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May 2, 2022

Love Never Divides…It Only Multiplies

Amy Bartlett

Photography By

Special to CH2/CB2 Magazine
Life Lessons from a mother who’s figured out love’s perfect equation

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“Everyone wants my mom to be their mom,” Ann Connors said. It’s a sentiment you could dismiss with a smile thinking many would say that of their own mother. Then you discover it’s more than a loving daughter’s bias. When Deanna-Lyn Reilley begins to talk, you find yourself taking notes on life, love, faith, and strength. Before long, you realize, she’s mothering you, mothering the moment, and according to her children and a host of others blessed by her influence, “it’s what she was born to do.”

Motherhood for Reilley was no ordinary road. It would take her through the brief life of a child with a disease so rare it was unknown at the time. It would lead her to adopt grown children from across the globe. It would strengthen her to complete that adoption despite a cancer diagnosis. She’d even open a daycare and later homeschool to stay close to her children.

“I’ve never been more in love than when I had my children,” Reilley said. “It became the foundation of my life. I became alive when I had my children. Life was more important on many different levels—to provide, protect, teach, learn from, be an example.”

In all of these, Reilley understood the assignment. “When you travel down the highway of life, there are mile markers of learning, discovery, experience, becoming,” she said. “The privilege and responsibility I felt towards my children of turning back so I can explain what’s around that next corner, what’s over that hill when you encounter certain people or things in life where you don’t know what to do—it’s like someone telling you what’s going to be on the test. You have this true relationship with a human where you get the inside opportunity to tell them what’s coming and how they might be able to handle it.”

Before she would mother so well, Reilley lived openheartedly, gathering great maternal wisdom that came across her path. “When Ann was in my arms as a brand-new baby, an older woman was coming toward me on the street, stopped me, and asked, ‘Can I see your baby?’ I was so proud, I gushed, ‘She’s beautiful, isn’t she?’

“The woman asked, ‘Are you going to have any more children?’ When I told her, ‘Oh no absolutely not, I just can’t imagine sharing and dividing my time and the love I have for this little baby,’ her face got so soft; she tilted her head and said, ‘Oh my dear, don’t you know? Love never divides; it always multiplies.’ 

“I never forgot that. Now I have five more children.”

She added children in every decade of her adult life: She was 29 when she had Ann, 32 Joseph, 40 Patrick, 42 Rose, and adopted Hanna and Candace in her 50s. She would endure the loss of her son Patrick, but to that choice of words, Reilley’s husband replied soon after Patrick’s passing, “We didn’t lose him; we know exactly where he is.”

Patrick was diagnosed with an impossibly rare disease and needed a heart transplant. Reilley shares in total transparency the difficulty of praying for her son’s healing if it would mean another parent’s pain. “I’d tell God, ‘How can I pray for someone else’s child to die? You have to decide and give me strength to walk through Your decision.’ So, when Patrick died, and the hospital came to me and asked me about organ donation, it wasn’t a hard decision to make at all.”

She talks about this tenderly, with the bravery of motherhood still in her voice. “I couldn’t pray another child would die; but my own hopes were changed to a different kind of answered prayer where Patrick’s life would help other children to live.” How few of us could walk this road with this sense of grace and giving? But here again, love was multiplying.  

Reilley doubled down on the equation that love multiplies, saying she was reminded through Patrick, “how much bigger God is, and eternity, than who we think we are, and what we think God is for.” This was a lesson learned ahead of time, unknowingly being prepared for the road she’d soon walk, when at a church’s women’s event, the pastor’s wife was speaking about her daughter who died in an accident on Hilton Head Island.

“She explained how deep a hole she fell into with her faith, to the point of feeling she hated God, railing against Him, and how long it took for her and her husband to crawl out of that. She talked about shock and honesty with God asking, ‘We’ve loved You, served You, how could you do this to us?’ I was pregnant at the time, and little did I know that in a minute, I’d face the exact same question.

“She went on to ask, ‘Do you love God only when things are going your way? Can you really throw the Bible out the window because something happens?’

“Losing Patrick was a monumental catastrophe beyond anything I’d experienced, but this woman’s readiness to tell her story and let her faith be examined by a group of her peers was brave. Look what it did for my life. When Patrick died, my heart was so broken that it opened a little bit. It’s not about what you’ve lost; it’s about when you get to the end of what you can stand and realize how much love you have.” 

It was in that place of broken-openness when Reilley was at a gathering where she saw a video on adoptions from Ethiopia and almost immediately began the adoption process on two older children. In the middle of the process, Reilley faced a new mountain, being diagnosed with cancer. Not deterred, Reilley’s trademark tenacity shone through. 

“You keep going,” she said, “You just keep going—it’s called life. You adopt those children, and you keep going. My family reminded me, ‘They’ll be in this country, and they’ll be with you,’ and that’s all that mattered in the end.” 

It mattered a great deal according to Connors, Reilley’s oldest, who celebrates her sisters. “Hannah graduated valedictorian with a full scholarship to Clemson University and gave a speech at graduation that went viral, and Candace also graduated valedictorian and is working on her application to Harvard to become a physician,” she shared. “My mom would rather care for others than herself, and this is the kind of thing it turns into. She’s rescued me on so many levels. It’s how she’s made. Her purpose in life was to be a mom.”

“Broken heart, faith, purpose,” Reilley says of adoption. “The decision wasn’t about any one thing. If everyone would do something in the direction of helping someone beyond themselves, it would be a different world. If there’s something on your heart to do for others, don’t hold back. Stick your neck out; go for it. Life does hurt, but it hurts worse if we keep to ourselves what we have to give.”

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