Connections

It has been over 3 years since my last blog post, but today is New Year’s Eve, and it is a time for reflecting back on the year that was and looking ahead to the year to come.  2018 has been a year of exciting connections. 2019 promises to be a year of exciting adventures.  I’d like to share what has been the most exciting part of the past year, and why I am looking forward to this coming year with such anticipation.

New Year’s Eve a year ago, I had sent my DNA in to Ancestry.com and was awaiting the results.  As an adoptee, I had always wondered about my ethnicity and about my birth parents – what they looked like, what their personalities were, whether they were even still living. Shortly after the new year, I got notification that my ethnicity results were in.  They have since been refined, but it turns out I am mostly French, with Ireland/Scotland being the next biggest part of my DNA.

Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 6.33.10 AM

Then I started getting notifications about blood relatives.  It was mostly distant cousins, but without knowing any information about family names, it wasn’t clear how we were related.  And I wasn’t entirely sure how accurate Ancestry could be about 3rd, 4th, or even 5th cousins, just from some saliva in a tube.

Each match provided an amount of shared DNA, expressed in “centiMorgans”- the higher the number, the closer the relationship.  So, for example, someone who is listed as a 2nd cousin shares 640 cM with me. (I later figured out he is actually a first cousin, once removed – meaning he is first cousins with my birth mother.  That would explain why the cM number is between 1st and 2nd cousin ranges.)

Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 6.41.21 AM

Imagine my reaction when, about 3 weeks later, I was notified that I had a match much closer than that!  This one listed the relationship as Parent/Child, with extremely high confidence. The centimorgan number was 3,479!

Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 6.42.03 AM

Since I have never had a child, it appeared this must be my parent.  There was not a full name, though – just a screen name, but it did indicate that it was a woman, so it seemed this was my birth mother.  She had created a family tree on the website, and I was able to see that she was married and had 4 daughters – one of whom was not connected to her husband.  That was me!

Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 10.47.59 AM

After several days of heart-racing excitement and a little anxiety, I reached out via direct message to ask for confirmation.  It took her several days to write back, but I received the confirmation I was looking for – I had found my birth mother!   I had done a little digging using her family tree to determine her name and location, found her on Facebook, and looked at photos she had posted of her family.  I can definitely see a family resemblance, especially to her middle daughter.  My dream of finding family that I looked like was coming true!

In writing back, she shared information about her journey – that she was 22 and a teacher when I was born, but not married and not in a position to care for me, so she put me up for adoption.  She was from Prince Edward Island, had gone to live with a family in New Brunswick while pregnant, and then moved to the west coast of the States right after I was born.  She did not have contact with my birth father after that.

She met and married another man after moving and went on to have 3 more girls.  She had shared with her daughters that she had had a baby back in 1964 who was given up for adoption, and that she often wondered what had become of me and whether I was OK.  One of her daughters gave her the DNA kit for Christmas, so it turns out we submitted our samples within weeks of each other!  We communicated several times throughout the spring and summer.  While the messages have gotten fewer and farther between since the initial flurry of information sharing, I still hear from her on special occasions such as my birthday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

To add to the excitement of that discovery, later in the spring, I had another close match show up. This time, the cM number indicated it was likely a half-sibling – another sister.

Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 5.02.02 PM

She also had created a family tree going back many generations.  Because I could see the name of her father, I realized he had passed away (Ancestry.com does not publish names of living people).  But from her tree, I gathered that I had 4 more half-sisters.  Growing up, I had always wanted a younger sister.  It turns out I have a total of 7!

She and I have since been in touch.  She was not aware of my existence before this, but she has embraced the idea fully.  It turns out that her mother knew – her husband had told her before they married that he had fathered a child a few years earlier, although he did not know if it was a boy or girl, and did not know where I ended up. He stayed on Prince Edward Island, raising his family there.  My birth mother has also confirmed that my father was indeed that person.

This sister has shared photos of her dad as well as of herself and her sisters. Again, there is definitely a family resemblance. But beyond that, she shared that he had been a teacher and then a school counselor before passing away 20 years ago.  I had learned many years ago that both of my birth parents were in the field of education. Imagine my amazement, though, when I found out that my birth father had, in fact, taught math for part of his career!

