'When I heard, I just couldn't believe it. This must be ... a miracle. It means so much to be able to live to see this moment,' said Gerda Cole.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on May 13, 2022. It has since been updated.
Gerda Cole celebrated an unbelievable and unforgettable 98th birthday in May 2022, when she was finally reunited with her biological daughter, Sonya Grist, 80 years after she had to give her up for adoption. Grist, who lives in England, flew to Toronto just in time for Cole's big day—which appropriately coincided with a Mother's Day event at the Revera Kennedy Lodge Long Term Care Home in Scarborough, where the Gerda Cole now resides—after learning her birth mom was still alive and living in Canada, reports CBC News. "I'm shaking," Grist told reporters as she waited to meet her mother for the first time.
This meeting will ripple healing through generations.— Lori Freshwater (@loufreshwater) May 12, 2022
“As an 18-year-old Jewish refugee during the height of the Second World War, Gerda Cole gave her newborn daughter up for adoption — and 80 years later, the pair finally reunited...”https://t.co/VchofzFlRX
"Just over a year ago, I didn't know that my mother was still alive. I knew very little. I still don't know much and there are a thousand questions I've got to ask her, but I don't want to bombard her," the 80-year-old added. Grist and her son Stephen Grist arrived in Canada on May 7, 2022, to meet Cole for the first time. When the mother-daughter pair finally met, they held onto each other, unable to let go, as Cole squealed with joy. "Eighty years old," Cole said in shock, looking at her daughter, who jokingly replied: "Don't emphasize my age."
#JournoLife: Such a pleasure to meet the lovely 98 y.o. #ScarbTO resident Gerda Cole today. After 80 years, she reunited this past weekend with her wonderful daughter, Sonya Grist, who she gave up for adoption at birth.— Joanna Lavoie (@JoannaLavoie) May 9, 2022
Can't wait to write this cute story!! pic.twitter.com/ojpBXIPebX
Cole revealed that the plan had been in the works for several months after the home was contacted by her grandson. "When I heard, I just couldn't believe it," she said. "This must be ... a miracle. It means so much to be able to live to see this moment." Cole was sent away by her family from Vienna, Austria, to England when she was 15 years old to escape the persecution of Jewish people in 1939. Three years later, she gave birth to a baby girl and put her up for adoption due to her economic situation.
As a young Jewish girl, Gerda Cole escaped Nazi persecution when her parents sent her on a children’s transport to England. She later gave birth to a daughter but placed the baby for adoption.— WJC (@WorldJewishCong) May 10, 2022
80 years later, Cole and her daughter were finally reunited.https://t.co/HAZXo8d6Xs
"I had very limited personal education, and this, combined with wartime, left me no recourse but to have Sonya adopted under the advice of the refuge committee," she explained. "The condition was not to have any further connection with the child." While Grist grew up with her adoptive parents in England, Cole arrived in Canada after the war and went on to earn three university degrees, including a BA honors from the University of Toronto in Jewish studies. They might have never reunited if not for Stephen Grist researching his family lineage last year to provide proof of Austrian descent so the family could obtain Austrian citizenship.
"This is something to live a few more years for.”— Toronto Star (@TorontoStar) May 11, 2022
Over the weekend, longtime Scarborough resident Gerda Cole celebrated her 98th birthday as well as Mother’s Day with her 79-year-old daughter, Sonya Grist, by her side for the first time. https://t.co/m4oLK8L2Nf
Stephen eventually got in touch with Cole's stepson and was blown away when he learned that Cole was still alive and 97 years old at the time. He didn't know how to break the news to his mother and waited two weeks before letting her know. "I just thought oh my God, that's just blown my mind," Stephen Grist said. "The idea that her mother was still alive and she would have the opportunity to meet her was so exciting it just threw us all for a loop. When I told my mother that [Cole] was still alive, she just said, 'I want to get on an airplane to Canada right now and give her a big hug.'"
Stephen got in touch with Cole through the long-term care home. Wendy Gilmour, senior vice president of long-term care with Revera, said the plans to reunite the family have been in the making for several months. "It is incredible the journey that all people have gone through, [Cole] and her children, and her grandchildren," Gilmour said, adding that the celebration was exactly what the residents needed after more than two years of struggling with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on long-term care. "It's been tough, it's been a difficult time for the homes and our residents, and to have a party—which is something we haven't done in a long, long time—brings back excitement" into the home, she said.