Monday, August 27, 2018

Finding My Other Family (Part 2)



Time passed and periodically I would check my Ancestry app. On almost the same day that Greta first contacted me I opened up the app and a woman named Desaree appeared as a second cousin match. I decided to send her a message to which she responded the same day. Much like Greta a year prior, she said that she had been constructing her family tree to learn more about her father and that side of her family.

It was then that the circle was closed. Desaree asked certain specifics about my birth father from the information that I had from the birth records I had received from Child and Family Services, the agency that held my closed adoption papers. Based on this information and that which she had on her father’s family, she was able to tell me who my birth father was. This man, John, lived in the Syracuse area and his profile matched that of the person identified in my birth records. She shared her AncestryDNA family tree that allowed me to not only see photos of John, but also other members of my birth family. It felt like something out of the twilight zone and as I mentioned previously, was all quite surreal. And on top of that, I actually did little, if any, research of my own. The detective work was all performed by others.

On Saturday July, 21, Suzy and I took a road trip to visit Charlotte at her home 45 minutes north of Syracuse. When we arrived, like the time we first met, Charlotte and I gave each other a great big hug. We all spent the next several hours talking (but mostly me and Charlotte) and we had a wonderful lunch that she had prepared using primarily vegetables and potatoes from her garden. It was a meal made with the best ingredient: Love.

Later we took a brief drive to look at Charlotte’s plot of land where she grows a variety of veggies. It’s located on her friend’s property where he has cows and pigs. It was pretty cool and definitely not something that Suzy or I, the city dwellers we are, were accustomed to. But it was so refreshing.

Upon leaving, Charlotte and I hugged, once again like we didn’t want to let go. It was a special moment.

“I love you,” she said.

“I love you too,” I replied.

On our car ride home, Suzy commented that Charlotte and I could be siblings because of the ways we were similar, not just in appearance but in affect and personality.

Two days later Charlotte sent me a Facebook message saying that she had uploaded her raw Ancestry data to GedMatch, a website for DNA nerds to determine family connections. I went on the site and upon review, it showed that Charlotte and I have 1846.3 shared CentoMorgans (cm’s - DNA). This is quite a high number.

Charlotte notified me that she had been in touch with a family “search angel” who indicated that we could be half-siblings.

It was then that I happened to go to the Facebook DNA Detectives closed group that Charlotte and I belong too. I came across a post that was from a woman who asked about the possibility of being a half-sibling based on the high number of cm’s she shares with someone who she thought was a cousin. A person replied with a chart that showed the number of cm’s and how they determine relationships. As it turned out, roughly between 1300-2100 indicated either grandparent/grandchild, uncle-aunt/niece-nephew, double cousin (where two siblings marry two siblings from another family and have children, who would be double cousins) and finally half-siblings. Ruling out the first three options then I came to the clear conclusion that Charlotte and I are half-siblings.

We spoke sharing our joy of learning this wonderful information. This is the photo that was taken during our visit together in July.

I ended up speaking to Desaree again and she provided me with more information about my father’s family. They were quite esteemed, including a first African-American mayor of a New England city as well as other men in the family who were represented in the Smithsonian Museum.

Charlotte had also connected with another cousin, Alan who lives in the Albany area, whose mother knew much about our father’s life. He and I have spoken on a couple of occasions and he even said that I resembled the men in the family.

And that brings me back to today. When I consider my life and the many experiences I have had that have led me to where I am, I cannot help but believe in a Power greater than myself. I cannot fully explain the course of events that have transpired in my lifetime. The sheer number of people who have served as “guides” in the course of my life have demonstrated to me that God is real. Like I said previously, you can’t make this stuff up and it can’t be explained.

So, you can believe me, or not. If it were you, what would you say? Would you deny the presence of a Higher Power? Would you say that this is all made up, or just coincidence or chance? If you’ve read any of my other posts from the various blogs I write I think you would see a theme and that is believe, have faith, work without ceasing and never give up. And that there is a guiding force available to all of us, not just me.

God is simply the name I choose to call something that is infinitely powerful. And that’s my two cents, for what it’s worth.

Be well!