Having made connections with both sides of my birth family has given me a sense of completion.  I have had a wonderful life – the parents who raised me provided lots of opportunities and love.  But my life was a bit like a puzzle with pieces missing, and I am beginning to fill in the gaps.  So many questions have been answered, but there is more to find out.  My sister in Canada has invited me to visit and so I am planning a trip to meet her, her other sisters, and their mother.  I hope to learn more about the extended family and work on piecing together the puzzle that is me.  Perhaps, one day, I will also get to visit the other side of my birth family and be able to finish filling in the missing pieces.  But for 2019, I will be content with the excitement of the adventure that awaits!

Advertisements

The Seven Days of Chalica

I am coming out of blogging silence to share today’s inspiration.

Each December, Unitarian Universalists celebrate a relatively new holiday known as Chalica.  It is held from the first Monday of December through the following Sunday (7 days) and honors and celebrates the 7 principles of the UUA.  I posted a status update on Facebook today and mentioned that it was the 5th day of Chalica.  A friend commented: “on the 5th day of Chalica, my true love gave to me…

That got me to thinking what the end of that sentence would be, and what the other verses (1st day, 2nd day, etc) would be.  I decided to give my creativity a try and came up with words to The Seven Days of Chalica, sung to the tune of the 12 Days of Christmas, with each verse about the principle for that day.  I am thinking it might catch on!

The Seven Days of Chalica
Sung to the tune of The 12 Days of Christmas

On the 1st day of Chalica, the UU gave to me
Inherent Worth and Dignity.

On the 2nd day of Chalica, the UU gave to me
Kindness to All and
Inherent Worth and Dignity.

On the 3rd day of Chalica, the UU gave to me
Spiritual Growth,
Kindness to All and
Inherent Worth and Dignity.

On the 4th day of Chalica, the UU gave to me
Free Search for Truth,
Spiritual Growth,
Kindness to All and
Inherent Worth and Dignity.

On the 5th day of Chalica, the UU gave to me
De-mo-cra-cy,
Free Search for Truth,
Spiritual Growth,
Kindness to All and
Inherent Worth and Dignity

On the 6th day of Chalica, the UU gave to me
A Peaceful Free World,
De-mo-cra-cy,
Free Search for Truth,
Spiritual Growth,
Kindness to All and
Inherent Worth and Dignity

On the 7th day of Chalica, the UU gave to me
The Earth Which We Value,
A Peaceful Free World,
De-mo-cra-cy,
Free Search for Truth,
Spiritual Growth,
Kindness to All and
Inherent Worth and Dignity

4 years? Where has the time gone?

I received notice from WordPress that today is my 4 year “blog-iversary” – I can hardly believe it!  So I decided to look back over my (122) posts.  I did the math (you are welcome) and over 48 months, I am averaging about 2.5 posts per month.  That is pretty pathetic, but if you realize that the first month, I published 12 posts (some were poems written long before I began blogging), and start with the 2nd month, the average per month drops to 2.3.

After the 1st year, it gets even worse.  During December 2010 (my first year blogging), I was posting nearly every day with a “Month of Gratitude”.  Granted the posts were short, but it raised my average considerably.  If I just do the math for the last 3 years, I posted a total of 52 times over 36 months.  Barely over once a month!

I started this blog to chronicle the journey I was traveling as the daughter of an Alzheimer’s patient – focusing on the “Spirit Within” both him and me.  It has been an outlet for me to express both gratitude and sadness, joy and grief, frustration and silliness.  But I am not sure there is much of a theme to it.

I read other blogs and am impressed by the writers’ ability to convey their message, whether it is sharing information, detailing their struggles, or offering humor.  I follow quite a few, and enjoy reading about the lives of people – some I have things in common with, others I feel I learn a lot from, many who make me laugh.  I don’t have many followers myself, the number of views I get for each post is limited, and I am not sure I am really contributing to the blogging world.

I am sitting here pondering the last 4 years, during which Dad passed away, and thinking there isn’t much more to say.  I may decide to start a different blog – if I find myself with something to share – but for now, I think I will just let this one fade into the void of the interwebs.  I’m not going to shut it down, but I am going to say good bye.

A heartfelt THANK YOU to the handful of you loyal readers and commenters – I’ll be in touch if I decide to start a new blog so you can decide if you want to follow it!

When I remember Grandmommy’s house…

When I remember Grandmommy’s house, it’s always Summer.  Or maybe Spring.  It’s at least warm enough to be outside.  We played outside a lot.  I have memories of poking underneath her azalea bushes, looking for Easter eggs with my cousins; running to the front yard with a dime clutched in my hand, trying to catch the ice cream truck as it made its way down the block; and catching fireflies after dark, putting them in an old mayonnaise or pickle jar with holes poked in the lid.  I suppose we visited other times of year, or perhaps it would be raining, because I also have memories inside the house, although this particular story took place on the brick patio outside the kitchen door.

