Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving ... and Giving Thanks

This is the story of a brother and sister separated for 35 years. A brother and sister who became family when the brother came to live with the sister. They were 5 years old. They bonded, they loved each other, they were each other’s best friends – and then the brother was taken away.

When I was a little girl, my parents decided to become foster parents. I don’t know what their motivation was, but both of them came from big families and they wanted to have lots of children. My “new” brother came to live with us when we were both about 5. He didn’t speak much English. He was born in Panama to an American mother. His mother brought him and his 5 (yes FIVE) siblings to America. Life became difficult for her, and the children ended up in the foster care system – separated into 5 different foster homes. My brother was small, tiny, very thin. Undernourished. With the brightest eyes, the sweetest smile, and starving for attention and affection. He found a Mommy & Daddy. He found a new brother and sister. He had his own bed, his own toys, his own clothes. He had all the food he could eat … meatloaf, fried chicken, pineapple upside down cake. Good, solid, homemade all-American food.

His new Mommy worked with him, learning English. She sang the Connie Francis song “Never on Sunday” to him to help him learn the days of the week. She took care of him when he was sick with a “rare tropical disease,” that turned out to be the mumps. When his new Mommy found out that he had other siblings in different foster homes, she worked to find them and help him spend time with his other siblings.

The time came when his father’s family in Panama found the children, all scattered in different foster homes. Arrangements were made to re-unite the siblings and take them back to Panama to live with their father and grandparents.

I didn’t understand how other people could take my brother away from me. I don’t remember being at the airport for the reunion of the siblings, and his departure from our family, but I’ve been told that I was distraught and hysterical. I couldn’t understand how those people could take my brother away. He was mine. He was my best friend and playmate. We shared a bedroom. We shared the mumps, the measles and the chicken pox. We went to church together. We went to school together. We did our homework together.

Life went on. My brother grew up in Panama with his siblings, his father, his grandparents and extended family. I grew up with my parents and two biological brothers. We kept in touch with my brother and his family. He did visit us on occasion. We always had gifts and cards from his grandparents.  He spent some summers with us.

When we were teenagers – 14 or 15 – my brother came to live with us again. We went to junior high together. We were again each other’s best friend. We had the same friends, rode our bikes, went to school together, parties, dances … and again he was suddenly ripped from my life.  My parents explained it to me as a “problem with discipline.” He was “out of control.” They couldn’t “handle” him. I didn’t understand. I didn’t see what they were talking about. I wondered if I became a problem, if they would just get rid of me, too.

If we fast forward a few years, my brother showed up in our lives again when we were young adults. He was living back in my hometown, working with one of our cousins! It was magical. There he was. But the reunion was short-lived. One day he just disappeared. POOF. He was gone. Nobody could find him.  He was just gone.

Life went on. I had a family of my own. Moved around. Worked. All those things life brings us. Years passed. Decades passed. I never forgot my brother. I wondered about him all the time. A framed picture of the two of us sat on a table in my home, always. He was an integral part of my life and my childhood memories. When my Mother became ill and was dying, she gave me a box of letters he had written her over the years. There were photographs he sent her of his life in Panama. Cards from his grandparents. She said to me:  “If anyone is going to find him, it will be you.”

The advent of the internet gave me new tools to search for my brother. Periodically I would search for his name. His grandfather’s name. I never knew where to search. What city? What country? When I joined Facebook, I would often search his name there.

Last November I typed in my brother’s name … and THERE HE WAS. I recognized his face immediately. My heart skipped a beat, my hands got sweaty & shaky. I sent him a private message and just said “I think you’re my brother. I’ve been looking for you.”

Our first phone call lasted over an hour. I had to tell him that Mom was gone – she had died 17 years earlier. We both needed time after that call, and it was a month before we spoke again. Our conversations were always good, and there was laughter and tears. He was able to talk to Dad, and had a visit with him.

The time finally came that we were both ready to see each other. My husband encouraged me to see my brother, spend time with him … it was his encouragement that pushed me forward to set up a reunion with my brother. The date was set. The right time came. We travelled to my brother’s home.


There he was. The same slender boy. The same sparkling eyes. The same shy smile.
Hugs. Smiles. Tears. Stories. Laughter. More tears. More laughter. The first day was 6 hours of talking. The second day was 8 hours of talking. I gave him the box of letters Mom had saved. An envelope of pictures with his name in her handwriting on the outside.  More photographs I found. An album of pictures of Mom and Dad for him to look through.  Some of his stories filled in the gaps in my memory. Some of my stories filled in the gaps in his memory. He learned that he was never forgotten, and always loved. I learned that I was never forgotten, and always loved.

My husband learned more about “who” I am through our shared memories of our not-always-happy childhood. My brother’s wife learned more about “who” my brother is … and more about his family. They sat with us and held our hands, supported us as we shared painful memories and happy memories. I cannot express the gratitude I have to both of them for encouraging us, being there to share these moments with us, supporting both of us through this weekend ... When we went back to our hotel room at night, my husband would help me process all my emotions – and would hold me while I cried at the painful ones.

Our journey has come full circle and brought us back together, just as we should be.

Brother and Sister.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful...just wonderful..we should all be so blessed to experience an event in our lives such as this...