WORDS Jeanni Brosius, with Catherine Frederick and Sarah Wells
IMAGES courtesy Sarah Wells
After thirty-seven years of searching, the first time Sarah Wells saw her father, she melted into his arms, sobbing. Her anxiety faded away, and she finally felt a sense of belonging. She had finally found her father.
When Sarah was a teenager, her world turned upside down.
On May 10, 1999 – the day after Mother’s Day – her mother, Marcia Priest, died of a rare type of cancer after battling her illness for over a year.
Sarah said they found out her mother had cancer after she collapsed at work and was taken to the hospital by ambulance. The cancer had created fluid around her major organs. Once she discovered the cancer, she began treatments, but Sarah said they weren’t to save her; it was only to prolong her life. She died a year later.
“I was at the lake with friends when I got a call saying, ‘we’re putting Marcia on morphine,’” said Sarah, who was only fifteen at the time.
Sarah said she had written a poem for her mother, but because she wasn’t there at the time, her cousin read it to her. “We were each other’s universe; it was just the two of us,” Sarah said about her mother. “I was her caretaker.”
Over the years, Sarah had inquired about her father, but it was not a welcomed conversation with her mother, but before she died, Sarah asked her again. “Mom wrote a letter about who could be my dad, she mentioned a young man stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base.”
Dealing with the trauma of losing her mother, Sarah kept the idea of her father in the back of her mind. After a few years passed, Sarah said she tried to figure out who her father could be by calling the Air Force Base, but of course, that lead nowhere. She began to believe that finding her father might just be an impossible task.
In her mind, she had created multiple scenarios about her father, none of which turned out to be reality. Earlier this year, Sarah, now thirty-seven, decided to put those stories in her mind to the test and use a DNA sample as one last attempt to find her father.
“For three or four years, I toyed with the idea of taking a DNA test, but I worried, do I really want to open that can of worms?” Sarah, who now has three daughters, said. Some of the scenarios that ran through her mind seemed to always turn out bad, so the thought of discovering who this stranger was had its risks. She decided to do the DNA test after watching a YouTube video about Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame finding his daughter, Phyllis, through a DNA test. That video was the final push for Sarah to send her DNA off in the mail.
“I decided to do it, and when I got the results, the blood drained from my face.”
There was his name: Bones (David) Garner.
David, stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base, was only twenty-three when he met Marcia, twenty-nine, a line dance instructor, at a local country and western bar. It was their mutual love of dancing that brought the two together.
“I sent him a message and about twenty minutes later, he messaged me his email and his phone number,” she said. “My whole reality totally flipped upside down.”
David never knew he had a daughter with Marcia. After connecting, the father and daughter talked daily for a week. Then Sarah got scared and said she “freaked out a little.”
Sarah said she guarded her heart, to not get it broken. She had to take a moment and gather her thoughts. David gently pushed her to meet, and Sarah said she’s so happy he did.
A little over a month after connecting, Sarah and her husband, Aaron, flew to Florida to meet with David and his wife, Renee, in person for the first time. From the moment Sarah hugged her father, the emotions she’d struggled with melted away. A hole in her heart had been mended.
“Growing up, I was always asked, ‘do you miss your dad?’, and I’d respond with, ‘You don’t miss what you never had’. I look at life as putting together a giant puzzle. You are constantly collecting pieces to put together the full. Even though, I said I wasn’t missing anything, I always had a missing piece out there and when we connected, the puzzle came together perfectly. I can finally see the big picture of who I am and where I came from.”
David said when he saw he had a daughter on the DNA test site, he felt as if he had been punched in the stomach. “As soon as I saw Sarah, I saw my mom’s nose. She looks so much like my mom. It catches my breath sometimes that she looks so much like her.” David said. “I fell in love with her when I read her first message. The family was a little shocked when I told them, but they were all excited to meet Sarah,” he said.
Sarah said even though they only met a few short months ago, the relationship already feels natural. Along with a father, Sarah gained siblings, a stepmother, nieces, nephews, and cousins. “You can create a lot of stories of what it might be like,” one of Sarah’s sisters, Chelsea, chimed in, “We are making new memories and making the best of the time we have now.”
Recently Sarah wrote on her Facebook page: “I’ve come to realize I’ve had a whole lot of my identity wrapped up in not ever having a dad and then not having any bio parent for a large part of my life. It’s really been a weird internal experience for that to be totally shattered. It’s also been a blessing… I already see God healing things in my heart that needed healed. I’ve been totally blown away, yet again, by the way God orchestrates all the things in life. God is always the best Father, and His timing is always perfect.”