Mother’s Day is bittersweet for Colleen Handy.
She has two loving sons, several grandchildren and a supportive husband who all help make that Sunday special. But for Handy, it’s hard to feel whole when there has been an empty space in the family tree for years.
She is finally trying to fill it and find the son she gave up in a closed adoption in 1974, when she was alone and living in a home for unwed mothers in Port Jefferson. Since March, Handy has scoured message boards, genealogy websites and social media looking for clues, and created a video she hopes will reach her son.
“I just went on with that piece missing and every birthday, I’d wish him happy birthday by myself and my prayers and everything,” said Handy, 62 and living in Boca Raton, Florida. “I wish we had that missing link. We had the family all together and he was missing.”
In the Handy family, it’s a story that is well known.
Colleen McGrane, an Irish-American girl from Brentwood, was a junior at Brentwood High School when she met George Handy in 1972. He was charming and attractive. He was also Puerto Rican and black. That wouldn’t sit well with her parents, she said, so they kept the relationship a secret.
But when George joined the Army and left for training, her parents discovered the relationship and threw out Colleen, then 19. Soon after, as she moved between friends’ homes, she learned she was pregnant.
Desperate, she moved into a Catholic unwed mother’s home in Port Jefferson. The nuns helped her navigate the pregnancy privately, arranging for a closed adoption after she gave birth at St. Charles Hospital on Oct. 17, 1974. She named the baby Leonard, Lenny for short.
“They let me hold him for a split second,” she said. “Once they took the baby, they didn’t tell me anything. Once I walked out of the hospital, that was it.”
Colleen told George when he returned home several months later, discharged from the military after getting injured during training. The news was a shock to George and his family.
“At the time, I thought maybe it was a good thing because we couldn’t handle it,” George said. The couple was struggling financially and living with his parents at the time.
In 1976, they married. They both found good jobs, Colleen at a pharmacy called Rinaldi Drugs and later as a shift supervisor at a CVS, and George as a foreman with the Town of Islip. They also had two more sons, Bryan and Brandon, before they moved to Patchogue.
The couple relocated to Florida in 2008. But through all the happy moments, the family couldn’t forget their first son.
Close friends, like Antoinette Martinez, who has known George since she was 11, had long offered to help find Lenny.
“We’ve been not pushing her, but supporting her to do it,” Martinez, 59, of Coral Gables, Florida, said. “All she really wants to know is that he’s OK.”
Watching the christening of her grandson in January inspired Colleen to find her missing son, but the search proved harder than expected.
With the adoption records sealed, the couple contacted genealogy TV shows and asked a friend in California with a repo business to help track Lenny down. Colleen submitted her DNA to Ancestry.com and uncovered two lost cousins, but not her son.
“It’s very discouraging,” George said. “We watch these shows and see people find people like one, two, three, and we’re like, ‘How does that happen?’ ”
Martinez suggested making a confessional video to share on social media, with the hope she could help her best friend go viral.
In March, they filmed the video, which features Colleen somberly telling her story on handwritten sheets of paper on Martinez’s porch. The video ends with an appeal to her son.
“My heart is incomplete without knowing where my firstborn son is,” she wrote. “So . . . If you are a 42-year-old man born on Long Island, N.Y. on October 17, 1974 looking for your biological family, please message me.”
So far, dozens of family members on Long Island and around the country — including one of Colleen’s sisters in Boston — have shared the video. Colleen said she is waiting to see if her efforts will pay off and the son she called Lenny will see it.
“I really want this to happen,” George said. “But I know what my wife feels, she needs this to happen.”