The Power of Reconciliation
- Sam Anthony wrote a letter to his long-lost, biological father, Craig Nelson, just before he died of oral cancer. The two were able to connect 11 days before he passed away this summer.
- Nelson drove 2,300 miles from Arizona to visit Anthony in Virginia. Anthony was at the point where he couldn’t speak very well, so Nelson did most of the talking. He mentioned his days as a soldier, his job at the airports and his brother, Bob, who died of prostate cancer at 49.
- Reconciling with a family member or loved one before they pass away can bring a great sense of comfort to both parties involved.
Anthony was a historian with a dream job as the special assistant to the archivist at the National Archives. In his high-ranking role, he carefully chose items that presidents gifted to foreign dignitaries, gave tours to children and celebrities alike, led the agency’s lecture program, made regular appearances on C-SPAN and even created virtual tours.Read More
“Because he experienced what he did, there is no angle with this guy,” Alex DelSordo told Carolina Alumni Review. “He doesn’t accept life for what it is. He tries to make it better for himself and for other people around him. He’s taught me that selflessness is essential in life.”
Anthony was also a beloved husband and father, and family meant a lot to him. Thankfully, he was able to see his daughter get married in April despite the progression of his disease. He attended in a wheelchair with a voice that was almost gone, but he managed to make the most of the his daughter’s milestone event while joking that he sounded like Darth Vader.
Anthony grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina, with his adopted mother and father and his sister – who was also adopted. His adopted mother died of ALS in 2000, and his adopted father had died of complications from heart surgery in 2016. It was only after his adopted father’s death that his curiosity for finding his biological parents grew. Then, three weeks before he died, the 52-year-old mailed a letter to Nelson, a 78-year-old retired airline worker.
Anthony had been battling oral squamous cell carcinoma since 2005, according to The New York Times. Over the years, he endured multiple surgeries that kept cutting out parts of his mouth, chemotherapy and radiation. He knew his time on Earth was drawing near this summer, so he did something about it.
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The letter came to fruition after one of Anthony’s coworkers used DNA matches and public records to track down his biological mother who wasn’t keen on connecting. Still, she told Anthony that his biological father’s name was Craig with a middle initial of ‘H’ and a last name Nelson, though she wasn’t certain. Anthony’s coworker, then did some more digging and found, what he thought, was the right Craig Nelson.
“I am wondering if you are that Craig,” Anthony wrote. “I realize that if you are, this letter may come as a shock to you, and I do not wish to upset anyone’s life. My hope is to view photographs and to learn of my family medical history. I am open to contact with biological relatives but do not want to intrude.”
When Nelson received the letter on Aug. 9, he was shocked. All he ever knew of his son was what the biological mother had relayed in a quick, long-distance phone call in 1969: “It was a healthy birth and she had already given him up for adoption.” According to Nelson, he and his parents talked to lawyers and adoption officials about options. They were told that fathers didn’t have many rights when it came to a baby being put up for adoption by the mother. Over time, he gave up the idea of finding his son.
“I thought it was fruitless,” Nelson told The NYT. “That’s the way things were, then. I believed what I was told by the powers that be.”
Nelson was teary when he opened the letter from Virginia, and he called Anthony right away.
“Fifty-two years, that’s a long time to try to carry around a memory,” Nelson told The NYT. “Especially when you didn’t have a memory to begin with… I thought, ‘Oh my God, it is happening, I am going to meet my son.’”
Nelson and his girlfriend, Pat Boeck, packed up the car and left Arizona the next day. Along the 2,300-mile drive, Boeck texted Anthony sending photos of Nelson’s 48-year-old daughter and writing about his 26-year-old daughter and her wedding. Four days later, they arrived at Anthony’s home with Anthony’s wife and daughter greeting them in the front yard.
Then, the father and son were left alone. Anthony was at the point where he couldn’t speak very well, so Nelson did most of the talking. He mentioned his days as a soldier, his job at the airports and his brother, Bob, who died of prostate cancer at 49. Anthony listened intently as he held Nelson’s hand. Looking at each other, they saw similarities. They both had the same shaped head and size 12 feet. Nelson also told his son that he had never abandoned him – a sentiment that was met with a nod and a smile.
And although Anthony couldn’t talk much, he did show Nelson some pictures with Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. Seeing the successful life Anthony had made for himself made Nelson realize that everything had happened for a reason.
“I thought, My God, this young man,” he said. “It must’ve been for the best.”
The whole experience was, expectedly, very emotionally for Nelson. Before he left, he told Anthony that he would see him in heaven some day.
“I didn’t want him to see me emotionally crying and thinking of all the years that went by that we could have been at least talking,” Nelson said.
Heaven, for Anthony, came shortly after Nelson had left to return to Arizona on Aug. 18. Nelson and his girlfriend were somewhere on Interstate 70 near St. Louis when Boeck got the call on Aug. 20. Thankfully, the father and son had had 11 days of reconciliation once they found each other.
Finding Peace With Loved Ones During a Cancer Battle
Reconciling with a family member or loved one before they pass away can bring a great sense of comfort to both parties involved. In the case of Sam Anthony’s death, the unexpected reunion of biological father and son created a beautiful, albeit short, relationship that seemingly enriched both people’s lives.
Camila Legaspi also knows a thing or two about finding peace when a family member is dying. In the final months before her mother’s passing with cancer, their relationship grew stronger than ever.
“I mean, I look at that year, and I feel like my relationship with my mom just improved and developed so much, even though there was this unspoken disease that was going on and that obviously overshadowed a lot of things,” Legaspi previously told SurvivorNet. “There was something about those moments with my mom and now knowing that she tried really hard to maintain this happiness and this love in our household makes the small things we did so powerful.”
Legaspi recalled one day, in particular, that she spent with her mother towards the end of her cancer battle.
“I remember specifically something we always used to do would be walk the reservoir in Central Park,” Legaspi said. “And it seems like such a simple thing to walk in the park with your mom, but knowing that I was walking in the park with my mom while she was struggling with this massive, massive life sentence, in some ways, but still making time to enjoy these small, simple moments with her daughter… There was kind of a peace that existed between us that only really appeared that year.”