Tag Archives: adoption

The Pamphleteer

December 12, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Colleen Ramsey has always written what she knows: love, adoption, grief, and—more recently—aging.

“I have to feel something,” Ramsey says. “I have to have some emotion connected with it.”

At 85, Ramsey has self-published more than two dozen books. While most are shared with her friends and family, some are recommended reading for adoptive families at Catholic Charities and for grieving adults at Heafey Hoffmann Dworak Cutler Mortuaries.

Ramsey became a writer out of necessity. She battled depression in her early days of motherhood. Her psychologist prescribed writing. He told her to get up an hour early and write, write anything, even if it was just her name for an hour.

Though she was not a natural-born writer, she wrote. On her second day, she started jotting down things that were bugging her—and the words overflowed.

In her Ralston home, over hot tea, Ramsey recalls what writer Anna Quindlen wrote in a 2007 essay: “Writing is not just a legacy, but therapy. In the end, writers will write mainly to save themselves, to survive as individuals.

Eventually, she decided her stories needed to be told. She and her husband had five teenagers, all adopted, under their roof, and her first book, We Touch Each Other’s Lives, deals with issues of adoption and family.

Her kids did not know where they came from because in those days adoption was kept secret.

“I wanted to give them their story,” she says, even when some of those stories involved seeking out birth parents.

It was an account of adoption from an angle that doesn’t often get told: the adoptive parent’s perspective. Catholic Charities has, with permission, reprinted and distributed We Touch Each Other’s Lives to families for 19 years.

“Colleen is a wonder,” says Sue Malloy, family services program director at Catholic Charities of Omaha. “She gives a voice to so many things that are a part of the adoption journey for people. She has a perspective unlike many other people. She just has this incredible intuition about the adoption journey.”

When her husband, Bob, passed away in 2005, Ramsey turned to writing again. This time to process her grief. Those were the hardest books to write, but also the most helpful for her.

Sharon Zehnder, director of aftercare at Heafey Hoffmann Dworak Cutler Mortuaries, keeps Ramsey’s writing on grief in the mortuary’s support group library and shares passages on the mortuary’s website. Zehnder says Ramsey’s words are extremely relatable to people.

“They can identify with so much that she has written,” Zehnder says.

Her writing has helped others, and for that, she’s grateful. “I like to share what’s helped me,” Ramsey says.

Since writing We Touch Each Other’s Lives, Ramsey has penned her memories of growing up in the 1930s and through World War II, discussed prayer in her writing, and written books for each of her grandchildren. She types all her books, searches through family photos for illustrations, and then begins the time-consuming process of printing her books at home, placing photos on pages gently with tape, and then binding them herself.

There may be easier ways to do it, but this is the “write” way for Ramsey.

This article is printed in the November/December 2017 issue of 60 Plus.

Selfless Selfishness


January 11, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A recent visit to the Nebraska Humane Society (NHS) found volunteer Chet Bressman deep into an adoption consultation with Sara Edwards, Amanda Hoffman, and a pup of questionable parentage named Nina. There had apparently just transpired a minor spat of sorts, and Bressman was setting things aright so that an interview could begin in earnest.

“No big problem,” Bressman explained. “It’s just that she was getting a little mouthy, and we had to…the dog…Nina…Nina was getting mouthy…not either of these nice young ladies,” the amiable Bressman sputtered as the women made an unsuccessful attempt to suppress giggles.

“Not only does he know the history of the Nebraska Humane Society, he is a vital part of that history. He’s played an important role in where we’ve been and where we’re going.”
— Pam Wiese, NHS Vice President of Public Relations and Marketing

Bressman was working adoption duties that day, but his other efforts over the last 15 years have included everything from building kennels to driving the PAW mobile adoption unit and more. His tireless dedication—60 hours a week of volunteering is not uncommon for him— led to him and his wife, Louise, being recognized by NHS with its inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award.

“Chet and Louise are fixtures here at the Nebraska Humane Society,” says Pam Wiese, the organization’s vice president of public relations and marketing. “Chet has been here so long and has put in an incredible number of hours. Not only does he know the history of the Nebraska Humane Society, he is a vital part of that history. He’s played an important role in where we’ve been and where we’re going.”

