The gift of family: Long-lost sisters reunite on Christmas Day
Tina White of Bathurst and Susan Rice of Chicago connected for the 1st time about 6 weeks ago
Susan Rice only wants one thing for Christmas this year: to meet her long-lost sister of more than 50 years.
And today that dream is coming true.
Rice, a communications and marketing consultant in Chicago, was at a business meeting about six weeks ago when an email popped up on the screen of her phone. The email revealed a photo of a young girl who looked like her.
Attached to it was a line that read, "Hey, I think we're sisters."
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"I had this look on my face and everybody staring at me was like, 'What just happened?'" Rice said.
She immediately sent an email to her wife, Deb, to ask whether the girl in the photo looked like her. When her wife emailed back saying, "Oh my gosh yes, who is it?" Rice knew it had to be true.
"All I could do was think about who is she, what is she like, what's her story?" said Rice. "And an immediate feeling of affection for her."
The best kind of gift
The little girl was Tina White, Rice's long-lost sister, originally from Bathurst and now living in Fredericton.
And the sisters will be meeting for the first time at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago on Christmas Day.
"Tina will be my Christmas present," said Rice, 55, who immediately took to Google to find out more about White.
You go through your entire life not knowing a person, but yet this person is the closest that they can be to you without being a parent.- Tina White
"It'll be the best Christmas present ever."
Although the gift isn't coming with wrapping or string, the women have had to contend with nerves, which were sorted out with the support of family and friends.
"I'm anticipating we're probably going to be staring at each other a lot because we've both gone our entire life not having someone who looks like us," Rice said.
The sisters will spend three days together, and Rice is planning to visit New Brunswick in 2019.
"I'm a great believer in fate and I think it was time," said White, comparing their story to a Hallmark Christmas movie.
Rice, who grew up in Illinois, joined Ancestry.com, a popular genealogy website, but never thought she'd actually meet someone related to her by blood.
"Even when I filled out the Ancestry.com information, I was just looking to find out what I was made up of," said Rice, who joined the website in August 2016.
"Am I Irish, am I French? What am I?"
Time to find her
White grew up in Bathurst with a brother and sister, but deep down always knew she had a biological sister.
"I felt in my heart that I had a sister," said White, 53. "I didn't know if it was a full sister or a half-sister. I knew it wasn't a brother.
"It's just a feeling that's within you, it's just a part of you."
After pondering the idea for years, she decided to search. She, too, signed up for Ancestry.com.
We still have our future together and I'm so looking forward to it.- Susan Rice
"I told myself, 'It's time to find her,'" said White, who learned about Rice at the beginning of November.
The decision to search was the best decision she's ever made.
"Although we've only known each other for [about six] weeks, it's as if we've known each other almost a lifetime."
Shortly after they connected by email, the duo started talking over video chat online
Their first chat started accidentally, after White tried to call someone on Facebook messenger and called her newfound sister by mistake.
"I promptly tried to disconnect the call because I wasn't ready yet," she said.
"I was building this image of this person in my mind. I was thinking, once I actually see that video call, is it going to change things?
But when Rice immediately called back, White knew she had to talk. On her screen, she saw a woman staring back at her with the same eyes, nose and chin.
The cyber meeting was better than she anticipated.
"You go through your entire life not knowing a person, but yet this person is the closest that they can be to you without being a parent," White said.
They've only known each other for a few weeks, but the women feel as if they've known each other a lifetime.
"She calls me kid sister now, and it's heartwarming, or she calls me sweetie," White said.
Always knew they were adopted
The girls grew up aware they were adopted, but neither knew much about their genetic family.
Through a first cousin, the sisters discovered more about their background.
They were born to a couple in Quebec and put up for adoption in Quebec City.
Rice was three months old when she was adopted and grew up outside Chicago. White was 10½ months old and was taken to Bathurst.
The sisters don't know why they were put up for adoption and likely never will, unless they try to locate their father. Their mother, who had eight siblings, died in 1981.
White said she understands her biological parents must've been under difficult circumstances to put one daughter, then another up for adoption.
"We just figured it was the sixties and things were crazy," she said. "But there was obviously a love there because they were together for two years to have both of us."
The sisters said it's hard to imagine life without the other and now the pair have a lifetime to make up for time they've lost.
"Short of meeting my wife [Deb], Tina is the best experience of my life so far," said Rice.
"We still have our future together and I'm so looking forward to it."
With files from Information Morning Fredericton