Dad in the 70's
My mom and dad met shortly after she moved to Illinois from Arkansas. The story goes they hit it off. They dated for a while and when she ended up pregnant with me, they decided to split ways. His parents found out about me when I was around 9 months old and they loved me like crazy.
Mom hates this picture, but I adore it. Sorry mom.
My mom met my step-dad when she was pregnant with me. They started dating after I was born and they were together for 10 years. My sisters, Kelly and Shawna came along 4 and 5.5 years later and we were a family. I can remember calling my step-dad by his first name when I was really little, but I started calling him "dad" fairly early on. Since mom didn't have any biological family in the area, we had lots of "aunts" and "uncles" so it wasn't really strange to me that I had a Grandma Grace, Grandpa Wendell, Aunt Debbie, Uncle Mikey, etc. I thought they were friends.
|Our little family-1988|
|Younger years with Grandma Grace and Grandpa Wendell. I didn't know yet, but they were my biological paternal grandparents.|
|Me and my Uncle Mikey at my 2nd (?) birthday party. He says I was spoiled and that I was a "french fry freak." I plead innocent.|
When I was 8, my mom and step-dad separated and then divorced. My step-dad was really nasty during the process and because he was bringing up the fact that I wasn't legally his in court, mom decided to tell me about my biological dad, Bob. She didn't want me to find out because someone was being nasty. I remember being shocked and then slightly excited and mostly very curious that I had a different dad. It explained why I didn't look anything at all like my sisters. It also explained why I had a different last name.
|My sisters and I when I was around the age that I found out I had a different dad.|
I don't remember the news changing how I felt about anyone. Mom made him sound like a saint and took all the blame on herself, but I wasn't hurt because I already had a dad. Looking back, I don't think it bothered me until I was about 10 years old.
|Me, my sisters and my Grandma Grace & Grandpa Wendell at the campground where they had a camper. We went there every year since I can remember.|
Something about becoming a pre-teen and that need for identity and affirmation that just really blows us all out of the water, right? I was very curious about my biological family at that point and asked a lot of questions. Primarily I wanted any and all information I could get about my bio-dad's sons, Kyle and Kolin. I didn't feel like I needed my dad, but I desperately wanted my brothers. I remember praying very fervently from a young age for them. I can still feel the gut-ache from being separated from siblings. Mom said that their mom was not happy about me and would not let me see them. I prayed that one day I could anyway.
When I was 13 I admitted that I had been sexually abused by my step-grandfather. In the aftermath, I lost all contact with the step-family I had grown up with. I had a falling out with my step-dad after he promised me he would never take my sisters to the abuser's house again, but he did. Despite my efforts over the years, we have never had a very good relationship since that argument. I felt betrayed and I felt helpless to keep my sisters safe.
Grandma Grace and Grandpa Wendell continued to be a very important relationship in my life. They meant the world to me and I loved seeing them. One year, at the campground, my bio-dad was there. We left quickly, but I had seen him. Mom told me who he was and asked me what I thought. I told her that I hoped I would age like she had and not him. Hahaha, I always have the sarcastic answer, but the fact was, his image was burned into my mind. I searched his face a hundred times and after mom gave me a picture I searched his picture a thousand times to see where I came from. I was told all my life that I looked like my mom, but I never really believed it. I wasn't exactly sure that I looked like this man, either.
2000 was a hard year. Grandma Grace had breast cancer and lung cancer. I was preparing to graduate high school. My high school sweetheart of 4 years moved to another city. I turned 18 in April that year and Grandma Grace threw me a huge birthday party. She invited family I hadn't seen in years and some of them I had never met. She said it was something she wanted to do before it was "too late." She got her wish, because she lost that battle with cancer two weeks later. The funeral was awful for me...that was when my brothers saw me for the first time. I felt like they and the cousins were angry with me and I felt very out of place. I was worried that since grandma was gone, no one would ever speak to me again.
|I really, really loved my grandparents. They were so wonderful to me and always loved me well. They loved my mom and they treated me and my sisters equally. That was more than I could say for most of my extended family (maternal and step-family)|
After that, I was kinda lost. It wasn't just Grandma Grace dying, there were so many factors contributing to it. I ditched my plans to go to college out of state, went to a local community college. I ended up living with my boyfriend after he came back to town and started some self-destructive behaviors. Please don't think I'm pinning my actions on anyone or anything...I made these choices, but I was pretty depressed and I felt very out of place in the world. Years of not feeling like I fit in anywhere were piling up. In 2003 I moved to Texas after breaking up with the boyfriend and this pretty much sums up the next 6 months:
My 21st birthday in Texas. It started a 6month time frame of pretty much throwing out every personal boundary I had set into place for myself.
6 months later a handsome GI came home after his injury in Iraq. We hit it off kinda like my mom and dad did. We decided to try to make it work. I got Allan, Rhiya and GraceAnne all in one fell-swoop. Lucky lady! It was around that time I started really talking to my biological dad (and my step-dad again for a while) I wanted our daughters to have connection and lots of love.
|Christmas 2003 in Alaska.|
In 2000, Dad married Laura and she encouraged him to reach out to me. We talked some, but Dad and I had a much better relationship during GraceAnne's early years. He loved Rhiya and GraceAnne and loved being a grandpa. He came to our wedding and brought my Grandpa Wendell, who I had kept in touch with frequently after Grandma Grace died.
|Grandpa Wendell and I in 2006|
|Dad with my sweet nephew, Zekaeus and GraceAnne in 2006|
It took about a year, but Kyle finally contacted me and we had as much relationship as he could handle. I was very careful to gauge what he was up for. We talked online a lot and did a bible study via email. Over the years, we've become closer and talked about a lot of things. It always seemed a little awkward, but I continued to pray it would be more natural.
