Let me start at the end of the story. I have 3 beautiful nieces that I didn’t know I had, and I found out about a sister who I never had the opportunity to meet. I guess most adoption stories are bitter sweet.
It was about 11 years ago that it came to my attention that I had an older half-sibling from my mother’s side. I was 44 years old then, and I was the last to know. Even my brother, who is six years my junior, knew the “family secret.” My mother, in a perfunctory way, confirmed the story and mentioned some details, but not much. She seemed very unemotional and detached about it, as if it were no big thing. I didn’t feel anything that moved me to look for my sister. (I didn’t know if it was a male or female sibling at that time.) I had no feelings whatsoever. Now and then, I would google the name of the biological father, out of curiosity.
In January of 2015, I began working on my family tree with my mother’s cousin, Eileen. I was using Ancestry.com, and she told me that she did the DNA test through them and had the results. In March, I received a call from Eileen who was gingerly asking me questions, not knowing if I knew about the family secret. She said that she received a call from Texas from a young lady claiming to be my mother’s grandchild. She wanted to know if I would be willing to speak with her. I assured Eileen that I knew about the secret and that she could release my phone number and I would speak with the young lady. It was through the DNA test that Eileen was found to be a close relation to my mother and could be traced.
I was nervous when the phone rang. I don’t know why. I answered the phone to hear the voice of a young woman, not a child or a teen. She sounded articulate and intelligent, and she had a kind tone. I became disarmed, as I was expecting Marilyn Manson. Kim began to tell me some of the details and clues that lead her to me. They were all correct, and we both knew we had found the right people. My nervousness turned to excitement as I now had someone to fill in the blanks for me. My appetite became insatiable for facts. I wanted to know everything: who, what, when, where, why and how. I think I even asked her shoe size. In that phone call, Kim let me know that she was adopted and had 2 biological sisters, only one of which she had found, Tina, who had been born and raised in northern New Jersey and lived in New York, but now lived in North Carolina. I was able to find out about my sister. Her name was Michele, and she had died less than a year before at 54 years of age. Kim filled me in on the tragic details of Michele’s tragic life and death. We spoke for about 45 minutes, and when we ended the call, I made her promise to text me some pictures.
The first couple of pictures that came in were of my sister Michele. When I looked at them, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was staring into my own face as a teenager. Then an unexpected wave of sorry came over me, and I started to cry. I regretted not looking for her. I wanted to hug her and hold her in my arms. But I knew that was never to be. I was astounded that I was crying with a broken heart for someone I never met. But, I still loved her.
The next set of pictures came in, and they were of Kim and Tina. Although they never met, they made a collage of 3 photos each, side by side. WELL, no DNA test needed here! In fact, if I included my daughter’s photos you would think that they were sisters, and not cousins. I then sent the photos to my brother.
Over the next few weeks, my nieces and I corresponded via email. We filled each other in on our lives and I sent them the “family story”, including illnesses and quirks. I also sent them their family tree which goes back many generations. Kim commented that up until now, there has only been one person on the tree. It was then that I began to realize that there is much that I need to learn about adoptees. I also noticed that they were resentful of people saying things that are stereotypical, such as “You’re adopted? I’m sorry!” I can’t say that I have been enlightened enough to speak freely. I am still fearful of saying the wrong thing. I hope that my nieces know that my intentions are pure, and the last thing I want is to hurt them.
My mother, by this time was in a nursing home, suffering from COPD. She was deaf, which made communication difficult. I went to visit her with the photos of the daughter she gave up and her two grandchildren. I mentioned that her daughter had died. She was very vague and unemotional. It was as if she couldn’t care less. I did manage to take video of her saying hello to her granddaughters.
Our mother was always a very cold person, and it was a difficult upbringing for my brother and I. It took some time for my brother to interact with our nieces. Bitterly, it reminded him of yet another one of our mother’s messes left for him to clean up.
After a week or two of emails, we decided that we should plan to meet each other in June. We picked DC as the location, as it was fairly central for all of our locations, and easy for Kim to fly into. I drove down from New Jersey with my wife and 2 daughters (their cousins.) We went directly to Union Station to pick up Tina. When I finally saw her in person, I got a warm family feeling. I felt an automatic bond. It was different than a bond with a friend. Somewhere in the back of your head, you know a friend can drift out of your life. Family never does. So, it gives you the warmth of a friendship in a more relaxed fashion.
We immediately got into the van and headed over to the hotel, where Kim who had flown in from Texas, was waiting to meet her sister, uncle, aunt, and 2 cousins. What an experience it was to see two sisters meet for the first time. It was an extended hug and tears with intense non-verbal communication. I’m sure both waited a lifetime for that moment. The rest of us then kissed and hugged Kim. It was an experience that I’ll never forget. After the hugging, for the briefest of moments, no one knew what to say. It was like the Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin reunion. “So, how’ve you been?”
Over the next two days, we got to know each other and (more importantly) like each other. The girls share our warped sense of humor, and we all sound the same when we laugh. I think we all felt the same way. We may not have a past, but we have a present and future together. By this time, my brother and cousin, Nicole, were firmly on board and wanted to meet the sisters. The sisters also looked forward to meeting their grandmother. All agreed to come to my house in NJ for Thanksgiving. We enjoyed DC, and had a special treat, history in the making, as gay marriage became the law of the land the morning we all set out on our travels to DC. It was especially poignant as some of us are members of the LGBTQ+ community, and are allies of friends who are as well. We were in front of the rainbow colored White House where we took our first pictures together. It was like a party.
Tina, myself, and Kim
Unfortunately, my mother passed away that September. It was within days of the first anniversary of my sister, Kim and Tina’s mother, Michele’s death. I felt bad for the girls, for they would never be able to meet their grandmother; however, I’m happy that I videotaped her for them. At least that will last forever.
A week or two before Thanksgiving, the girls had a breakthrough in their hunt for their other sibling. They found her in Oklahoma. Ironically, her name was Michelle, like her biological mother. When I saw her photo, I was awe struck. She looked exactly like my mother (her grandmother) when she was young. Incredible resemblance. On Thanksgiving Day, with oven mitts on, I spoke to her on the phone. She sounded sweet.
Thanksgiving week was great. The girls got to meet their other uncle and aunt, three more cousins, and their mom’s cousin, Nicole. We got to meet Tina’s husband, Marshall. I took them to see where everyone had lived back in the day, and to a few Jersey and New York tourist places. On one side trip, we went to see my brother’s band play at an adult beverage location. Kim also met her biological father and that whole branch of her family for the first time. I felt a little jealous as I was Kim’s family now, not them. We also visited my sister Michele’s adoptive brother, where I learned more about her personally. We learned about her likes and dislikes, issues in her life; it was a complete history. There were other photos of her and other puzzle pieces were fit together. I was melancholy after this encounter. The more I learned about my sister, the more intimate she became. I regretted her loss. Somehow, I feel guilty that I didn’t try to find her. Maybe having her two brothers in her life might have changed how her story ended. It was not a happy life for her.
Regardless of the sadness of that meeting, Thanksgiving week was a magical time. We all bonded together as one imperfect family. It’s as if not knowing each other in the past just melted away, erased. As if we always were family, past, present and future. I love these girls, and feel very paternal toward them. Also, in a small way, by having a relationship with the girls, I feel like I am helping my sister Michele, who I never knew.