-- When She Buried Her Mother, She Never Imagined That She Would See Her Again

Losing a loved one is one of life’s biggest and most difficult challenges. When that loved one is one of your parents, the grief can be even more traumatic.
The relationship between a mother and child is one that develops in our first moments of life. Our mothers are the first humans we begin to trust in our lives; to feed us, care for us and nurture us. As we grow older and become more aware, we begin to understand the inevitable fact of life: that our parents may not always be with us.

Inevitable Pain

Though losing a parent is sometimes inescapable, knowing this doesn’t do anything to lessen the pain in our hearts. A mother’s love often feels irreplaceable, making it extremely difficult to let go and heal from their death. Parents’ deaths can be heartbreaking even to those who had complicated relationships with their parents and didn’t feel close to them during their years alive.
Unfortunately, Grace Kivisto was forced to grieve for her mother when she was just fifteen years old. That’s why forty years later, she experienced some unwanted and unexpected emotions when she learned shocking news about her mom’s death. 

Family Feud

Grace grew up in Knox County, Illinois with her siblings Joann, Owen, David, and their mother Lula Cora. Lula suffered from multiple mental health issues, making it difficult for her to properly raise her kids and be a good mother to them. Even before her disappearance, Lula often walked in and out of the kids’ lives, and it wasn’t uncommon for her to leave her kids for days at a time.
Lula’s mental stability led to regular family arguments, often resulting in her leaving the house and running away. Lula always came back, except for one evening following a family squabble in 1970.


Grace and her siblings waited and waited for their mother to return, but she never did. Even though the family had a disagreement before Lula’s disappearance, they did not expect her to run away and abandon her family for good. 
After some time, the family began to accept that Lula was not coming back. A devastated Grace and her siblings were shocked that their mother was able to leave behind her family and not look back, but they knew it was time to move on and accept that they had to continue on with their lives without their mother.

A Life Changing Phone Call

The Kivisto family spent almost three whole decades assuming they would never hear from their estranged mother again. In 1996, twenty six years after Lula’s disappearance, Grace received a phone call from a local detective that would change her life.
A group of mushroom hunters was exploring the woods near the Kivisto’s neighborhood when they came across human remains in an East Galesburg brickyard. The mushroom hunters reported their findings to the local police department. Without advanced DNA technology on human bones, the investigators were left to rely solely on facial reconstruction in order to identify a dead body at that time. 

Saying Goodbye

After the facial reconstruction was completed, police determined the human remains belonged to Lula Cora.
Grace and her family were devastated by the news. Even though the family was on bad terms with their mother when she left, they remained hopeful that she was still alive and well. After hearing about her death, they were finally forced to accept once and for all that they would never be able to repair the damaged relationship they shared with their mother. The Kivisto family began to mourn the definite loss of the woman that raised them and held an emotional memorial service.


Understanding their mother was now dead, and no longer missing, gave the Kivisto family a certain sense of closure. Even before the human remains were identified as Lula, Grace had already accepted that her mom was gone for good after she disappeared for so many years.
They no longer wondered where she was, or if she was alright, now that she was finally laid to rest. Holding a memorial service gave each of the children a chance to say goodbye to Lula. “I just decided she’s with God now,” said Lula’s niece, Bernadine Collis. 

Life Goes On

After Lula’s disappearance, The Kivisto children were cared for by Lula’s sister, Hazel. When Hazel started realizing Lula was not going to return, she officially adopted the children and began to raise them like they were her own.
The family was eventually able to recover from the tragic loss of their mother with the help of Hazel and other caring relatives. They grew up and had some even had children of their own. The thought of hearing from their mother ever again was gone for good. Little did they know, their lives were about to take a 360 degree turn.

Astonishing Results

The police made sure to keep the human remains safe so that proper DNA testing could be performed on the bones when the forensic systems improved.
In 2008, the investigators asked two of Lula’s children to come into the lab and give DNA samples that could be used in comparison to the bones found in the Galesburg brickyard. Despite their acceptance of their mother’s death, the children agreed to cooperate in hopes it would finally give them closure. The concluding results were a shock to all: the body’s DNA did not match Lula Cora!

Cold Case Turned Hot

After further investigations, the police confirmed the Galesburg remains actually belonged to a different missing person, not Lula Cora. The identity of the person of interest who was thought to be Lula Cora has still not been discovered.
The cold case was immediately reopened when the police realized it was time to begin a search for Lula once again. If the human remains found years ago were not Lula’s, it was fair to believe that the Kivisto’s family could still very well be alive. The police began a search that would eventually lead to shocking results.

Internet Search Launched

The police launched a search for Lula using an online database, attempting to find a match to Lula’s first name, last name and date of birth. Eventually, they came across who they thought to be the real Lula Cora, who was now eighty four years old and living in Jacksonville, Florida. Sergeant Jason Landers of the Knox County Sheriff's Department, who led the search, quickly contacted the woman to validate her identity. 
“During the interview I had with her on the phone, I had her confirm facts about the family and life reasonably speaking no one else would have known,” Sargeant Landers explained to CBS News. 

