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.