The couple, both longtime volunteers, met at NHS and dated for four years before being married over 10 years ago. “She came with all her papers and licenses in order,” Bressman quips.

20131127_bs_6028

Bressman was part of the organization’s team that traveled to coastal Mississippi on an animal rescue mission in the devastating wake of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, and he joined the ASPCA team for a similar trek to Joplin, Missouri, after a tornado wrought destruction on that town in 2011.

Bressman’s commitment to animals knows no geographic boundaries, but his heart, he says, will always be for the sprawling NHS complex near 90th and Fort streets.

“I want the Nebraska Humane Society to be the very first words people think of when it comes to new pets,” he says. “There are so many puppy mills and so much bad breeding out there, and we don’t put up any unhealthy animals for adoptions. It’s a win-win situation in every way. It’s a win for the animal, for the adopting family, and it’s a win for the community because every adoption opens a new space here for us to do it all over again.”

“He told us everything; the day the dog came in, where she was found, her health at the time. He knew absolutely everything about Nina. He’s a real adoption pro.”
— Sara Edwards

The Bressmans live with Golden Retriever Buddy (11) and cat Sophie (17). Last year they lost Gracie, but her memory lived on when NHS commissioned a caricature of the Golden Retriever for use as the official mascot of the nonprofit’s annual Walk for the Animals.

Back in the adoption room—one brightly painted in the hue of cheery sunflowers—Bressman was coaching Edwards and Hoffman on some of Nina’s special needs. The dog, a Boxer-Dalmatian mix, was born deaf, and that meant the learning of hand signals along with other tips.

“Fold your hands,” Bressman gently explained to Hoffman, but not before she playfully wiped some of Nina’s slobber onto Edwards’ sweater. “That’s right. Now turn away from Nina. You got it.”

20131127_bs_5993

Safety was also paramount in the discussion because each woman, both recently divorced, had a young child at home. Neither of the kids knew that Nina—an early Christmas present—would be awaiting introductions when they returned from school that day.

“Chet was great to work with,” Edwards says. “He told us everything; the day the dog came in, where she was found, her health at the time. He knew absolutely everything about Nina. He’s a real adoption pro.”

“More like an adoption god,” adds Hoffman. “We couldn’t believe it when we learned he is a volunteer. He should have his own show on Animal Planet.”

“I knew that was going to be a good adoption. Nina is going to a good home with good people where she’ll get lots of love and care.”
— Chet Bressman

Bressman was equally happy with how Nina’s adoption unfolded. “I knew that was going to be a good adoption,” he says. “I always know. Nina is going to a good home with good people where she’ll get lots of love 
and care.”

And then Bressman admits that he, the seemingly selfless co-winner of such an august award as the Lifetime Achievement honor, secretly harbored the most selfish of motives in his interaction with Edwards, Hoffman, and Nina.

“Best of all, it’s a big win-win for me, too,” he beams. “That one made my day!”

Visit nehumanesociety.org for more on Nebraska Humane Society adoptions, programs, and events.

Family Success Story
: The Murceks

November 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Grief is an unavoidable part of life. Everyone encounters it at some point, and it usually strikes when least expected. And though no one grieves the same, the emptiness that follows losing a loved one is universal, whether it’s for a spouse, a parent, a sibling, a friend, a child, even a pet.

But the true test is not the grief itself—it’s coming back from it.

Looking at John and Cindy Murcek of Millard today, you wouldn’t know that they suffered a terrible family loss. John is a painting contractor; Cindy is a social studies and English teacher at Andersen Middle School in the Millard Public Schools district. They’ve been married for a little over 20 years.

20131017_bs_6908

They have three children—sons Eric, 14, and Will, 7, and daughter Jamie, 5. “Eric’s in tennis. Will’s in football. Jamie’s in gymnastics…It’s kind of busy, but it’s the good kind of busy,” Cindy says. When asked how the kids get along, she laughs. “Will and Jamie will either play together or be at each other’s throats. Eric, being the teenager, thinks they’re annoying sometimes. But they’re all good kids.”

