Heartbreak, joy, then heartbreak again for woman who gave up son

Published July 14, 2008

Copyright by The Colorado Springs Gazette

Viola WardeSIDE STREETS: 20 years of silence, then contact, then silence from son she gave up

By Bill Vogrin

Giving up her newborn son for adoption was the hardest, most heartbreaking thing Viola Warde ever did.

It was also the best thing.

“I saved him a lifetime of heartache,” she said.

So on June 17, the day he turned 20, Warde was overjoyed to learn he was trying to find her.

A month later, her joy has turned to heartbreak again. Before she was able to reunite with her son, he seemingly disappeared once more as calls and e-mails went unanswered. Warde fears she drove him and his adoptive parents away by giving them honest answers to their questions about her life.

“Did I say something wrong?” she wondered aloud.

What she wanted to tell the boy, Luke, is that she never stopped thinking about him after she handed him over to Ray and Dee Cleary two decades ago. She wanted him to know she still has a piece of paper from the hospital with his footprint on it. She kept it 20 years, even when she was living in her car and sleeping in Memorial Park during an eight-month homeless stint.

Warde, 45, wanted to convince him she never forgot about him even while raising two other boys, learning English, going to school to become a nursing assistant, struggling with disabilities caused by a devastating car crash{Correction: Her disability was not caused by the car crash.}, and living on government assistance.

But she fears all he heard was “homeless” and “disabled” and “assistance.”

After an initial burst of communication between Warde and the Clearys — long phone calls, an exchange of e-mails and photos, talk of a summer visit to see her — there is only silence now. The Clearys have let Warde’s phone messages and e-mails pile up unanswered.

“Maybe I scared them off,” she said.

Viola Warde Luke Ray ClearyRay Cleary denies anything changed regarding their desire to fly out and meet Warde. But he doesn’t want to talk about it. He stopped returning The Gazette’s phone calls and e-mails, too. And he won’t let Luke talk about it.

“Luke’s been sick,” Ray Cleary said when asked why his son was unavailable to talk. “It’s just not a good time. I’m busy with work. He’s sick. I gotta go.”

It’s just another disappointment for Warde in a life filled with heartache.

New to America

Warde’s world is the opposite of the idyllic life Luke enjoyed growing up in the Finger Lakes region of western New York, son of an IBM employee and a stay-at-home mother.

Warde traces her problems to 1988, not long after she came to the United States from her native Berlin with her soldier husband and a 2-year-old son. She was pregnant and her marriage was crumbling.

“I barely spoke English,” she said. “I was alone with my son. I had no car. I was working at a German cafe, and I knew I couldn’t take care of two children.”

She mentioned her plight to a woman at her workplace, the now-defunct Old Heidelberg Pastry Shop & Cafe on South Tejon Street.

“She knew a couple in New York who couldn’t have a baby and were having problems with the adoption agency,” Warde said. “She called them the day I went into the hospital to deliver. They flew to Colorado Springs and visited me at the hospital.”

It was the Clearys, and she said they were nice.

“They paid for everything, the adoption, my divorce,” Warde said.

The couple flew home with the infant, and Warde resumed life as a German divorcee living on the south side of Colorado Springs and working to support her toddler.

She never saw the Clearys again.

“Being alone as a single mother in a strange country, it was a hard life,” Warde said. “I had no family. No friends. I was only here a few months when my husband left. It was hard, but I made the right choice giving him up for adoption. I saved him a lot of heartache.”

An Internet search

Back in New York, Luke didn’t know any of the struggles that plagued his mother, older brother and a younger sibling, Robert, who would be born to Warde in 1993.

Luke grew up in a stable home, surrounded by his parents and a grandmother who came to live with them.

He attended Catholic schools and, in 2006, graduated from Notre Dame High School in Elmira where he played football and soccer, and threw the discus on the track team. He entered a New York State University program where he earned a two-year degree in welding and metallurgy.

Family photos show a warm home with balloons and candles burning at his birthday party. There was Luke happily hugging his girlfriend. Luke playing his guitar. Another showed a smiling family on his graduation day.

“He’s a great kid,” Ray Cleary said, when he was still granting interviews.

Cleary said Luke was told at a young age that he was adopted. And as he matured, he became more interested in meeting his birth mother. But Cleary said he’d lost all the paperwork from the adoption and had no way to contact Warde.

