When a Columbus widow lost her last remaining parent in June while her only child was living in Europe, Hope Carvin Coatsworth suddenly felt all alone in the world.

But today, the owner of Exhale With Hope, a wellness and massage clinic, said she believes her late father, Jerry Carvin, just might be watching over her.

“I feel like when Dad got to heaven, he said ‘OK, God. She’s alone now, so let’s do something about it,’” Coatsworth said.

Just a few months after Jerry Carvin’s passing, something did indeed happen that Coatsworth, 50, describes as a miracle.

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“I went from being an only child and losing two parents to having a mother and three siblings,” she said.

Coatsworth discovered Aug. 7 that her biological family has been searching for her for nearly 40 years. A week later, she was reunited with her mother, Cynthia Frye, her biological sister, Kelly Jo Ellis, and other family members all residing in the Hope area.

“We have only been nine minutes apart all these years,” Frye said, referring to the travel distance between their homes.

Mother’s story

For Cynthia Frye, the story begins when she was a 19-year-old mother in 1966.

After becoming pregnant with her second child, Frye said she divorced her first husband to end what she called a loveless, bad relationship.

Upon returning to her parents’ home, her mother and father were originally going to force Frye to move to an out-of-state home for unwed mothers, she said.

“They were very strict and very ashamed of me,” Frye said.

Eventually, the couple rented out their house, moved everyone to a secluded country home, and agreed to let Frye stay, she said.

But it was on the condition that she agree to give up her unborn child for adoption, Frye said.

After delivering the child Oct. 13, 1966, in Columbus, Frye — whose last name was Franklin at the time — asked if her baby was all right.

“She was fine,” Frye said she was told. “But I never got to see her nor hold her. They also told me the baby was going to be adopted by an out-of-county couple.”

Feelings of grief eventually turned to pangs of guilt that never went away, Frye said.

“It was constant and daily,” Frye said. “I kept wondering if she was having a good life — or if she would have been better off staying with me.”

Fifty years later, Frye learned that the baby was never taken out of Bartholomew County.

Daughter’s story

Five days after the child’s birth, Jerry and Carol Carvin of Columbus got a phone call on Oct. 18, 1966, from an adoption official, Coatsworth said. They informed the couple there was a baby girl for them at the local hospital, she said.

Since Carol Carvin had lived with diabetes since age 8, her weakened kidneys prevented her from giving birth to her own child, Coatsworth said.

She describes the childhood her adoptive parents provided for her as loving, nurturing and beautiful. But fate dealt a blow when Carol Carvin’s kidneys gave out and she died in June 1981 when Coatsworth was 14.

A few years later, Jerry Carvin married Alberta Lee Buckner, and Coatsworth felt fortunate to establish another positive relationship with a mother figure, she said.

After graduating from Columbus North High School in 1984, Coatsworth would eventually become a certified medical transcriptionist, and later a licensed practical nurse.

In 1992, she married Tony Coatsworth and gave birth to their son, Robert Coatsworth, a year later.

But six years into the marriage, Tony Coatsworth died unexpectedly of lung disease in 1998, leaving behind a 30-year-old widow and a 5-year-old son.

While she was greatly comforted in her grief by her adoptive father, Coatsworth found herself wondering more about her birth mother, she said.

“I always thought positive things,” Coatsworth said. “I always thought she loved me so much that she wanted something better for me than what she could provide. And how hard that must have been on her.”

It was indeed hard on Frye. Even though circumstances in her life had greatly improved, the guilt of giving up her baby remained relentless in her mind.

Frye married longtime friend Randy George, whom she described as a kind man and good provider. The couple had two children together: Larry Michael George and Kelly Jo George Ellis.

Frye’s son from her first marriage, Todd Franklin — who was 18 months old when Coatsworth was born — was also a member of the family.

But it would be Ellis, now 48, who would become instrumental in what Coatsworth calls a miracle.

Sister’s story

Upon learning she had a half-sister somewhere in the world when she was 8, Kelly Jo Ellis had an immediate desire to locate her, she said.

“I grew up with two brothers, and I wanted that sister so bad,” Ellis said.

After marrying David Ellis of Hope, she unsuccessfully tried a number of times using the internet to track down her unknown sibling, she said.

Part of the problem was that the non-identifying information she received had wrong information, such as the color of Coatsworth’s hair and eyes.

But last winter, after realizing her mother was approaching 70 and still grieving for a missing daughter she never met, Ellis became more determined to find her half-sister.

“I was going to make it happen — even if I had to hire a private detective,” she said.

Instead of just utilizing online help, Ellis recruited assistance from Pam Kroskie of the Indiana Adoptees Network, who had contacts with the Indiana Department of Health, she said.

In March, Ellis asked her mother to sign up for a statewide registry that helps connect adopted children with biological parents — as long as all parties agree to participate. Coatsworth had applied to the same registry to find her biological family as well.

But it still came down to Kroskie and a friend drawing a line between two Facebook posts before the connection between the daughter in Columbus and the mother in Hope was established, Coatsworth said.

After additional legal consents were submitted, the identities of both mother and daughter were made known to one another Aug. 7, Coatsworth said.

Reunion

Two days later, Coatsworth shut herself in a room, prepared for a cry with a box of tissues, and punched in the number she was given, she said.

“Hello,” Ellis said when she answered her phone.

“Kelly?” Coatsworth asked.

“Yes?” Ellis replied.

“Uh … I think we’re sisters,” Coatsworth said.

“I know we’re sisters,” Ellis replied.

Moments later, both were in tears, they said. The two half-sisters talked for some time before Ellis turned the phone over to her mother, so Frye could hear her first daughter’s voice for the first time.

“Mom was just bawling and bawling,” Ellis said. “I think she was in shock, but you could just hear the excitement in her voice.”

“It just didn’t seem real,” Frye said.

Five days later, on Aug. 14, Frye and Coatsworth met face-to-face for the first time on the patio outside Frye’s home.

When mother and daughter embraced, both were so filled with mixed and confusing emotions, including insecurity about how the other would react, that the long-awaited experience seemed a bit surreal, both Frye and Coatsworth said.

But in each subsequent meeting, Coatsworth and her newfound family have discovered they have much in common, include personality, music tastes and sense of humor.

“This is not only a game changer but a life changer,” Coatsworth said. “I feel like shouting it from the rooftops.”

Not only is Frye overjoyed to be connected with her daughter, but the guilt she long felt about giving up her daughter for adoption has greatly subsided.

“I’ve heard a lot of amazing things about Jerry Carvin,” Frye said. “Hope said her father gave her a beautiful life. So I don’t think it could have worked out better if I had planned it all myself.”

One more reunion to go

There is still one Coatsworth that has yet to meet newly discovered family members in Hope. That’s because Robert Anthony Coatsworth, 24, is working on obtaining his master’s degree at the University of Bordeaux in France.

But in an email, the son of Hope Carvin Coatsworth made his feelings clear:

“The more the merrier! I am naturally ecstatic for my mother and this good news. For me, the biological element has never been important. However, knowing that my mother has found more people to love, and who love her, is amazing. I know that my late grandfather (Jerry Carvin) would have been thrilled to thank my mother’s biological mother for the wonderful gift that she has given him. Many questions have been answered, hearts reassured and hugs received. I think that everyone concerned is thrilled.”

Pull Quote

“I went from being an only child and losing two parents to having a mother and three siblings,” she said.

— Hope Carvin Coatsworth, Columbus

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.