John and Cindy’s devotion to their children is what Cindy believes binds their relationship. “We want our children to know that they have a secure home, and that we’re giving them the best life that we can. I came from a divorced family, so it’s important for them to know that that will never happen. And John’s from a big Catholic family, so family and staying together has always been important to him.”

Twelve years ago during the Thanksgiving holiday, however, their family was shaken when they were on their way back to Omaha from Billings, Mont., after visiting Cindy’s sister and her family. Their truck hit black ice and rolled. John, Cindy, and Eric were all fine, but Cindy’s mom, who rarely traveled, and the Murceks’ oldest son, Andy, were killed.

“It was devastating,” Cindy says. “That’s an understatement.”

While they grieved, John and Cindy found support in each other. “I think that incident made John’s and my bond stronger. Nobody loved Andy like we did, nobody can break that, and nobody can understand our loss. We had that grief to share; and though we grieved differently, we both knew exactly what the other was feeling.”

20131017_bs_6898

Eric, at the time, was 2. While he didn’t understand everything, he knew Andy was supposed to be there but wasn’t. “He’d ask where Andy was and if he could play with him,” Cindy says. “When we went to the grocery store, he’d ask if he could get Andy a snack. Of course, I let him. We’d even tell him stories about Andy.” Although they missed their oldest son, Cindy says that she and John were grateful to still have Eric. “He was my reason to get out of bed in the morning.”

Today, Cindy aches for Eric almost more than she did when he was too young to understand his brother’s death. “He’s a freshman in high school now. Andy would’ve been a senior. He would’ve had his big brother in school with him.”

The grieving process for the Murceks was always about time. Some days were harder than others, but each day, it got a little easier. “As time goes on, grief is more a silent battle…You deal with it on your own, you face it, and go on.”

During that silent battle, Cindy says she bought a “full library” of books on grief and went to grief groups, looking for a fix. But it was faith that turned everything around for her.

“I wasn’t really a spiritual person before. My mom was,” she says. “It’s weird, but I feel like that’s why she was on that trip with us. She knew she was going to a better place and teaching me a little faith as well.”

20131017_bs_6873

Cindy swears her mom is still teaching her lessons in faith to this day. She recalls a Sunday when her church’s pastor asked the congregation to open their Bibles to a specific verse. “My mom had given me a Bible several years before, and I’d never used it. But I brought it with me that day.” When Cindy opened the Bible to the verse, she realized it had been underlined. “I flipped through some more pages and saw that my mom had underlined verses she thought would be good for me to read. It was the most incredible thing.”

Andy, too, seemed to connect with them in unexpected ways. “Last Christmas, we went to the cemetery to visit him,” she says. “I thought ‘Give me something from Andy, God.’ That night, we had a party, and a neighbor brought over a journal where other people had written about memories of Andy.”

These little moments strengthened Cindy’s faith and helped her see that everything would be all right again. Then again, the addition of two more precious gifts took her mind off the grief, too.

“We assumed it was just going to be the three of us.” But John and Cindy talked about having another child. Certainly, they viewed adding another child to their family differently after Andy’s passing. “Another person to love and lose,” Cindy says. Nevertheless, it was a chance they were willing to take.

20131017_bs_6883

In 2005, they heard about a young girl looking to give her baby up for adoption. “[Will] was born, and in six months, we had a new baby…We hadn’t really planned on it. It just kind of happened.” Another surprise took shape when Cindy found out she was pregnant. “I turned 40 and learned I was pregnant with Jamie. John and I were both like, ‘Two little ones in diapers? We can’t handle this!’” But Jamie, like Will, was a blessing in disguise. Cindy jokes that they finally got a “little princess” after all boys.

“We feel truly blessed,” Cindy says. “Yes, we lost my son and my mom, but there are situations much worse. We’re glad to have a loving family.”

