TEACHER. ACTOR. MUSICIAN.
Christmas Eve 2021 will be the fifth anniversary of my mother’s passing. She had been in a few nursing homes over the years losing a battle to dementia. When you lose someone to dementia, you lose them twice – first mind, then body.
When she passed, my siblings and I gave a collective sigh, as if to say, “That’s the end of an era!” Little did we know that it was just the beginning of an era.
I was raised with three other siblings. We were: Dan, David, Donna, and Dean. It was important that to my mother that we be a cohesive family unit, and what better way than with matching names?! David is schizophrenic and lives in a group home, so he was unable to help with the care for mom. We other three had lots to do, and we often felt like we were treading water, since dementia is a difficult illness, and each case is different. Mom was one of those more challenging cases. In one of the homes, we had to pay an extra two thousand per month just to cover the cost of security since she was a threat to staff and residents alike. She was a scrapper. To be fair, she had been a scrapper most of her life. My sister and I both had constant clashes with her. Even if she was wrong (and she usually was) her stubbornness got the better of her. I never ever remember her apologizing for anything. Growing up with that, and not knowing any different, I thought that this was normal behavior.
The weather was very cold that winter (I live in southern Ontario, Canada) so we buried mom in late May, and as I mentioned earlier, it was the end of an era…or so we thought.
Fast forward to January 2017, and my sister Donna sent us a message on our family group chat that she had just gotten a message from a woman in California that evening. The woman had sent my sister a picture of herself and a man. The message said, “You don’t know me, but the man in the picture with me is your brother.” Amazingly, my sister then went to bed and didn’t think about it till the next morning. Several of us thought that this might be a scam, but my intuition knew that something had happened, although I wasn’t sure what the background story was. There were unusual looks and quiet whisperings among our extended family. I always knew something was up. This woman then sent us her husband’s adoption papers as proof and, sure enough, there was our mother’s signature where she had signed off, thus releasing him to the Children’s Aid Society. Unfortunately, at the same time that they found us, my “new brother” was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Apparently, ALS and my mother’s form of dementia (frontal lobe) have a link. We’ve lost several family members to both of these illnesses. The genetic markers run deep within the roots of our family tree.
I was fortunate enough to meet my brother that spring, during my Spring Break. We spent a lovely weekend together and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. My brother passed on July 22, 2017.
My kid brother Dean did some detective work using the redacted information on our brother’s adoption records. A couple afternoons at the library playing with the microfiche allowed my brother to track down the whereabouts of this father. Sadly he had passed away but at least everyone got some closure.
That fall, I told an aunt with whom I was having lunch that Dean had done this detective work to find our new brother’s birth father. The aunt looked at me and said, “That’s nice. But how about YOUR birth father?”
I responded, “Pardon?” I stayed as calm as I could.
She answered, “Yeah, your dad wasn’t your father.”
I just sat quietly and nodded, and we let our server take our order. After allowing some time to lapse, I said that I needed the restroom. I excused myself, went to the restroom, and immediately messaged the rest of my family about this VERY recent development. My sister accused the aunt of being crazy.
I said, “Well, she may be crazy…but I don’t think she’s wrong.”
After pondering my options, I decided to try the 23&Me DNA test. It was easy to order online and easy to complete the test when it arrived a week later. I sent it off. And then I waited.
A couple of weeks later, someone came up on my feed as DV and it stated that this person was a possible first cousin. I immediately contacted them, asking, “Who are you? And how are we related?”
They responded with a simple, “I’ll get back to you.”
Another few weeks passed, and I got a message from DV saying, “Please check your inbox in the 23&Me site. My mother is trying to reach you. She’s your sister.” It turns out DV (Dustin) is my nephew. My sister and I shared a father. I then exchanged contact information with my new sister (Cindy) and we arranged to meet.
I was so excited to meet her. We have so much in common, it’s beyond belief. We both have eczema on our right hand. We both love cooking and entertaining. We both make jewelry by repurposing and recycling. My jewelry is made with beach glass; her jewelry is made from antique and vintage metals.
She came to my house on Valentine’s Day, 2020 and we sat there talking and enjoying a lovely glass of red. The funniest part of the evening came when my partner arrived home from work. He said a polite “Hello” to this new sister, poured himself a glass of red, and said, “My god! There are TWO of you!”
A few weeks after our meeting, I was able to chat with my dad’s brother-in-law to find out a little more information. I started with, “Do you know anything about dad not being my father?”
He nodded slowly. I started with, “When did he…?”
My uncle stopped me and said, “Your dad knew when your mom was pregnant with you, that you weren’t his. But he wanted you to have a good upbringing, so he married your mom.” My parents were married for all of three months when I came along. Almost all my aunts, uncles, and older cousins knew of the brother given up for adoption as well as my MPE situation, yet not one spilled the beans. No one wanted to be “the one who told”. I guess my aunt had had enough of that nonsense, so she decided to set the matter straight with me. For that, I will be eternally grateful.
Back to my “new sister”: due to circumstances in her life, she needed to sell her home in a city about an hour away from us. She ended up buying a small home in the same city as me. We’re now a 5-minute drive or a 20-minute walk from one another. We text, talk, phone, or visit daily. She has met the siblings with whom I was raised and I’ve met one of her siblings. (We would’ve introduced ourselves fully to each other’s families, but Covid has really messed that up.)
Incidentally, our father married another woman and had children with her, so we DO have other siblings out there, but so far, they either want nothing to do with us or are in denial that their father has anything to do with this. Yes, they could do a DNA test, but they’re not too keen on that because some people can’t handle the truth.
I’ve told this story so many times, it’s almost become a legend for me. It’s so surreal, but also wonderful. I once told the story to a counsellor and they said, “Doesn’t that make you feel angry?” I’m pretty sure that they were supposed to say, “How does that make you feel?” In any event, I’m not the least angry. I’ve got so much resilience that I’m glad it was me that all this happened to and not someone who doesn’t adapt well to change. I’m perfectly content in this life I’m living and wouldn’t want it any other way. We can’t change the past…but we can learn from it. I now have a new BFF who’s my sister. Incidentally, the siblings with whom I was raised see her as a sister as well. And the one brother of my sister’s that I’ve met refers to me as his brother as well.
I will continue to enjoy the curveballs that life sends my way. I hope you’ll do the same.