Wednesday, 23 July 2014

My long-lost sister

This story was a long time in the making. When I first found out that I had a half-sister, in 2009, I didn't have all of the pieces of the story. There are probably still pieces yet to be revealed, and there is a huge chunk that can never be known because our father has passed away, taking his point of view with him. But on the fifth anniversary of discovering her, our "sisterversary", I thought I would share what I have. Many people have heard the story in person, but there are many more from school and previous jobs that have never heard it. And heck, it is a story with a very happy ending. :-)

My sister, Mary-Anne, is on the left and I am on the right. This was taken at our first meeting.
2009-0819sisters2


This is the timeline we've pieced together:

1962: Our father, a young and single soldier stationed in Alberta, has a teenage girlfriend and oops, she's pregnant. He wants to marry said girlfriend, he goes to her father. Dad got into a huge fight with her father and walked away from the whole situation. She never hears from Dad after telling him she was pregnant (she suspected her father had words with him, my mother confirmed this).

1963: Mary-Anne, my half-sister, is born and given up for adoption. She is raised with an adopted brother in what she describes as a happy home.

1964: Dad meets my mother while stationed in New Brunswick. He tells Mom the whole story, and makes her promise not to tell anyone else. As far as we know, he never told his parents or anyone else about Mary-Anne.

When they met, he had a picture of his ex-girlfriend, Mary-Anne's birth mother, in his wallet. Mom made him throw it out.

1965-1967: My parents marry, I'm born, my brother (Steve) is born. Neither my brother or I were told that we had another sibling because that's how Dad wanted it. Mom would've told us if she had his blessing to do so.

These pictures were all taken around 1971.

Mary-Anne.
Mary-Anne

Me (Angela).
Angela

Steve.
Steve

My mother sometimes got books about adoption out of the library throughout the years, leading me to wonder if she or Dad had a child. But it just seemed too outlandish that I could have a sibling I don't know about. She reads a lot of inspirational books, so it could just be she thought the books looked interesting, as she claimed. Or, it was something I wasn't meant to know about. So I didn't ask.

1993: Mary-Anne is getting married and planning children. She has a host of medical issues, and no family history that she can refer to. So she requests copies of her adoption records. For the first time, she discovers that she is not part Scottish and part Swedish like her adoptive mother told her she was. Mary-Anne discovers she is part-Scottish and part-Ukrainian.

Using mad detective skills, pre-Internet, Mary-Anne finds her birth mother. They make contact and get along very well, discovering they have much in common. Her birth mother is now married and has three sons, all of whom were happy to discover they had a sister.

Her birth mother gives Dad's name to Mary-Anne, and says he was in the Canadian Armed Forces. Mary-Anne writes a letter to Dad through the CAF, requesting medical information primarily, hoping for contact. She asks if there is a history of specific medical conditions, says that she grew up well and is planning on having children.

Dad writes a letter dated July 20, 1993. There is no history of the specific conditions she asked about. He tells her what his parents died of, and how old they were when they died.

He gives a brief biography of his moves with the CAF, and lists all of his volunteer work. He says that he has a son and a daughter, and that his wife, Helene, has known about Mary-Anne all along.

He says he is glad she was raised in a loving family and wishes her well on her quest to have children. He asks her to send any future communication through the CAF.

The letter is not warm and fuzzy, it is - formal. (I've read it). Mom saw it before he mailed it and thought it was rather dry. Dad simply said that he told her what she wanted to know. He included a photo of himself circa 1962 and sent the letter, along with Mary-Anne's letter to him. Mom begged him to tell my brother and myself about Mary-Anne but he wouldn't.

Mary-Anne appreciates that he answered her questions, and sent the photo so she could "put the pieces of my face together", but was left wanting. The letter does not encourage further contact, his list of volunteer work leaves her feeling that he wants her to know that he isn't an asshole.

She knew then that she had another brother, plus a sister, but had no way of contacting us. She tries not to get emotionally invested in the idea of meeting us. Every now and then, she uses 411.ca to look at people with our last name in New Brunswick and wonders if she is looking at our names (since our last name is rare in NB - probably).

Through this process, Mary-Anne became something of an expert on how to find biological parents after adoption. She helps others when she can.

July 31, 1993. My brother gets married for the first time. The family is all together. Not one word about Mary-Anne.

My brother has a son with his first wife. Mary-Anne gets married and has a daughter and a son. They grow up knowing there is a grandfather out there that didn't want contact, and that they have an aunt and uncle who don't know about them.

