To say I was nervous is an understatement. Could we really be boarding a plane for the windy city?
So much had happened within the last few months. We found out our mother had suffered a stroke in the Fall and had been hospitalized for a few weeks. She was learning to walk again, was frail and her speech was still a little slurred. Our brother, Tony, had kept us informed and we were so grateful. At this point, she still did not know that Tony (my half-brother), Kelly (my brother), and myself had met for the first time ever in August 2021. Mom had not only suffered a stroke but was entering her fifth year with dementia. It was something she had kept to herself until her health issues brought it all to light. Her short-term memory was struggling.
As siblings we began talking about getting together again. Tony wanted us to visit his home in Chicago, meet his family and stay with them. Tony spoke with Mom’s husband and discovered he was unaware of my brother, Kelly and I, as well. We were a shock to him. He is a sweet man who loves his wife dearly. He was concerned for what this might do to her. It wasn’t looking good for us to meet.
My husband, Warren, and I had air credit miles, and our tickets were ready. So were my brother, Kelly, and his wife. We had poured over old photos—- some of us as babies, and the memories were filling us with excitement and nervousness.
Just 10 days before our visit, Tony bravely told Mom he knew about us. I couldn’t believe it! He could tell she still remembered. Mom was upset and clammed right up. It was such a long time ago and she refused to talk about it. Tony was devastated and wondered if we were still coming.
After crying together and reassuring him, we continued with our plans.
It’s one thing to meet in a neutral space and spend time together but to stay right at our newfound brother’s home made me incredibly nervous. He and his wife went to a lot of work to make us feel right at home. We had a wonderful couple of days meeting our nephew and going out to eat and, of course, touring a bit of the city. Our nervousness evaporated as we picked up right where we left off in August of 2021. There was no mistaking us as siblings and now family.
Mom and her husband lived only two miles from Tony. Unknown to us, a few pictures were being sent to them from Tony’s wife; followed by a few questions. We were only staying for a four-day weekend trip. But on Sunday, as we were relaxing and talking about our plans for the day, we got word Mom had changed her mind! We quickly piled into the van and rushed over to her house! Stunned silence and suspense hung in the air as we made that short trip.
As we pulled into the driveway, Mom and her sweet hubby, waited at the front doorway. As we entered their home, it felt surreal. Mom reached up to me and whispered, “My sweet Tammy, my baby.” She began to cry. Mom was a perfect fit in my arms.
Next, she greeted my brother, Kelly. Reaching up and patting his cheek, he totally lost it. He told us later he had dreamt of her doing that very thing.
I looked around. All our spouses were crying and taking pictures. Mom kept saying, “Ron, look at my babies; they are my babies.” She became so emotional she could only cry among all the kisses. There was such a sweet spirit of love, grace and redemption that filled the room and our hearts.
It was a short visit but one of three we had before heading back to NY. As we got back in the van, Tony lost it and so did we. If he hadn’t been persistent and willing to bring a long-time family secret to light, this meeting wouldn’t have happened. I truly believe God orchestrated this whole thing!
Decisions were made by adults who loved us, and those decisions not only affected us as children but continue to have impact on us as adults, as spouses, and now as parents ourselves.
From nightmares as a child, to being an overachiever as a teen to being driven to have value and worth as an adult.
As I child I didn’t realize those effects but looking back I now see that when our family was torn apart, I went through the 5 stages of grief. Denial (trying to make sense of a senseless situation), anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance.
I had thought of suicide. I had chip on my shoulder, and I had a need to prove myself. At 16 I gave my heart to Jesus and began a relationship with Him. That decision was life changing and the best decision I ever made. God is so good and faithful.
Through the chapters of my life, from getting married, becoming a mom, and growing in my faith, He has been there. God has been patiently and lovingly peeling back the layers of my coping survivor skills and exchanging lies for the truth of His Word. My choices have also affected those I love and my relationships. Like my Mom, I had buried some deep things God graciously brought into the light of HIS love.
After that weekend with my Mom, we promised to call every week. I wasn’t sure how things would go. That first phone call was nerve racking! What do we talk about? What if she doesn’t remember our visit or me?
I dialed her number, her hubby answered, and he switched it to a video call. As soon as she saw my face, she broke into a pure beautiful smile and called me by my name! My heart overflowed. The Holy Spirit whispered; I am the God who sees you.
Those weekly calls aren't long talks and honestly every week it’s about the same. But every week she knows who I am and calls me by name! I can’t even express how much that means.
It wasn’t long before her husband started talking about coming to visit us here before her dementia progresses and traveling would be out of the question. I was cautious yet excited.
As July came, we made plans for their visit at the end of August. Oh, did I have a honey do list! I wanted everything to be perfect. After all, it isn’t every day that my mom would visit, along with meeting our children and grandchildren for the very first time!
One sunny Saturday leading up to her visit I ended up spraining my ankle and heel. I had to stay off my feet, other than working, for 8 weeks. My cleaning and preparation list went out the window. My usual way of dealing with stress, aka cleaning & keeping busy, wasn’t an option. Instead of frenzy, it became a time of rest —reflecting and allowing God to gently open my heart while I was feeling vulnerable. Mom and her husband weren’t coming to see our home or how perfect everything appeared. They were coming to see us!
