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 ( 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.


“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,

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......


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