2001 - I move to Alberta. From this point on, I am no more than three hours away from Mary-Anne but neither of us know it. She doesn't know my name and thinks I'm still in New Brunswick. I don't know that there is a Mary-Anne. Dad is the only one who knew that Mary-Anne was living in Alberta but of course said nothing.

During this time period, my brother has two children with his second wife. I think that I'm an auntie of just three, not knowing the real number is five.

May 2004. My brother is going to Edmonton for a work thing and invites me to come hang out with him for a day. I drive north and we explore a couple of places. It's the first time that either of us have gone to Edmonton. Little do we know, but our sister is living there with her family.

July 19, 2006. My father is hospitalized, complaining of dizziness. I'm not told about this - my mother has a habit of withholding information from me to "protect me". I'm at a meeting that night and it strikes me that I haven't spoken with my mother for a while. The meeting topic is "loss". I come home, and there's a voice mail from my mother. She says she just wanted to chat, she'll call the next night, but her tone is weird. I don't call her back because its after midnight in her time zone, and I assume if it were really important, she'd keep calling.

July 20, 2006. My father has a brainstem stroke in the early morning. My brother wakes me up at 5 am my time with a phone call. I get on a plane two days later.

July 29, 2006. My father dies. My mother has no idea of what Mary-Anne's name or location is. She looks for Mary-Anne's original letter but can't find it. What we found out later is that Dad sent Mary-Anne's original letter back to her.

Mom decides that since she doesn't have any information, she will not tell my brother or I about Mary-Anne because she thinks we couldn't find her. My mother is not Internet-savvy.

July 19, 2009 - have you been paying attention to the dates?

Around this time, Mary-Anne's birth mother has a dream. In it, Dad appears and tells her that he made a mistake regarding Mary-Anne. On July 19, she has the strangest urge to look up Dad on the Internet. An inner voice is telling her she has to do it, she can't go to bed, she has to see where Dad is. So she Googles him. She finds a web page that my brother built in tribute to Dad. This is when she finds out that Dad has died.

She prints out the web page - with pictures of Dad as he aged, with information on his family, to mail to Mary-Anne. Then realizes she can't just mail it to Mary-Anne. She calls her and tells her that her biological father has died.

Mary-Anne is taken aback. She'd always planned on making a second attempt at contact. Her adopted mother is from Nova Scotia, and wants her ashes scattered there. Since Nova Scotia neighbours New Brunswick on the East Coast, Mary-Anne thought she'd see if she could "drop by" when the day finally came. She didn't anticipate that Dad would die first. (Mary-Anne's adopted father has also died).

So she takes a few hours to process this news. Lost opportunity, etc. Although she has tried not to be emotionally invested in the knowledge that she has a half-brother and a half-sister who don't know about her, she has always longed for contact, to get to know us.

Armed with the knowledge that Dad has died, Mary-Anne decides to find her brother and sister. Quick Googling shows that our names are Steve and Angela and we both have online presences.

She knows my mother's name. She knows that my mother knows about her. She looks up my mother's name on Facebook, and sends her a private message. She introduces herself, and asks Mom if she would consider telling her children about their sister.

July 20, 2009. My mother rarely opens messages from people she doesn't know because of the scammers, yet for some reason she feels compelled to open this message. She's happy to have found Mary-Anne. Mary-Anne and Mom exchange several messages over the next couple of days, establishing that each has the right person. They add each other as friends on Facebook and get to know each other. Mary-Anne uploads pictures from her childhood. Mom is stunned to see how closely her baby pictures resemble mine. Mary-Anne starts to Google my brother and I, and is stunned to see how she and I resemble each other, and how we have many things in common.

Mary-Anne counsels Mom on how to break the news, again having done the research.

My brother is on the road - he's moving from New Brunswick to Winnipeg. He and his family are camping along the way.

July 22, 2009. I am at a meeting. I come home, and there's a voice mail from my mother. She says she just wanted to chat, she'll call the next night, and her tone is normal. I don't call her back because its after midnight in her time zone, and I assume if it were really important, she'd keep calling.

July 23, 2009. My mom calls and gets me at home that evening. She says "Your father had a skeleton in his closet". She breaks the news. I'm stunned. All I can say is "okay..."

She tells me that Mary-Anne won't contact us, we have to contact her. (Mary-Anne has set it up so that we can establish communication when we are ready for it). She tells me how much we look alike and how she always wanted us to know about Mary-Anne but Dad forbid it.

