Monday, April 30, 2007

Reflections on Reunion

Teresa & Gwendolyn Ray

Sandy Ray's Home

Tomorrow is May Day. This day has meaning for several different things. It is a day celebrated in different countries and hold meaning for Pagans, naturalists, workforce rights, and the simple marking of spring. Pagans thought May Day to be the day that marked the middle of the year, a sort of half way point of the calendar. At this time the winter is seemingly over and spring is beginning to bud. On May Day fires are lit to lend energy to the warming sun as it lights the flame of life to plants and wildlife.

Perhaps this is how my life feels right now.
A halfway mark in the year.
A new beginning.

A week ago I returned from visiting my sister. I spent the first five years of my life seeing her in spurts between foster placements. We reunited in 1986, again in 1992, and now in 2007. We were both surprised to add up the years between this current and last visit as 16 years had passed. That is a very long time. She lives in Alabama and I live in Massachusetts. Our lives are very settled where we are and include children and grandchildren. We both feel a sadness that this distance separates us.

If you looked at our lives you would find differences and similarities. We both want deep connection with family and have yet to really find that completely. We both are artistic and are dedicated to developing a spiritual life. We both, at times, feel lost in regards to who we belong to and who belongs to us and strive to fill the chasm between these places with some sort of sense of surety. Adoption is indeed a lifelong quest. Looking into my sister’s face I have a knowing that I am loved by her in a way that only my brother and she feel and in this I find great comfort and gratitude. I think the struggle for me comes in the missing of this in my everyday life. I often wonder what it would be like to have my sister as part of the fabric of my life and my wonderings lead me to a sense of loss in this that I simply must sit beside without dwelling on it.

She is a strong woman, and laughs loudly like I do. She is easily kind and easily frightened like me. She is generous and hardworking. She is loving and tender. She is needy and vulnerable and I love her deeply. I miss her and I so long to have her near.

We scattered the ashes of our birth mother into a running stream and watched them settle on to the bedrock below; watching her life come to its own finality there in the water. My mother had a hard life and yet she found gratitude for it and courage in it in her own way. My sister and I talked about the mysteriousness of her illness and of her death and the fact that she died from an allergic reaction that wasn’t caught and eventually killed her in a nursing home.

My heart sinks every time I think on this because I was in a place finally to go and see her again. I had been communicating with her regularly and was ready to make flight arrangements when she suddenly became ill. She had had a stroke and was recovering and dealing with this in healthy ways. Suddenly her face and body swelled and she had trouble breathing. She had no history of emphysema, lung disease, or asthma. She was put on life support machines until they removed her from them and she passed peacefully.
I don’t know how to feel about the idea that she was killed by an allergic reaction that wasn’t tended to. I feel angry and that an opportunity to connect with my mother in a safe and loving way was taken from me. My sister and I said prayers for her as her ashes spilled over the wall and into the running water. I guess we found a sense of peace in that she was now free from the human conditions that her life put on her plate which more often than not were difficult to bear.

I think it takes great courage to live in poverty in this world and to live with a mental illness. She lived in a pink and broken down trailer for many years. She was known as “the crazy lady”. She glued beads in her hair as decoration and used Sharpie markers as lip and eye liner. She simply couldn’t stay here in reality. Life can make us disappear sometimes and retreat into the hallways of our own minds.

I don’t think that she wanted to die the way that she did…she was strong and healthy…she was a fighter…I hope that her final days were not torturous knowing that perhaps the situation could have been avoided or changed. That would be horrible and I would never wish that on any human being.

So, I returned to my original root family. I did so calmly and unswayed emotionally, which was a great relief as these situations can so easily undo me. I found such comfort in knowing that I am stronger and more centered inside and that as a woman moving into the “second half” of her years I am going with some lessons learned and some wisdom gleaned.

I feel whole. I feel the loss of these things, but they do not influence who I see myself in the world as or who I know myself to be. They do not take greatly from my sense of self or add greatly to who I will become. These family connections and experiences are simply part of who I am, a vital part, but they are old friends and they are very familiar. They are integrated into the fabric of my sense of self and this growth has been hard earned. It is completely satisfying to find myself in this place.

Tomorrow is May Day,
a mark for the second half of the year to unfold
bringing sunlight, warmth, and the promise of newly growing life.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Reunion Post Reunion - 16 Years Later

Terry & Me in 1991

There is a raging storm coming up our way from New York. The weather reports gale winds of up to 80 miles per hour and in some places flooding and 2 to 3 feet of snow. Tomorrow I leave for Alabama; Birmingham to be more precise. The storm’s arriving as I leave to see my birth sister doesn’t surprise me. It’s been sixteen years since we’ve seen each other. The first time we were separated it was 25 years between face to face encounters. I am excited and nervous at the same time. We are so alike in many ways especially when it comes to laughter and entertaining each other with antidotes. She is a guitar player and singer and performing with these has peppered her life. She in many ways is an artist. I admire her ability to sing and play and perform. I simply admire her. There is no one like her in my life and I am flooded with the feeling of such joy at seeing her again and also with anger and frustration at the loss of her in my life. How can one hold these two conflicting emotions at the same time? It feels rather confusing.

I am flying down to see her, meet some more birth family members, and to scatter the ashes of our birth mother. Ohhhh…there go the butterflies in my stomach. It will be quite sad and perhaps it will be freeing as a last goodbye. I am not sure.

Does anyone ever have a sense of emptiness around their reunion experiences? It’s been 20 years since my first reunion experience. So many things got better inside of me as a result of the reunion process. What has never quite gelled is the relationship piece with my birth family. Sure we write letters and sometimes talk on the phone, but it often feels like the surreal connection that exists on some foreign planet that I will either never visit again or so rarely it feels almost easier to forget about them.

This trip to Alabama is a diving in again with all of the issues. Sometimes opening the door to all of this is a little intimidating. I don’t know how other triad members feel, but feelings and issues really have the ability to side swipe me when I least expect it. Not often, but when this happens it has a feeling of detestation that arrives with it. Often it will take me a week to move out of the feeling clouds. I think because of this I have a little bit of trepidation around visiting my sister.

I have high hopes that this trip will be wonderful and that I can at last, once again, embrace my big sister and share a moment of her life.


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