The only information he could find on her was through an Internet search, which led him to a 2004 story in The Gazette that told how Warde had met a 60-year-old homeless man in a store parking lot and taken him into her home. She fed him, gave him a place to sleep, bought him a shirt and a coat and tried to find him a permanent home off the streets.

Cleary called The Gazette in hopes of contacting Warde.

He said he was thrilled a couple of days later when the newspaper tracked her down.

“This is great news,” Cleary said at the time. “Luke will be thrilled. If I tell him where she is, he’s liable to jump on the next plane to come meet her.”

Dee Clearly shared her husband’s enthusiasm at the news that Warde had been found.

“She gave us a gift we can never repay,” Dee Cleary said. “I’d love for her to see what a great kid he is today.”

‘Mom-to-mom talking’

Warde was equally excited at the prospect of a reunion with her son.

“I’ve been crying, laughing, crying, laughing. I’m very nervous,” she said. “I don’t know what to say.”

She was scared, as well. How would her son react to her status in life? Would he resent her for giving him up for adoption? What would he think of his brothers: 22-year-old Christopher and 15-year-old Robert?

“I’m kind of embarrassed about my life,” she said. “I know I screwed up many things. I made the wrong choices. My life hasn’t been the best.”

The Clearys called Warde first to reacquaint themselves.

“Ray and Dee talked to me for a few minutes,” Warde said. “They said they didn’t want to pressure me. They explained Luke was easygoing. They said he was not angry at me. Dee said I gave them a great gift. I said they did me a favor by raising this child well. It was momto-mom talking.”

They promised to have Luke call the next day. Warde spent the night writing down everything she wanted to say.

Finally, on June 19, her phone rang. But she didn’t answer.

“They called me three times, but I was too afraid to pick up,” Warde said. “So I took a shower to settle down.”

Then she picked up the phone and initiated a conversation she’d been waiting to have for 20 years.

“It was so cool,” Warde said. “We talked for about two hours. He is a very loving, caring child. Very wellspoken.”

Warde said she invited him to say anything that was on his mind. No question was off-limits no matter how difficult.

“He said there was no anger or animosity. It was like we’ve known each other forever. There was no stress. We talked about everything.

“He said he loved me. It was awesome. This is the most beautiful thing that has ever happened to me.”

Contact, then silence

That night, Luke e-mailed photos of himself, his girlfriend and his family to Warde. He included this note:

“Dear Viola, It was so nice finally getting a hold of you and talking to you. When I started my search trying to find you I didn’t think it was going to happen. Finally I was able to talk to you and it was like a dream come true. Also it was so easy to carry on a conversation with you and I wasn’t nervous at all, only excited!! Thank you so much for the e-mail address so we can keep in touch and send pictures.”

Warde sent back photos of herself and her sons.

And she started thinking about everything she needed to do before the Clearys came to visit in August or September. Her mind raced.

She was in the middle of moving into a new apartment. She needed beds if she was going to have guests. And she was looking around for an old car so they wouldn’t have to rent a car.

Although she was busy with her move, she made time to walk several blocks to the Pikes Peak Workforce Center to check her e-mail and send a note to Luke.

After a few days, she was settled in and ready to plan for the visit. But the Clearys stopped returning her calls and e-mails.

The realization was as devastating as the January crash that totaled Warde’s car and left her, she said, with whiplash, nerve damage in her hand, back pain and unable to work.

“Maybe I scared them off. Maybe I said something wrong,” she said.


Warde, as is her nature, had been brutally honest with the Clearys about her life. But she believed she had to be.

“I told them I’m drugfree, alcohol-free,” she said.{Correction: Warde never had drug or alcohol problems} “ I know I screwed up many things. It’s been hard for me and my boys. I often apologize to them. I wish I could offer them more. But they say they love me. It’s OK.”

Still, Warde is secondguessing her decision to make her life an open book to the Clearys.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have told them everything,” she said.

Warde called the Clearys one last time Friday. He wanted to tell Luke he was an uncle: On Thursday, Christopher Warde’s girlfriend gave birth to a son.

“It was a short conversation,” she said. “Dee answered and quickly gave the phone to Luke. We didn’t talk very long. I asked Luke if there was something wrong. He said no. They were just giving me space.”

Warde isn’t sure what that meant, and she’s puzzled as she ponders how to get on with her life.

“I will not call or e-mail them again,” she said. “I won’t pick up the phone to call. It’s their turn. I’m not going to bother them.”

She looks out the window of her new apartment. She still hopes for a visit from her new family and paces her empty bedroom, wondering where she will find a good, clean bed for them.