I'm stunned. I know that I will contact Mary-Anne, but I don't know when or how because I'm stunned. I've always wanted a sister, but thought at age 43, the opportunity had passed. Mom gives me Mary-Anne's email address. I look at her profile picture on Facebook, and I do not see a resemblance, other than we both have red hair and the same cheeks. I Google her, and find an article on her and her family.

My brother is somewhere in North Dakota. Mom doesn't call him, because you just can't break that kind of news to someone standing in a campground. I thank her for telling me. I think she expected me to be angry, but I'm not. It's useless to be angry at a dead person. And she told me just a few days after Mary-Anne made contact. She did the best that she knew how.

Mom also mentions that Mary-Anne lives in Edmonton. Which is three hours north of me. It's surprising enough that I have a sister. It's unbelievable she's three hours away. Mom mentions that Mary-Anne and her family are planning on coming to Calgary in August for a family function.

I don't say anything at work the next day. Because I'm stunned. I call a couple of my friends. I'm stunned and I'm excited. I'm no longer the oldest. I'm no longer the only daughter. I'm an auntie of five now. My head is spinning.

I go meet with friend, to help clear my head. I come home and log into Facebook. My brother and his wife have arrived in Winnipeg, and they've friended Mary-Anne on Facebook, after Mom called Steve. So I friend her too.

She friends me back and thanks me for making contact. She's on vacation with intermittent Internet access. I start looking at her childhood photos - and I see that we look like sisters. Our baby pictures are eerily similar, except that her hair is carrot-orange and I was a light strawberry blonde. As adults, we look very similar below the eyes - same nose, mouth, chin. A DNA test will not be required!

July 31, 2009 - we talk on the phone after she gets back from vacation. We're on the phone for over two hours. She reads me Dad's letter. I speak with my new niece and nephew.

We start talking on the phone. I upload childhood pictures for her to see. I show pictures of her to my friends and they can all see we're sisters. She shows pictures of me and our brother to her friends.

She and my brother also talk on the phone.

August 19, 2009. Mary-Anne and her family are in Calgary for her husband's uncle's memorial service. We meet for an hour. I bring her a photo album of my brother and I growing up that I have prepared for her. She brings me a card she made. My niece has made up charts of everyone's likes and dislikes, so I can get to know the family better. She started making the charts when I made contact. She also made me a card.

It's all awesome.

September 12, 2009. We meet again. I drive north and she drives south and we meet up in Red Deer, halfway between Calgary and Edmonton. My niece comes with her. We spend Saturday and Sunday at a B&B/spa. We go shopping and eat Greek food and get to know each other better.

We decide that our brother should host Christmas in Winnipeg, so Mary-Anne can meet him, and my mom could fly west so Mary-Anne can meet her too. Steve is not actually thrilled when I tell him about this - his new house isn't finished yet and he has nowhere to host us. Mary-Anne decides that she and her family will stay at a hotel, since it's bound to be weird. My sister-in-law's parents offer to let me stay at their house close by. Steve is hosting Christmas whether he likes it or not. (Once it's settled who is staying where, he's much happier. And his wife is totally on board).

October 10, 2009. I drive three hours north and spend Thanksgiving with my new family. It's the best Thanksgiving I've had in years. Mary-Anne introduces me to her friends and her adoptive mother, Marg. Marg hasn't entirely been happy with Mary-Anne bonding with her birth mother, so I am not sure how she will receive me. Marg is very pleased that Mary-Anne has found me, she hugged me and declared me to be her new daughter. Okay then. (It might have helped that I fixed Marg's TV).

November 20, 2009 - Mary-Anne is my guest at the office Christmas party. My coworkers adore her. We get a fancy room at the Hyatt and spend all weekend talking and shopping.

December, 2009 - Mary-Anne, her family, my mother, and I all descend on Winnipeg for Christmas, so Steve and Mary-Anne and their families can all meet. It goes well.

Family

And so we continue on. I've never had an uncelebrated birthday since meeting her. In 2010, I went with her to Vancouver Island so that she could meet our uncles and most of our cousins. In 2012, we went to Las Vegas. We see each other often and are in constant contact. She is now one of my very best friends. The sad part is that Dad had to die for the truth to come out.

Hugging a tree in British Columbia, 2010.
Tree huggng sisters

Las Vegas, 2012.
Vegas, baby

Colour Me Rad 5K, 2014.
Colour Me Rad 5K

Did you notice the similarity in the dates? Mary-Anne and I both feel there's more than coincidence at play here. That perhaps, on a cosmic level, Dad wanted us to meet after all. I'm very glad that we did. Happy Sisterversary, my beloved sister.

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