For a parent, being separated from your children has to be the most unbearable thing. But for Lani, that was her life for the past 40 years.
Lani, from Thailand, met a member of the U.S. Air Force while he was stationed there during the Vietnam War. She fell in love with him and soon the couple married and moved to Ohio. This couple had a daughter there and then moved to Oxford, England and had another baby girl.
However, two years later, the relationship went south and the two divorced. Because Lani didn’t speak English well, she didn’t understand the terms of the divorce and signed away her rights to ever see her daughters again. And from that day onward, both mother and daughters spent the next 40 years searching for each other — until they were finally reunited, thanks to social media.
When Lani was separated from her daughters, Starla and Jeannie, the girls were only two and three years old. It was as hard on the girls as it was for their mom.
“We asked our dad a lot about our mom, and he never spoke ill of our mom to us. He just said that she couldn’t speak English because she’s full-blooded Thai, and he said she thought since we were American and he was in the military, he could take better care of us and provide us a better life than she could.”, Starla tells ABC News.
So for the next four decades, both mother and daughters searched for each other.
When Starla and Jeannie got a little older, they searched every database they could with the “help” of their dad — but to no avail.
“When I sit back and I think of everything, I think he just tried to make it look like he helped. He was trying to protect us, or he was scared he was going to lose his baby girls. They always say there are three sides to the story. His side, her side and the truth,” Jeannie tells ABC News.
The years passed and the girls wondered if they should give up the search and move on with their lives. But recently, Starla got an unexpected message on Facebook. It was from a man named Mark Szarmach. Mark turned out to be Lani’s second husband. He had tried to help his wife find her long-lost daughters, but for a long time, his efforts came up fruitless.
“Lani wanted to find them but she didn’t know how to and because she had such limited information, there weren’t any diligent searches. But she’s often cried herself to sleep and talked about her daughters and how she has to find them someday.”, Mark says about his wife.
Because of his wife’s accent, Mark thought Starla was named “Stella” and Jeannie was named “Jenny.” No wonder he had a hard time finding them! Mark also knew the girls’ father’s name, though, and search for him, too. The man’s name was John Thompson, and since it was so common, it took time for Mark to sift through all of the people with the same name. Eventually, though, he found his obituary. Through that, he discovered the girls’ real names and went to Facebook and searched for them again.
This time, Mark found a Facebook account for a Jeannie Toomey and was stunned when he saw one picture in particular.
“I opened up an album and their baby picture popped up. I was in shock. I came running out of the bedroom and said, ‘Honey you’ve got to come see this.’ I showed her that picture and she just started bawling,” Mark says.
Mark contacted Jeannie, who was blown away. She and Starla made plans with Lani to finally reunite after 40 years and a week later, they did!
Watch the amazing reunion here: