’ placement in place, they soon became a ward of the state.
Finding a new home
Thelma had a strong relationship with all of the girls for many years, and became a logical choice as Theresa’s condition worsened. Thelma had always been really close with Tracy.
“She would be a chaperone when Jon (now Thelma’s husband) and I were dating and she was later the flower girl at our wedding,” said Thelma. “Her older sisters were also in our wedding.”
Because of the absence of a father and Theresa’s cancer worsening, someone needed to take care of the young girls. Thelma was the first person asked and without any hesitation she said yes. After the decision was made Thelma told Jon who immediately supported the suggested plan.
“We were the safe place for the kids to come and for them to stay. I had a connection already there with the girls, but Thelma did more because she had been active in their lives when growing up,” said Jon. “It just naturally evolved into that we took the girls. It was the right thing to do.”
Those few weeks soon turned into a few days. The doctors said Theresa only had a few days to live. Thelma told the girls that they needed to visit their mom to say goodbye.
“They saw their mom here and there but I definitely had to make them go. When they told me she had days to live I made them all go to the hospital, sit there by themselves and say goodbye to their mother,” said Thelma. “None of them wanted to do it. I don’t think any of them wanted to believe that it was true.”
Tracy was one who didn’t want to believe it. For the following eight months, she stayed in denial. Thelma and Jon were both concerned, but the therapist said that one day she would accept her mother’s death and it would hit her hard. The therapist was right.
“At first when I moved in with (Jon and Thelma) I was angry because at first it just kind of seemed like a vacation,” said Tracy. “I thought she was still home at first, but then it hit me one day that she wasn’t there anymore. It was really hard.”
During this time, Thelma and Jon were taking the steps towards adopting the girls. Brianna already had her own apartment and once Katie turned 18 she moved out as well.
While Amy was young, it was up to Tracy whether she wanted to be adopted, or just have Jon and Thelma become her guardians.
“(Thelma) said it was all up to me on whether I wanted to be adopted or not,” Tracy said. “I wanted to be a part of the family so I said I wanted to.”
Wanting to keep her biological mom as a part of her life, Tracy decided to take her then last name, Clark, as her middle name and Grimes became her last name.
On March 14, 2011 Tracy and Amy were officially adopted, and with that began a time of change and transitions for the Grimes household.
“You go from two professional adults who have their set life styles. We do what we want to do when we want to do it,” said Jon. “Now we have to focus on kids all of a sudden and learn how to be parents, but these are my girls and that’s all there is to it.”
Rooms that used to be office space or as a place to shelve books were turned into bedrooms.
Thelma’s role changed even more as she no longer could spoil the girls and send them home, she had to take on the mom role. Because Amy is young, her adjustment has gone smoothly. But for Tracy, adjusting to new rules and guidelines in the home proved rather difficult.
“I had to get used to their way of living and how they went about things. It was hard at first for me because I came from a family that didn’t pay attention at all and didn’t care about grades or anything,” said Tracy.
As the months and first year went by, Tracy’s lack of interest and involvement in school became apparent. Tracy had always been reserved and quiet, but the death of her mother brought that to a whole new level. Parent/teacher conferences brought the same report every year with feedback such as “she never talks” or “if I didn’t see her I’d never even know she was here.”
It wasn’t until the third year, her senior year, that Jon and Thelma received a positive report, one that would take Tracy a small step further in recovering from the loss of her mother.
“The third year we cried,” Thelma said. “We sat in front of her education profession teacher who said ‘Tracy is such a delight and so amazing and she ran the whole class the other day’. We were like ‘who?’ The therapists at school said there was an education program. So she did it. It’s been an interest of Tracy’s for so long. By her senior year she was sharing her opinion and talking more in class.”
Tracy’s growth was not only in school, but also in how she related with Jon and Thelma. Having an absent father made it hard for Tracy to trust and open up to Jon and it took almost a year until the two were able to have a good relationship.
“Not having a man in my life, I didn’t really trust men,” said Tracy. “So I had to go trusting him and knowing he was going to be there for me anytime I needed it. Now we’re pretty close.”
Viewing Thelma as a mother was easier, but not perfect. The two were technically cousins, but Thelma says that while growing up the girls often looked up to her as an aunt. Now, Tracy had to view her as a mother.
“There was a specific moment I saw it happen,” said Thelma. “She came into my room one day and asked ‘can I talk to you, as my mom?’ It meant a lot to me because I wondered if we’d ever be able to get there.”
Three years have gone by since Theresa passed away and through those years Thelma and Jon said the decision to take in the girls is something they are proud of and thankful for.
“It’s been the greatest thing we ever did. The best thing for our marriage and the best thing for me as a man becoming a father,” said Jon. “The amount of good that has come out of this is incredible.”
Jon and Thelma continue to work and raise their two girls and look forward to seeing Tracy grow even more as she attends Pima Community College this fall with the hope of one day becoming a special education teacher.