The Most Beautiful Gift

On June 28, 1996 a 15-year-old girl named Jamie gave birth to a beautiful baby girl named Mckenzie. Jamie, was faced with a difficult burden. After giving birth she would give her baby girl up for adoption.

Jeff and Lynette Otjen met Mckenzie when she was hours old. It was love at first site and they were committed to providing the best possible home and life to their new daughter. Jamie knew that the Otjen family could provide Mckenzie everything that she couldn’t. She was only 15, a freshman in high school with no support system of her own. Jamie would seldomly see her daughter during short visits. Mckenzie was 3 years old the last time Jamie would see her in person.

Mckenzie with her biological mother.

Mckenzie with her biological mother.

Years would roll by and the Otjen family raised a lovely young lady. Mckenzie was everything they could have ever hoped for. Smart, kind, funny, beautiful inside and out. She was a blessing in every sense of the word. A gift from a young teenager that gave her baby an opportunity to thrive in life.

Mckenzie and Lynette

Unfortunately, Mckenzie would take her own life when she was 16. This left two families to grieve for their daughter, sister, and granddaughter. One mother was her best friend, cheerleader, and the one who had the privilege to raise her. Another mother was the one who couldn’t wait to reconnect with her baby girl and introduce her to her little sister someday. Two families broken-hearted. Grieving separately and completely disconnected from one another.

January 2013 hit me like a ton of bricks. A dark month full of guilt, tears, and deep grief for me. All the emotions began to surface and my mind became overwhelmed with the loss of Mckenzie. It was in this dark place that I started to think about Mckenzie’s biological mother. Where is she? What does she look like? If I looked at her face would I be able to see Mckenzie in it? How is she? I couldn’t stop thinking about her. Then in March, the name I had thought about so often left a comment on one of my blogs. Jamie had been reading my writing. It was her only connection to Mckenzie and hearing the truth about her life and death. When I saw the name I was overcome with joy, uncertainty, and the hope of connecting with her in person. I had no idea what Jamie would think about getting together and I didn’t know for certain how the rest of the Otjen family would feel about it either. It’s a delicate situation and there are far too many details that I wasn’t familiar with in regards to the past. But, I brought it up to Lynette on Easter Sunday and later that night I found myself reaching out to a woman who holds a piece of Mckenzie that the rest of us will never have, her true blood line.

I was nervous and excited as I sent Jamie a message asking her if she would like to meet. Her response was beautiful and after our banter back and forth via Facebook we would see each other in less than 9 hours. We would meet at Jeff and Lynette’s house and all be together for the first time.

The door bell rang at exactly 6:00 p.m. When I opened the door, their she stood. A piece of my Kenzie was right in front of me and all I wanted to do was hold Jamie and never let go. Our visit was over 2 hours long. There were tears and laughter. Stories and answered questions. As Jamie would talk I couldn’t help but stare. I could see Kenz. Her checks, her chin, her hair, her nose. The face I had memorized through years of photographs was coming back to life in this woman who was no longer a stranger. Even the way Jamie walked casually down the hallway had resemblance to Mckenzie. Somethings are just passed on through our biological makeup and I swear I could see Kenz in Jamie’s footsteps. Connecting with Jamie was one of my favorite moments in my life. I can’t help but feel immediate love towards this woman. Not just because she is a living piece of Mckenzie, but also because if it wasn’t for Jamie, none of us would have ever known our Kenz, the most beautiful gift any of us could have ever asked for.

Even though we had all been crying, I couldn't let Jamie leave without getting a photo of us together.

Even though we had all been crying, I couldn’t let Jamie leave without getting a photo of us together.

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3 responses to “The Most Beautiful Gift

  1. Thanks for sharing this with us. What a special time it must have been for you all. Thought a lot about McKenzie this week as we grieved over the loss of our friend , Emily, who was a teacher at North High and her unborn baby, Isabella.

    • Thank you Lynn! I am so sorry for the loss of your friend Emily and her little Isabella. That is such a tragic loss. I’ve been thinking about her family a lot!

  2. Oh great… I’m in a public restaurant wiping my eyes…. Thank you for sharing this story. My daughter is Alyssa. She and Mckenzie were friends….. I don’t know the whole truth… The whole story… I don’t need to… But the story of McKenzie’s life is trajic and sad. I am so sorry for the Otjen family and their loss.
    I don’t know the whole story… But I thought I would share a couple short stories I have of Mckenzie’s short time with our family.
    She had gone with us on some short trips back when they were in middle school. Somewhere around 12 or 13 years old. One of those trios were to Lyons OR. Where my parents live. I used to play a little trick on MY children by driving under the bridge there in Lyons: leading up to the Santiam river. I would drive my minivan (which had a long front end) out onto the boat ramp that gradually went out into the river. To Alyssa, Mikey, and Mckenzie; it appeared as if our vehicle was pretty far out into the water…. Now my children would always scream and carry on… They knew I wouldn’t go too far out… But it always scared them nonetheless. This time the ruckus in the minivan was much louder than normal…. I looked back to see lil’ McKenzie laugh/crying…. She fumblingback into the seats towards the rear of the vehicle laughing as hard as she was crying!… I was apologetic and amused at the same time as I quickly put it in reverse and eased her fear…. We all laughed moments later as I explained that our tires were barely touching the water and we were all safe…..
    The other story was kind of funny….. My stepdaughter’s name us Mackenzie. About 3 years ago I was attempting to call MY Mackenzie but was accidentally McKenzie Otjen….. It was kind of an important/emergency call as I needed to reach her to pick her up at the right time and in the right place because her mom had asked me this as a favor….. Well I called and called and CALLED!… Nobody would answer!…. I am guessing that McKenzie handed the phone to her mom as she didn’t recognize the number. Finally Lynette answered with a very suspicious and very stern voice, “HELLO!”…. I IN TURN WAS A LITTLE UPSET…. I heard a strange voice on the other line. An ADULT FEMALE!… NOT my lil Mackenzie’s voice…. So I said, “Who is this?”…. While Lynette retorted with a quick, “Well who is THIS!?”… I said, “im calling for Mackenzie: so who IS this!”…. She quipped, “well who the heck is THIS!?”…. Honestly, this went back and forth several times….. Until it all started coming together….. “no,no,noooo Lynette!…. I’m not some old creepy guy….. I have been trying to call the WRONG MACKENZIE on my phone the whooole time!”…. I went on to explain who I was….. She sort of believed me and remembered who I was…. But as I was saying goodbye, apologizing, and hanging up…. I could tell she somewhat DID NOT REMEMBER ME… AND WAS STILL SUSPICIOUS…. I felt really bad… But has been a pretty funny story with me and my family over the years……
    Again, thank you for sharing your story with all of us…..
    God bless!

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