Current view of Grandmommy's house courtesy of Google Street View (it hasn't changed much at all!)

Current view of Grandmommy’s house
(it hasn’t changed much at all!)

When we would visit, there was never a need to bring our own toys – Grandmommy had things for us to play with.  There was the stuffed dog – long, like a dachshund, but with blue velvet around the middle – I liked to sleep with my head on his middle part.  And the babydoll with a squishy belly and hard rubber arms, legs and face – I carried her around all the time, giving her bottles and rocking her to sleep.  It was the babydoll that got me in trouble one time – the only time my grandmother ever got mad at me.

The family next door had 3 girls – two, a few years younger than me, and Susan – a couple of years older.  Susan was tall, pretty, and most importantly the oldest.  She often decided what game we would play.

One time, I took the doll outside and met them in Grandmommy’s side yard.  Susan wanted to play operating room – she would be the doctor and her sisters and I would be the nurses.  So we got a butter knife, some Band-Aids, and a permanent marker.

Susan laid the doll on the patio table and pretended to cut her open with the butter knife.  When she was done, we put bandaids on her belly, and then drew scars and stitches on her arms and legs.  With the permanent marker.

When Grandmommy found out what we had done, she got mad – angrier than I had ever seen her.  She sat me down on her red kitchen stool – the kind with the steps that folded up underneath the seat – and scolded me for what felt like a long time.  She told me I was not allowed to play with the babydoll any more, and couldn’t take any toys outside.  I was more upset that she was mad at me than that I was being punished – I hated disappointing her.   But I’ve always wondered if Susan got in trouble too, since it was her idea!

Mixed Emotions

We are coming up on 2 important anniversaries.  Tomorrow is the 1 year anniversary of my father’s death.  I think about him every day, and miss him more than words can say.  Fortunately, when I look back on my life, I have many special memories of our time together – riding in the car on road trips or just to his farm in Maryland, dancing to big band music at the officers’ club on a ech college gradnearby military base, moving me into my college dorm, the smile on his face when I graduated, and the hug he gave me the last time I saw him.  I am grateful for those.  They usually bring a smile to my face, albeit often with tears in my eyes at the same time.

I know I am lucky to have had him in my life for 48 years.  His life was a long, successful, happy one.  He worked hard, provided well for his family, and loved me unconditionally.  I know it is selfish to want him back, but I do.  Even with the Alzheimer’s robbing him of his memory and his intelligence, I miss his gentle smile and warm eyes.  But then I remember that several of my students over the past few years have lost fathers to cancer or heart attacks or other tragic causes, and I feel terrible for feeling so sad about my dad.  At least he got to see me grow up.  He got to know me as an adult.  And I got to know him too.  My loss isn’t easy, but it isn’t as tragic as these other men who were taken from their families, their daughters, too soon.

I know I will miss Dad every day, but I don’t want to go through the rest of my life as sad as I have been.  The problem is that I don’t know how to miss him without feeling sadness too.  I think I am afraid that if I let go of the sadness, it will feel like I don’t miss him enough.  I try to focus on the fact that he would not have wanted to go on in his condition at the end.  But it is still hard to let go and move forward.

Moving forward is what the 2nd anniversary is all about – processing inSunday will be my first wedding anniversary!  I have mixed emotions about that too. Don’t get me wrong – I am beyond thrilled to have married the love of my life!  It was a long time coming.  I am just sad that it didn’t happen years before, when my dad was still able to travel and could have been there to give me a hug and to welcome Jeanne into the family as my wife.

Recently, I have become obsessed fascinated with the idea of a medium being able to channel loved ones from the “other side”.  I am beginning to believe that the spirits of those who have passed remain with us, sort of like guardian angels, hovering over and keeping tabs on what we are doing.  The one positive thing I can hang on to about my dad passing away 3 days before our wedding is, as our Best Woman put it, that was the only way Dad could be at the wedding with us.  It isn’t quite the same thing as if he had been there in body, but I do hope that he was there in spirit – and was as happy for us as we were for ourselves.

Never Say Never!

Memphis, Marriage, and Mocha – the lesson we have learned from these 3 things is to never say never.