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Finding My Other Family (Part 1)




It has been a considerable amount of time since I last posted here. Between the other blogs I write  (BP magazine, the United Church of Christ Mental Health Network’s “The Journey” and The Mighty) and life itself, this one has gotten away from me.

But enough excuses.

I’m sitting on my patio, reflecting on the course of events of the last 14 months. It began with an email from a woman named Greta, who as it turns out, is my second cousin. She had found my information on AncestrtyDNA. This was on Father’s Day, June 18, the day before my birthday. And did I happen to mention that I am adopted?

Well, let me tell you, it has been quite a journey since then. Thanks to Greta and her mother Janet, I was able to learn about my birth mother, who was still alive and living in Alaska. Her name was Sarah and went by the nickname Sally. This is beyond ironic in that my older daughter is named Sarah and my younger daughter is named Lillie (after my mother who adopted me). That’s right. Both of my daughters are named after both my mothers. You can’t make this stuff up folks. I truly believe that this is how God works. God gives us these kinds of circumstances to show us that there are just some things we cannot prove through human means.

Anyway, Greta also shared information about three half-siblings that Sally had named Sylvia, Lisa and Joad. I was able to reach out to them and they were all wonderfully accepting and welcoming. I do realize that it didn’t have to work out this way. This was all so surreal. I’ve gone well into my 50’s never knowing anything about my origins and then BAM! it hits like a ton of bricks.

Now, before Greta contacted me, I had given up looking for any “matches” on Ancestry. I had reached out, to no avail, to several people who did not reply. But after Greta contacted me I reloaded the app, and lo and behold, someone popped up as a close family member, 1st cousin. Her name was Charlotte. I immediately sent her a message and she got back to me right away. We spoke by phone and, as it turns out, she was adopted too. She was born in Syracuse, which was interesting considering that I had learned that my mother had spent time there as well when she was in college. But Charlotte was able to confirm that we didn’t have the same mother (which was proven by our Ancestry data).

In October 2017, Charlotte and I met in Rochester, roughly equidistant from where we each live. It was in a quaint restaurant called Owl House, a wonderful eatery known for its great vegetarian menu (Charlotte is vegetarian as is her husband who joined her). I had arrived early and was on edge waiting for Charlotte’s arrival. When she entered the room, she had a huge smile on her face and we gave each other an embrace that felt like it lasted forever and that we didn’t want to let go.

Charlotte, her husband Jon, and I spent the next two hours chatting and getting acquainted. We were already “friends” on Facebook but this was the real deal. We talked about all kinds of things and the connection was immediate. It just felt right.
Charlotte has her own business (handcandymittens.com) where she repurposes sweaters and other apparel to make mittens and other and other cool clothing items. She’s quite talented. She offered me three pair of mittens to me to give to my wife Suzy and my daughters for Christmas. I offered to pay and she replied, “I don’t charge family.” I thought that was so sweet.

On the flip side, I had conversations with Sylvia, Lisa and Joad. They each filled me in, based on their own unique perspectives on our mother. As it turned out, Sally lived with a severe mental illness (which was the reason she moved to Alaska many years ago and likely accounts, at least in part, to my mental health concerns). Sylvia said that Sally was known as saying, “The lower 48 can’t handle me.”

In January, Lisa came to Buffalo for a three-day visit. We went to see Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit at the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts. One thing Lisa and I have in common is our love of music. We also took a day trip to Niagara Falls and Toronto. It was so much fun spending time with each other and getting to know one another. I’ve always said that the best way to get to know someone is to travel with them.

Time went on and I continued to communicate with my newfound family members. Shortly after I had learned about Sally, my cousin Greta had discovered her address and phone number. Unfortunately, Sally was very hard of hearing and would not keep her phone on. I did try phoning and even got through to the maintenance man of the apartment complex where Sally lived.

I remember nervously dialing the number and having him answer.

“Hello, I’m trying to reach Sarah (______). I’m a distant relative who she may not know and I was just trying to contact her.”

“You mean Sarah who lives in Aurora 3?” he replied.

“Yes,” I said, playing along.

“Ok,” he responded, “Let me go try to see if she’s in.”

My heart began to race. I could even hear his breathing as he walked to her apartment.

KNOCK. KNOCK. KNOCK. “Hello Sarah.” KNOCK.KNOCK. KNOCK. Nothing.

