Last week was the first anniversary of a major event in my life. Just last year, I was united with my five unknown half-siblings from my mother’s previous marriage. This was a good-luck story fitting for the evening news. I woke up one morning to find an e-mail in my inbox from a complete stranger. The gist of the email was the question: are we related? The answer was a hesitant YES.
To understand the magnitude of this WOW moment, you need to understand some history. I was raised by my paternal grandparents after my mother’s death, who died before my second birthday. My father was around until I was 13, but for whatever reason, he never spoke of her. My mother and her life was a complete mystery to me. I picked up on a few hints here and there; tidbits I carried inside me until later in life when I began a serious search for her ancestry.
I discovered one important hint when I was about 16 years old, the day my grandmother told me my mother had been married before. I vividly remember sitting on our large front porch in California. I don’t remember what led to the conversation, only the bombshell that my mother had other children.
“She would bring the little girl with her”, my grandmother told me.
I couldn’t believe what I had heard. I had a sister! She provided no details and as I grew older and the conversation faded, I wondered if my grandmother’s words had been a false memory. Mom’s obituary did not mention other children, which seemed odd to me. I almost convinced myself that this was nothing more than a fantasy derived by a lonely, only-child.
Ten years ago, however, I discovered evidence that confirmed the truth. My mother had been previously married, she had five children, and what’s more, I knew one of their names. I found the information on Ancestry.com, in a World Tree project with a cryptic name I did not understand. Not only did it mention Mom’s marriage to a man named “Jim”, but it also listed her marriage to my father. I eagerly contacted the owner of the tree who agreed forward my email to the submitter. And so I waited.
After a few weeks of no news, I sent a second email and was I told that if I had not received a response, he could not help me. I felt I was at a dead end. I didn’t whether my sister did not get the email, or if she simply didn’t want to respond. I feared the latter. Why, I thought to myself, would she want to know the child of the man who stole her mother away? As a mother myself, I could not comprehend any reason I would ever leave my children. Yet my mother did, including an infant. If I had been in my sister’s place, I don’t think I would want to know me either.
The family tree gave me just enough information that I was able to piece together my lost family. I knew each of their names, and where they lived. I thought of contacting one of the other children, but I was scared. If I had been rejected once, why would I think the others would accept me?
So when I read that email a year ago, my hesitation was founded on fear. Fear of rejection, but also fear of how my life would be different. I was an only child. What did I know about being a sister? What if I didn’t like them, or they didn’t like me. Lots of what-ifs. I could have refused to answer, or I could have said no, sorry, it must be some mistake. Instead I took a chance and said yes.
That day, a tornadic funnel of emotion sucked us all up. My siblings embraced me as if we had spent a lifetime together. Thoughout the day I learned the story of their lives after my mother left. Their father, I was told, was abusive. The fights between my mother and their father were terrible. After one horrible fight, she left to run an errand and never returned home. A divorce was filed but my mother did not get custody of the children. My brothers and sisters never knew their mother had another child. I don’t think they really knew when she died. Theirs was a sad life, one I never would have imagined.
As fate would have it, three of my sisters lived only a few hours away, so we quickly arranged a reunion. It was a wonderful day, full of stories, laughter, and love. The sibling honeymoon did not last long, however. In a few short months, our daily communion dwindled. Today, we are, at best, social media friends. The anniversary of the day that changed my life passed by as if it were nothing special. Even Facebook forgot to remind me of the memories we shared a year ago.
The story fills me with regrets of what might have been. But in reality, there is nothing other than DNA to bind us together. We have lived almost an entire lifetime in separate worlds. Our experiences have made us as different as night and day to believe that we would suddenly become best friends is the stuff of fairy tales. While the blood that runs through our veins makes us related, it doesn’t make us ‘family’. Only time will tell if we ever truly become one.