The long walk down the terminal is nothing compared to the decades of never really knowing the truth for Don Burns. "Well finally the day is here…40 some years of looking and she found us."
It was 40 years ago his mother first shared her secret with him. "She had not talked about it to anybody."
"I remember a baby crying,” he could recall from a distant memory of when he was seven.
Burns grew up in Sioux City, Iowa in the 1940’s. He and his siblings were raised by their single mother but under their grandfather's roof. "He did not want to keep any more children." So in 1950 when Don's mother had another baby girl she was forced to put her up for adoption.
"I just choke up every time." His mother had asked him to keep a promise. "She said to me…I want you to find my baby girl." To make sure she's alright. To tell her that her birth mother wanted to keep her but simply couldn't.
"It's like trying to find a needle in a haystack in Iowa." Don started with local detectives but never got too far with just a birth date to go off of. "Iowa seals their records. I kept looking. I tried everything. Of course we didn't have the computers and all that back then."
Enter the age of the internet. Recently Don's extended family members used Ancestry.com to submit DNA samples. Years earlier so had a woman in Phoenix Arizona named Jane Fricke.
"It was just awesome. I mean I get goosebumps right now just thinking about it," said Don’s niece Penny Loudder. A match on the website soon turned into a Facebook connection.
"This is about Jane. She found us,” said Burns. Coming up on age 75, Don was about to meet his sister for the very first time when she flew into Omaha Saturday.
Jane would be coming in a wheelchair. "She said, but I can still stand up and hug," explained Burns.
The day was so momentous that even complete strangers could tell it was going to be special.
"Hey, congratulations," said a woman named Pat. In his excitement Burns forgot that he had wanted to hand his sister flowers. There was no florist in sight at the terminal.
"Here, give me that. You take these to your sister," Pat said as she picked one flower from her bouquet intended for a longtime friend. She was so inspired by Burns’ happiness that she gave him the rest of the entire bouquet.
"Nothing like Nebraskans! Right?!" Don laughed as he held on to the flower arrangement. "People, you give them a chance… they're good."
"She's been in his heart all these years," said his wife Karen. It's a heart she knows all too well. Now it was filled to the brim with his own excitement and his mother's dying wish.
"She's watching," said Burns. Just moments later out of the corner of his eye he could see a wheelchair come breezing down the hallway.
"Hi, how are ya?" were the first words Fricke could get out before she let out a heartfelt exasperated cry.
"Can't keep my eyes dry!" answered Burns.
They were face to face for the first time and yet Burns said he recognized their mother's smile.
"I found on Facebook that everybody likes him," said Fricke.
They immediately found similarities and differences as she pointed out. "I'm not sure about Nebraska shirts, I'm an Iowa Hawkeyes fan but…” before they both broke out in laughter.
Through laughs and tears of joy Burns remembered what he told his mother.
"I know my mother would be very, very happy if she was here right now."
"Being adopted I didn't let that define me I mean I became who I wanted to be in life," Fricke explained of her childhood. "This just adds new family to me so that's exciting."
They had new family to meet and new family photos to sift through. Her newly acquainted niece Penny brought old photos to the airport that had survived over the years including ones of Fricke’s mother she never met. Other than a picture from her teen years online that was the first glimpse Fricke had of her mother’s face.
They began sharing stories about the woman who wanted Jane but couldn't keep her.
"It's not about me. It's about Jane," Burns repeated multiple times. He knew this is what his mom wanted.
Before Jane Fricke and her new family left the airport together she had one simple lesson that she wanted others to take from her experiences.