Although my siblings and I haven’t been together since March, we continue to stay in contact and have powerful discussions as we navigate this new season in our lives. My brother, Kelly, and I talk about our childhood. This has opened a dialog to talk about our past loss and grief. For Tony, this is just the beginning of him processing his loss of whatever he never really knew.
During this process, I have thought a lot about Joseph from the book of Genesis and how his grief process might have looked. He had been betrayed and abandoned. He was cut off from his brothers and his father and didn’t even know if his father was still living. With each situation he found himself, God never left him. My thoughts swirl around with questions: How did he get through those stages? What was happening with his brothers and his father? How had they processed the events, lies and loss?
Then all those years later they were reunited. They had all changed; they weren’t the same people. Yet God was!! He is not a man that he should lie! He is faithful and true! (Numbers 23:19) And He is in the business of repairing & reconciling!
The Sunday of their visit all our girls and their families came to meet Mom. I had pictured in my mind all of us together: 4 daughters, grandchildren, Mom and myself. And it happened!
After a few short days, they headed home. Their next trip will be at the end of this month to visit my brother Kelly and meet his family. In the short time from March until now Kelly has let go of bitterness and unforgiveness in several memories of our childhood. He is at a place where he can accept Mom where she is.
My mom and I have gotten into a comfortable routine of video chatting every week. Every time she has this moment of recognition, smiles and calls me by name. It is a precious gift that I will hold near to my heart for the rest of my life. My husband and I marvel every time. There aren’t any words to express what we see in her face except pure joy, pure love, and a sense of being set free. Yes, there has been grief and brokenness yet there is also beauty and inexpressible joy. I love Nehemiah 8:10 - The JOY of the Lord is your strength! Joy, a deeply rooted expression of God’s goodness concerning all of us then, now and in the future. Sharing my story has been therapeutic and healing for me and I hope it encourages you. Thank you for sharing in this journey with me.
In our Life-Sharing Moment Rev. Camille Regholec shares with us her story of God's grace and His sweet gift of gravy in her life. Thank you, Camille, for sharing this moment with us.
As I watched the ambulance pull away with my husband on board I whispered, "Dear Lord, I know You can take Jerry at any time on any day. But I ask You to let him live. Even just one day would be gravy." That was March of 2011. God gave us eleven years.
Jerry was 6’4”, 260 pounds and unable to use his legs. His body was stiff and crippled from severe arthritis. Even though those extra eleven years were spent in a nursing home, Jerry was basically healthy. His medication was potassium and magnesium supplements and half a heart pill. Because of his inability to walk and turn while sitting or lying down, he needed continual care. Each time he became ill, he bounced back. We were thankful to God.
through zoom and phone until Covid restrictions were lifted. After thirteen months, it was wonderful to be together again.
Jerry's helplessness in moving on his own brought other health issues. Nothing anyone did could halt the onslaught. From December 2021 until March 2022, Jerry kept returning to the hospital as his health declined. Each stay was longer – the bouncing back was harder to attain. My job required the Covid vaccine and because of the vaccine I was able to visit Jerry daily in the hospital. We thanked God.
While at work on March 24, I received the phone call along with the message I hoped never to hear.
This time, there was no coming back.
"Ma’am, your husband is fading fast. Can you get here?"
"It will take me 45 minutes, but I'll be there." I grabbed my bag and ran out the door.
"Do you want us to try CPR if he goes?"
"YES!" I shouted as I hung up the phone. My coworker gave me a swift hug. I jumped into my car and tore out of the parking lot.
As I raced toward the hospital, breaking all speed limits, and passing three police cars, I cried and prayed, "Please God. PLEASE!"
Just then a song playing on my car radio broke into my consciousness. A soft, soulful voice sang, “I have to leave now for a little while - but goodbye is not the end."
"No! No! Please Lord!” I shouted as I rammed my foot down on the gas pedal. “Please keep Jerry alive until I get there! Let me tell him ‘I love you’ one more time!" I glanced at the clock on the dashboard -- 12:26pm.
When I rushed into his room, the doctor and nurse were there. They had performed CPR. The doctor took me aside. “We brought him back, but he probably won’t last long. If Jerry’s heart stops again, would you like us to repeat CPR?”
God, in His mercy, had granted my request to keep Jerry alive until I arrived. I knew in my heart Jerry’s battle was ending. With a choked voice, I answered, ‘No… thank you… but no. If God wants him, nothing you or I do will keep my husband here."
I went to Jerry’s side, kissed him, and spoke, “I love you." I watched him mouth the words, "I love you, too." As I touched his face and rested my hand on his chest, a tear fell from his eye. I whispered, “You’re alright. God’s got you. And I will be alright cause God's got me, too.” I repeated the words from the song I had just heard on the radio. "Goodbye is not the end. Now go dance with our children.” Then he took his final breath.
