Mary Jo Simunovich was aggravated when her mom came to wake her up early one morning in November 2011, just a few days before Thanksgiving. She was sure it would be one of the usual “emergencies” that had to be taken care of, like changing a light bulb that had gone out or fixing the television.

But it was no such thing. She had barely rubbed her eyes and sat up to find out what the issue was when her mom blurted out, “You’re adopted!” and then just bolted out of the room, claiming she was late for work and had to go. Mary Jo knew in that one sick, nauseating moment, that her life would be changed forever. She felt as if she had been stabbed in the heart. Her head started spinning, and the mix of emotions that followed is just indescribable.

At the age of 48, Mary Jo felt as if she had lived one big lie. “What possesses someone to keep a secret like this for so long,” she wondered. As she reached out to those closest to her, she realized that they had all already known. Apparently, her family had been having “family meetings” for weeks in which all of her cousins were told. Mary Jo was devastated, and her mom wasn’t being forthcoming with any additional substantive information for her.

Calls started coming in as word got around about how upset Mary Jo was. Her aunts and cousins were very supportive and told her that they loved her no matter what. Inevitably though, at the end of each conversation, the message was essentially the same. “Don’t be upset,” they would say. “You’re lucky you have a family who loves you so much.” While they meant well, this sort of placating language tore Mary Jo apart.

Over the years, there had been clues. Some were pretty obvious, but Mary Jo just never wanted to believe them. Like the time her doctor asked her family if someone would donate blood as she was being prepared for her first surgery after being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, and they immediately replied, “No.” Or the time she was searching through the family film reels and 1963, the year of her birth, was oddly missing.

As she continued trying to put pieces of the puzzle together, Mary Jo recalled her grandmother sending monthly donations to a Catholic Charities orphanage, which she thought was very strange because her grandmother really didn’t have much money to begin with. There were other oddities that she began to recall, and she even remembers thinking, on occasion, that one day she would find out she was adopted. It didn’t phase her then, though, because it was not yet reality to her. And so she thought she would be prepared emotionally if that day were ever to come.

But she wasn’t. And not many of us ever are. Most of us have pretty strong intuition about certain things in our lives, but rarely do we think we’re going to lose it when we find out we’re right. Yet most of the time, we do. When the truth is finally revealed, no matter how much we simply knew it to be the case, the pain begins to flow through our pores as if every inch of our being had been clenched tightly in a fight to keep it all out. It’s that one glimmer of hope, however slim, that keeps us going when the truth has not yet been revealed. But then, when it finally is, our world is definitively changed and we know for sure we can never undo what we already knew to be true.

Read Part II here.