“Sorry,” he said, “She doesn’t hear well.”

“Well, if you see her do you think you could ask her to turn her phone on?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said, “She usually takes a walk to visit her friend everyday so I can have him ask her.”

“Thanks for your help,” I responded.
I tried calling a few more times with no luck. I then decided to write her a brief letter that included my phone number, address and email. In the letter I simply stated that I wanted to thank her and that I was fortunate to have wonderful parents and a family of my own. I also shared about the work I do in the mental health field. I also included a photo of my family and a card where I wrote:

Wishing you peace and love,
Karl

And that was the end of that. I sent the letter priority mail with tracking that required a signature for confirmation that it had received its destination. I didn’t get any kind of rejection response so I can only assume that it was received. But she never called or wrote.

Flash forward to March 27, 2018. I received a text from Sylvia stating that Sally had passed away from a brain ambulism resulting from a fall she had. According to Sylvia, Sally refused the treatment that could have saved her life. This was very sad for me to hear, knowing that now, even though the chances were slim to begin with, I would never have the opportunity to speak to her.

To be continued......

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Finding Hope with Bipolar Disorder

This vlog is about the experience I had in February, 1981 of having my first major psychotic episode which resulted from my bipolar disorder condition. The song I reference in the video is by the English group The The and is called "This is the Day." The lyrics that have meant so much to me are:
"You could have done anything, if you wanted
And all your friends and family think that you're lucky
But the side of you they'll never see
Is when you're left alone with your memories
That hold your life together, like glue"
image courtesy Pixabay

Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Christmas Gift


In the early years of living with bipolar disorder I had the experience of being hospitalized twice on Christmas Day. On one of these particular days I was given a day pass to come home to spend the holiday with my parents. This was particularly difficult (and even more so for my Mom and Dad, I suspect).

This same scenario has been played out countless times over the years for many individuals. The simple act of going home for the day only to have to return to the hospital can be demoralizing. In many cases, those who are in an inpatient program don’t have the supports available to help them get a coveted day pass. For others, their condition is so severe that getting out for the day wouldn’t be advisable due to their lack of stability.

Regardless, the holiday season is difficult for many people who live with a mental health condition. The feelings of isolation and disconnection make an already hard time of year even harder.

And then there are those who live with substance use disorders. The family gatherings that often times are alcohol-focused can be tremendously hard for the person in recovery who is trying to remain abstinent. And with so many living with co-occurring disorders, it’s like the classic “double whammy” that makes this time of year one of the hardest to manage. Finding others who are supportive is crucial in getting through these days.

For me, over time as I progressed in my recovery, things got better. Once I got clean and stopped using, I experienced a newfound freedom; one that I had never previously had. This didn’t happen overnight, but as time passed things improved. Being released from the bondage of drug and alcohol use that kept me incapacitated for so many years was an incredible gift.

In my personal recovery journey, I attribute this freedom to several things. First, a sincere belief in a Power greater than myself. Second, family and friends who have been supportive in so many ways. And finally, a degree of persistence and perseverance that has created in me an indomitable spirit that has proven to help me overcome so many adverse situations in my life that would have otherwise broken my spirit.

The main thing that I have come to realize is that recovery is a process that has taken both time and hard work. Yes, I believe in miracles and I consider the life that I and so many others in recovery have is nothing short of a gift from God. And yes, trust me, I have been the beneficiary of God’s grace, in more ways than I can count. But as I say in my mantram, “RECOVERY IS POSSIBLE!”

If you find yourself in a difficult place this year, know that there is a Presence that loves you. Unfortunately, our society places so much value on the holiday season. And yes, there is the belief that it should be a happy time for everyone. But true happiness comes from within. With this understanding, you can realize that you are never truly alone.

However, if you know someone who finds themselves without anyone to spend the holiday, let them know that you care. Whether it be a visit or even a phone call, reaching out can make a difference. This is a gift that cannot be wrapped in a bow and paper. It is the gift of love. This is what the Christmas season is about. God’s love becoming manifest in a baby that would transform the world. And by following his example, we can make the world a less lonely place.

Wishing you hope, peace, joy and love in this wondrous season.

Be well!