I watched as the numbers on the monitors dropped until there were none. The nurse offered me a chair and I sat by his bed. Even though he had already left, I was unable to leave him. Another nurse came in, put a stethoscope to Jerry’s chest, "I'm sorry, he is gone."
Choked by my tears I whispered, “I know.”
She then added these astounding words, “I'm here to tell you we started CPR at 12:26 pm."
That was the same moment those words had come across my radio. I knew instantly God had answered my frantic plea. God had giving us 30 years of marriage - the last 11 were pure gravy, --- God's Miraculous Gravy.
The date, June 13, 2021, will forever be branded in my memory.
I was at church getting ready to teach our littles when a Messenger Video began ringing on my phone. Within seconds I was looking into the eyes of my brother, Tony, for the first time. It was surreal. The realization of what had been transpiring over the last few months began to sink in. It was like a movie rolling out in real life.
Worship was taking place in the sanctuary, and all my life You have been faithful was the background music for the scene playing out before me. Through this video, I was looking into the eyes of our aunt, uncle and cousins all living in Germany. Tears ran down our faces. We knew our lives were forever changed.
Earlier in 2021, my other brother, Kelly, had completed a DNA test. He encouraged me to do the same. From an early age, Kelly and I were raised by our grandparents. Our father, who passed away six years ago, was a career soldier and our parents separated when I was eight-years-old; Kelly was five. And even though Kelly and I live in different states now we have remained close. We knew our mother had remarried and we had a half-brother, Tony, but we had never met him or had contact with him. Our mother was from Germany. Kelly and I were born there, and Kelly wanted to find relatives on his next trip to Germany.
The surprise came when Kelly had a hit on his DNA results. Tony, our half-brother, had also completed a DNA test looking for relatives on his father's side. He wasn't expecting anything on his mother's side. To say he was shocked is an understatement. Here he had stumbled upon a family secret that went back to post WWII. Within two days, he talked with my brother, Kelly. And Kelly revealed he had a sister --- ME.
For days, conversations went back and forth as Tony grappled with the fact, he had two siblings. And we marveled that something we thought would never happen, happened!
Over the next few months, we connected and shared our lives and life stories. Sometimes after hanging up the phone, I would stare at the screen with jumbled and intertwined feelings of awe, anxiety, joy, grief, sadness, and excitement. There were tears of joy, pain, and loss. And even more tears, as we each worked through processing this major event in our lives. The realization sunk in even deeper when we experienced rippling effects from these connections, as our families learned the news.
Kelly and I discovered our mom, whom we hadn’t connect with for years, was living only two miles from Tony. Deep personal conversations took place between my brother, Kelly, and I as we grappled with wounds of childhood and discussed some things for the very first time. Jesus' presence was so sweet and tender as He gently led us through this time. We came to realize we each had "worked" through pain, in our own way, over the years. We laughed at our young stubborn pride to prove ourselves and readily embraced the wonderful grace our newfound brother, Tony, extended to us, along with God's timing in the unfolding of our entwined stories.
Phone calls, texts and video chats were good but now we were ready to meet face-to-face. We chose Baltimore, Maryland in August of 2021.
Throughout the summer, the Holy Spirit kept whispering to me, "I am the God who sees you. You may have thought your past was forgotten but I am the God who redeems even those things you lost hope in or thought impossible. I am the God who sees you". (El Roi – Genesis 16:13)
This truth opened my heart to see that:
· It’s okay to acknowledge the mixed emotions coming and going. I can talk with God about them.
· There are areas in my life I now feel I can explore and confront because I know God has orchestrated this whole thing.
· I have a desire for genuine connection with God: a deep revelation that He's here and won't leave me.
· I am able to talk with someone I trust to navigate this vulnerability.
· I can ask the hard questions that come out of nowhere.
Through this whole time, my husband and family have been wonderful and so supportive. God gently showed me how He saw me as a child, as a young mom, and through every chapter of my life. He beckoned me to see Him in these seasons as well.
I left for Baltimore that weekend with hope and more importantly peace. As we gathered with our spouses in the hotel lobby, the tears and joy were incredible. The ease and comfort we had with each other was huge. We spent a wonderful weekend discovering things we had in common, sharing histories, pictures, meals, laughs, and dreams. We bonded in such powerful ways. We learned more about Tony's life and our mom, who is in the early stages of dementia.
I came home with fresh perspectives.
· Kelly and I weren't the only ones with childhood wounds.
· We wanted to love and respect each other over just seeing our own painful perspective.
· Although we knew about Tony, we didn't KNOW Tony.
· Tony, who had just found us, was now working through the whys, how's and what ifs. He was getting to KNOW us.
· Tony was an only child who never knew his grandparents.
· Kelly & I had the security and love of grandparents but absent parents.
· I can't fix the past or how we evolve through this connection with our separate experiences and relationships, but I can pray for us as the Lord leads and directs.
Recently our mom suffered a stroke. This March, we are planning a trip to meet her for the first time in 52 years! This blows my mind.
As the God who sees me: I am now seeing Him in our stories. There is no question he is writing this and using it for His glory.