Continue reading

The Trip of a Lifetime

I was re-reading a sermon I gave at Neshoba about three and a half years ago, and realized I had never posted it here on my blog.  So for what it’s worth…

The Trip of a Lifetime

One time, years ago, I decided to spend part of my spring break visiting a good friend who had moved to Colorado, about ½ way between Denver and Boulder.  I had never been to that part of the country and was excited about seeing what I had heard was beautiful scenery.  I was anxious to see as much as I could in the week that I had, and figured the best way to do that would be to travel by train.  To get from DC, where I lived at the time, to Denver, I had to change trains in Chicago.  I had driven from the East Coast to the mid-west many times growing up – my father’s family was in Wisconsin and Minnesota – so that part of the trip was not the motivating factor.  But I had not been in any of the states between the Mississippi River and California, so was really looking forward to watching out the train window as the Great Plains rushed past and the Rocky Mountains approached.

Continue reading

A way to honor those who gave unselfishly

Heroes are those who go above and beyond. They put their lives on the line for others, sacrifice much for the good of all, show courage when most of us would run from danger.  I am no hero.  I’m not sure I would run into a burning building or charge down an airplane aisle to tackle a bad guy.  I never served our country by joining the military (although I have family members who did and I am extraordinarily proud of them).  But I can try to go above and beyond.

I heard about the 21-day kindness challenge on another blog that I follow.  The blogger, Jane, says this about doing random acts of kindness:

Admit it. When you give someone a gift, big or small, and it makes them smile, you feel pretty good about yourself. Am I right? In a way, this seems a bit selfish. Doing nice things for people in order to make you feel good. And it is selfish. But in a good way.

I have done small things for people – paid a toll for the person behind me, offered to drive a friend to an event, helped someone load groceries in their car when they had a child with them – and it does make me feel good.  But as Jane wrote on her blog, these random acts have been few and far between, occurring when it was easy and convenient for me.  I pulled out an extra dollar when paying my own toll, was going to the event anyway, had the time to help.

This 21-day challenge will involve a more deliberate effort, as well as some creativity, to find opportunities and come up with ideas of how to brighten someone’s day.  But if it brings a smile to someone’s face, or encourages them to “pay it forward”, it will be worth the effort.  And maybe, just maybe, I will develop a habit that will change the world for the better.

Are you in?  Let’s honor those who gave everything 12 years ago by giving just a little now.

Revisions

I have a hard time with the idea of a “first draft”.  I want whatever I write to be perfect from the get-go, but sometimes, when I step back for a while and then return to look at it with fresh eyes, I realize that it really would be better with a revision.  This happened recently with the poem I wrote and posted back in July.  I mentioned having written it to a colleague, an English teacher, and she asked if I would be willing to read it to her.  When I looked it over and imagined reading it out loud to someone who analyzes poetry with her students all the time, I decided it needed some improvements.  So here is the 2nd draft… it may be changed again in the future, but for now, I think it is at least a little improved.

Sacred Ground
 
Within each of us is a spark of the Divine,
Always lit, never consumed.
 
In the presence of this fire
We hear the voice of our God,
Of our Goddess, of our Holy.
“You are on Sacred Ground.”
 
In the presence of this flame
In me, in you, in us,
Walking, standing, gathering –
We are on sacred ground.
 
In the presence of this fire
We are compelled
To take up a torch, to carry a flame,
To seek a sacred ground.
 
In the presence of this spark
We are committed
To light the fire of passion, of life, of holy work.
To journey towards truth on Sacred Ground.

 

 

Sacred Ground

Last month, I attended General Assembly, the annual gathering of the UUA (Unitarian Universalist Association), at which there are business meetings, workshops, and social events.  Each day, there were breakout sessions called Reflection Groups.  We met with 8-10 other attendees to discuss assigned topics and to share our thoughts on our experience at GA.

One of the Reflection topics was the Biblical story of Moses and the burning bush.  One member of the group read it aloud and then we reflected on what part of it spoke to us the most.  We were asked to consider how we could apply the message of that story to ourselves as UUs.  From that discussion, I was inspired to write the following poem.  I shared it with my congregation last week as our Chalice Lighting words.

Sacred Ground
 
Within each of us is a spark of the Divine,
A burning bush,
Always lit, never consumed,
That speaks the voice
Of our God, of our Goddess, of our Holy.
“You are on Sacred Ground.”
 
In the presence of this fire,
Whether in ourselves or in another,
We are standing, we are walking, we are traveling
On Sacred Ground.
 
We are compelled, we are committed,
To take up the torch,
To carry the flame
To light the fire of passion, of life, of holy work,
As we journey towards truth
On Sacred Ground.