Outrageous News

Sargeant Landers claimed that after speaking with the Lula Cora on the phone, he was about 99% sure it was Grace’s mother. He arrived at Grace’s home to deliver the unbelievable news. 
The sargeant’s message came as a complete and utter shock to Grace and her family. Her mother was found after she was missing for forty one years; and she was alive! She burst into tears upon hearing the news. “I was in total disbelief because even before all of the brickyard stuff she had been gone so long we already figured she passed,” said Grace.

Thanks to Technology

Advanced technology in forensic science played a huge part in finding Lula Cora. Without the ability to test the bones’ DNA and match them to Grace and her sister, Lula would have never been found. The Kivisto family would have continued on with their lives thinking their mother had died in 1996 when the human remains were found in the Galesburg brickyard.
The police were grateful that they had thought ahead and kept the bones they had found so they could be tested for DNA later on, instead of burying them during Lula’s previous memorial service.

The Incredible Internet

DNA tests weren’t the only time progressive technology aided in solving the Lula Cora case. The officers who were involved in solving the case were amazed at just how much the Internet influenced the discovery of Lula’s whereabouts. With just a few simple searches on the online database, the police were able to locate Lula. The Internet allowed the police to find her even though she now lived on the complete other end of the country, in Jacksonville, Florida. 
The police were also able to track down Lula’s current address and phone number, which allowed Sargeant Landers to conduct the interview. 

Undoubtedly Lula

The investigators were able to confirm that the woman in Florida was indeed the Lula Cora they had been looking for. All of the facts were pointing that direction: Lula answered correctly to personal questions asked by the sergeant including birthplaces of the children. The social security number and maiden name undoubtedly matched Lula Cora’s.
They were unsure as to how Lula ended up all the way in Jacksonville. All they knew was that she has been living with a caregiver who found her kicked to the curb by a family who had convinced her to take out loans without any intention of paying her back.

Struggling to Reconnect

Now that Grace had her mother’s contact information in hand, she had the opportunity to reach out to her. However, Grace felt uneasy about this at first. The last time she saw her mother, Grace was only fifteen years old and Lula left amidst a heated family argument.
She started to struggle at the thought of facing her again. How was she supposed to let her mother back into her life after all the pain she had caused her throughout her childhood? How could she forgive Lula for walking out on her own daughter when she was only a young girl?

Ready to Rebuild the Relationship

Grace began to accept that enough time has passed, and the time has come for her to forgive her mother. Plenty of years have gone by, and Grace had an opportunity to let go of her difficult childhood and problematic mother. She now had the wisdom of age that allowed her to move on from the past and live in the present; which meant reconnecting with her estranged mother.
She felt that it was finally time to reach out to her mother and begin to build a relationship with her. 

Can’t Recall

From an emotional standpoint, the initial phone calls Grace Kivisto made to Lula Cora were not easy for Grace. Lula did not immediately recognize who Grace was and didn’t seem to understand that it was one of her daughters. There were many reasons as to why this could have happened. Lula had fourteen children in her lifetime, had multiple mental health issues, and was eighty four years old.
“When I ask her if she remembers me, she says no,” Grace said. “But I remembered she loves to cross-stitch and always had a needle in her hand, and she said ‘I still do that.’”

Finally Being Cared For

Now that Grace is older and has a better understanding of mental health, it has become easier to sympathize with her mother. Instead of viewing Lula as the woman that walked out on her when she was a young girl, Grace now sees her as a struggling mother who was physically unable to care for her kids.
Lula now has a caretaker instead of being a caretaker for her children. This helped bring her to a more stable mental state and allowed her to connect with Grace like she never has before. Grace feels that the moment has come for her and her siblings to make up for all of the lost time over the years spent without Lula.

Just Like Old Friends

Even though the women reconnected, it is safe to say that after all of these years apart, their relationship might be a little different than the typical mother daughter connection. Grace says she talks to her mother regularly now, “as if they’re old friends.”
Lula and Grace surely have lots to catch up on after all of the years they were not in contact, so most of their phone calls consist of filling each other in on their lives. Lula’s memory of her previous years are a little foggy due to her older age, and Grace hopes that organizing a big family reunion will perhaps spark some of Lula’s old memories.

Long Awaited Family Reunion

Unfortunately, Grace’s brothers David and Owen have since passed away. Grace hopes that all of the other relatives will be able to attend the long awaited and emotional family reunion in their home town in Illinois. 
Until then, Grace hopes to make travel arrangements as soon as she can so the family can pay a visit to Jacksonville to see their mother. “We can’t wait to see her,” said Grace. “She doesn’t have that many years left, so if we can make up for lost time, why not?”

Another Mystery Yet to Be Solved

The police who investigated Lula’s case are thrilled to have finally cracked it, and the Kivisto family is delighted to be reunited with their long lost mother at last. Grace was shocked and grateful to be given a second chance to make amends with Lula.
Only one true mystery still remains for the police to solve. Whose remains were really found in that Galesburg brickyard? Hopefully it won’t take the authorities another forty years to figure this one out. 

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