For others grieving the loss of family members, Cindy has some good advice: “I would recommend that you let your family be there for you and understand that grief is a lifelong process…I realized that I couldn’t do it on my own, and that realization made me feel so much better. Just let people help you. Talk to families with similar losses. The sadness won’t go away, but the hopelessness will.”

As for her mom and Andy, Cindy smiles. “I know we’ll see them again.”

“I Just Want Someone to Love Me”

November 1, 2013 by

I’ve worked at Lutheran Family Services for well over three years now, and I can pinpoint my toughest day at work.

It was the day I was interviewing foster children for a fundraising video. At the time, I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be. I could have done a better job preparing myself. But I didn’t.

So I walked into the conference room and started interviewing “wards of the state,” one by one.

What struck me the most was that they were just kids, not statistics. Kids, very similar to my own children. Attractive, smart, funny—really delightful to be around.

One young man had worn nice slacks and a tie because, as he put it, “I just want to look nice.” This was the same boy who shyly told me about coming in second in a free-throw contest just that afternoon. Later, he admitted how much he liked to play football and really wanted to be on a team, but he couldn’t because there was no one to take him to practice. As a football mom at the time, that just broke my heart. How could there be no one willing to make that commitment to this child who was obviously an athlete?

Another beautiful young woman talked about her frustration with her education. Because she had been moved from one foster home to another, one school to another (she had lost track of how many), she was a year behind in high school. She should have been preparing to graduate, she told me, but all of the moves had set her that far back. She couldn’t decide whether she wanted to be a nurse or go into the military. I suggested being a nurse in the military. She thought that was a great idea. “I’m going to have a bright future,” she told me.

The kids talked about being taken out of their homes because they weren’t cared for properly. Being in foster care is not their fault. They’ve lost the only home they know, and many times they lose their siblings, too. Few foster homes can take sibling groups. Despite efforts to help siblings stay in touch, it’s a challenge.

While the goal is always reunification with family, it’s not always possible. And once these children become eligible for adoption, the goal then becomes finding the right permanent family. Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska operates a program that searches a child’s history to find that one relative, teacher, or neighbor who might be willing to provide loving permanency.

I realized that if every parent could sit where I sat that day, all of these children would already have homes. We often hear of the numbers of children in Nebraska’s foster care system, but for their own safety, we don’t always see the faces or hear their stories. But the simple message from each one of them was the same, “I just want someone to love me.”

Can you imagine your own child feeling that way? I couldn’t either. So, on that tough day at work, when all I wanted to do was take home every child I had talked with, I went back to my office, and I wept for them. And I wished with all of my being that the right family for each of those beautiful children was just a few steps away from making their dreams come true.

November is National Adoption Month. If you are interested in learning more about becoming a foster parent, or foster child adoption, please call Lutheran Family Services at 402-661-7100 or e-mail: fostercare@lfsneb.org.

Family Success Story: The Zettermans

July 22, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Jenny Zetterman hopes that, one day, other families will look at her family and think, “You know what? Nothing should keep us from adopting a special needs child.” Because that’s exactly what Jenny and her husband, Andrew, thought when the opportunity found them.

The Zettermans, who recently moved out to Elkhorn (where their girls will attend Spring Ridge Elementary), adopted their youngest, Annalyse, when she was just 5 weeks old. She had been diagnosed with spina bifada and hydrocephalus (a build-up of fluid in the brain) and was determined paralyzed from the waist down.

Jenny and Annalyse

Jenny and Annalyse

“I was able to go before the rest of the family and stay in the NICU with her for four days while the nurses and doctors gave me information on spina bifada,” Jenny says. “This was extremely helpful because we knew very little about spina bifada. We had two days between finding out about her and flying to go be with her, so we didn’t have time to research while packing and preparing for a baby.”

Life for the Zettermans before Annalyse was fairly typical, although they had adopted once before with daughter McKenna, 8. Nevertheless, Jenny reflects back on that time, referring to it as “the easy years” of parenting. “All three girls were pretty independent…They hadn’t hit pre-teen years, so they still thought their parents were the best people in the world.”

Of course, McKenna, Kaedyn, 7, and Brea, 5, were thrilled to be adding a little sister to their family. “They had a few questions about her diagnosis, but overall, they were just excited to meet her,” Jenny says. “They had to wait about a week after I met her to join me so they wouldn’t miss too much school. I’m sure that wait was very hard for them.” Fortunately, Jenny used the iPhone “Facetime” capability to call home and let her girls see the new baby from the NICU.

Andrew with Brea and Kaedyn.

Andrew with Brea and Kaedyn

According to Jenny, the family dynamic hasn’t changed much since they adopted Annalyse. The only difference? The older sisters love helping out with their little sister and teaching her new things. “Annalyse is just another member of the family…We have a lot more doctor’s appointments and live life around a baby’s schedule again, but that’s about it. I think you just adjust to whatever you have to adjust to.”

Jenny and Andrew’s 13-year marriage has also kept the family solid. “We have a strong commitment to our marriage. I believe our kids can see that and take comfort in it.”

Looking back on the adoption process, Jenny shakes her head. “We went into it knowing that we could be adopting a child with a special need,” she explains. “One thing we did say was that we would consider many different types of needs, but not one that required a wheelchair [because] our house wouldn’t allow for this type of need, and we had just moved in. It seems so silly to us now that we ever uttered those words—‘just not a wheelchair.’”

McKenna

McKenna

Jenny believes too many people, including parents, get too caught up on inconveniences in their own lives that they forget to think about what other people are dealing with or will have to deal with in their lives. “I am so thankful that we ended up letting go of our reservations,” she adds. “We all are capable of so much more than we think we are.”

As for Annalyse, Jenny stresses that she’s a fantastic child. “She’s not blessed to have us; we’re blessed beyond measure to have her in our family. She’s not our ‘special needs daughter;’ she’s just, plain and simple, our daughter.”

Erin Van Zee and Scarlett

November 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Some pet owners like to keep a friendly distance from their pets, only giving them a nice pat on the head when they return home from work. Others like to crawl into bed with their pets and snuggle so closely that hearing their pets’ snores becomes almost comforting. Erin Van Zee would be the latter.

Van Zee, 29, is a Medical Resources Team Leader at Applied Underwriters, who received her master’s in English from the University of Nebraska-Omaha this December. Along with husband Tyler, whom she married in September, Van Zee adopted Scarlett, a 3½-year-old Pit Bull/Boxer mix. Although Scarlett is not enough of a Pit Bull to be required to adhere to the city’s regulations, Van Zee says you can definitely tell that she’s “part pittie” by looking at her.20121023_bs_1031-Edit copy

The Van Zees adopted Scarlett from the Nebraska Humane Society, where she had already been taken in twice—once as a rescue when she was roaming, severely malnourished and 25 pounds underweight, and again when her family surrendered her for jumping their fence too many times.

“Tyler and I went to the NHS with an open mind, just wanting to feel a strong enough connection to one of the dogs to want to take him or her home,” Van Zee says. “We walked by Scarlett’s kennel a couple of times, struck by her beautiful brindle coat. The minute we approached her more closely, she began licking our hands and smiling her ‘pittie’ smile at us. Once we were able to meet her outside the kennel, I knew she was the one.”

Van Zee says she’s always thought of herself as a pet person in a general sense, as she did also grow up with cats; after adopting Scarlett, however, she’s definitely become more of a dog person. “[Dogs] love unconditionally, protect loyally, and are constant companions even during the roughest of times…[they] will take you whole-heartedly and without question.20121023_bs_1082-Edit copy

“I love Scarlett not only for her unconditional acceptance of who I am, but also because she challenges me,” says Van Zee. “Just like any adolescent, she likes to push boundaries and test my patience. Tyler and I don’t have children, but we love Scarlett as if she were our child. There’s something incredible about coming home and being greeted by someone who has been waiting all day to see you and wants nothing more than to spend time with you—and maybe a treat or two.”

Above all, Van Zee feels Scarlett reminds her that she deserves love, too. “Tyler and I gave Scarlett a home, and every day she pays us back by making us better human beings.”