In 2008, I called to tell dad about Violet's birth and found out that all the phone numbers had changed. I tried to reach out, but was never received. I was definitely a little sensitive and hurt over it. I stayed in touch with the rest of my family and waited.
In May of this year, I got a call that dad was in the hospital. His stomach was bleeding and they thought he had a blood disorder. I remember our small-group mate asking me if I would go visit him and I said, "He's not dying. He'll be okay." Of course, the following weeks proved me wrong. He was, in fact, dying of upper bowel and bone cancer. His prognosis was 6 months.
|Dad and I-October 2012|
|Dad, me, my adorable nephew Oliver, my brother Kyle & Violet|
Now I am so grateful that we were able to go see him a few times. The kids saw some hard truths about cancer-that it's ugly and that it ravages people. They also watched as our family came together for the first time in years. I learned so much this summer about my paternal family. Lots of it was hard to reconcile, but it was healing to learn.
Wednesday morning God woke me up. He said, "It's morning already." I sat straight up out of bed and wondered what that meant. Allan's alarm went off and I thought it must be 6:30, so I got up to read my bible. I sat down and read for a long time. I finally got my phone to see what time it was and realized I had gotten up at 5am. I also saw that Kyle had called several times the night before and texted me, too.
I pinned my Uncle Mike down on the phone, finally and he told me that Dad had died late the night before. Over the course of the day I learned about funeral arrangements. The problem was, I was supposed to be in PA while the funeral was going on. Allan and I spent the next 36 hours juggling things and I was free to go to my dad's funeral. I was really apprehensive, as grandma and grandpa's funerals were incredibly awkward. There are some people in the family who really don't agree with my existence, for whatever reason. That's really all I will say about that right now.
|Dad's bike and his boots-inside the church|
I pulled into the church for the wake half-way through the service Friday night. The church was full of people. I cut my way through and found Kyle, hugged him tight and told him I was sorry. Kolin (our youngest brother) was sitting there, but I had never talked to him and I wasn't sure how he would receive me, so I just waved nervously as some cousins glared. I found my Aunt Debbie and hugged Laura. Everything was decorated so well. They had brought his Harley in and his boots...the urn was adorable, for lack of any better word.
|The little beanbags are handwarmers GraceAnne had made for him a couple weeks ago because he said his hands were cold all the time. He thought those were really special.|
I felt so sad and out of place, that people would be jerks and I was so nervous about Kolin. I wanted to talk to him so badly. As I sat in a front pew and thought about dad it came to me to just go tell Kolin how sorry I was that he had lost his dad. Why do I have to worry about what these people think? I have just as much right to be at my dad's funeral as anyone else. So I walked up to Kolin and I said "I am SO sorry." My voice was shaking and probably my whole body, too. He said, "it's okay." I touched his arm and said, "No...I am SO sorry about dad." Do you know what happened next? He opened up and talked to me most of the rest of the night. He's such a smart, thoughtful young man. I am so amazed with these brothers of mine!
Someone walked up to me and Kolin and said, "Wow, you two really favor each other! But I bet you hear that all the time." Kolin looked at her and said, "Actually, I've never heard that in my life..." I just cracked up. It was so awkward and so awesome all at the same time. It was so great to be seen with a sibling and recognized as belonging to each other.
The funeral was the next day and the service was wonderful. Several of dad's friends stood up and spoke about what he meant to them. When the pastor read off who dad was survived by, he said wife-Laura and then he said daughter-TARA. Words cannot explain the healing and validation in that. *I* matter. He loved me. I belong. I started bawling my eyes out and I am sure that my brothers (who were sitting right next to ME!) thought I was crying because I was sad, but as Kyle held my hand, I was praising God that the little lost girl has a place in the world and that all the mean people in the church couldn't change that. Praising God that I got to sit next to these smart, funny, handsome men who are my brothers. Praising God that I get to be a sister-in-law and auntie to Annie and sweet Oliver (Kyle's girlfriend and son). Praising God that even though dad is gone and I can never hear him redeem me with his words, I got the second half of a prayer that started when I was 8-years-old and I am redeemed with relationship. Oh-how He loves us!
|Balloon release in honor of dad after the service|
The next night I got to eat dinner with Kyle, Annie and Oliver at their house. I enjoyed myself so much. I almost felt guilty that I was so happy, since I was there to bury my dad.
|Oliver is so amazingly precious. I'm in love with him and his mom and dad are pretty great, too!|
This morning I drove home and I felt like I was floating all the way. How blessed am I!? I had an absolutely amazing time with my family and I feel like all the baggage I've carried all these years is gone. I didn't even realize I had it until it all fell away.
You know that look on a kid's face when they first get handed their younger sibling?
|Awe...(me and Shawna with mom and Kelly in the background-1987)|
|Pride...(me and Kelly-1986)|
|Excitement (me and Kelly-1986)|
I'm a big sister to 2 sisters and 2 brothers! WOW! I loved and tried to protect my sisters growing up and I always wanted little brothers. WOW!
This evening has been hard, being alone in the house...the full weight of what it means for dad to be gone is kinda getting me. I can hear his deep, raspy voice tonight saying, "Well, I coulda called, too...I can pick up a phone." Just like the last time we talked a week ago. I suspect this will be hard for a while. But it will be okay. I'll keep on praying that I can be a sister to these boys I've wanted for 22 years. When you're tired of praying and you think God doesn't hear you...just remember this. This is my testimony that He even bends low to hear the desperate prayers of little children who will walk away from Him. He hears and He answers in His perfect time. Oh-how He loves us!