Growing up, I had two sisters. A half-sister who is older than me by nine years and a biological sister who is younger than me by almost two years. Obviously, I didn’t introduce my older sister as my “half-sister.” She’s always just been my sister, though we didn’t grow up in the same household. For 22 years, this was my reality. Throughout my childhood, I received all of the blessings, and curses, of being the older sister in the house. I got to do everything first: driver’s license, dating, cell phone, and so on. This also meant that our mom was less lenient with me, and I got away with a lot less than my younger sister. Our parents were divorced, and our dad worked for a company out of state and traveled a lot. We would see him a few times a year when he was in town, including Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Seven years ago, during one of his visits home, he picked me up from work and took me to lunch. I remember what we were eating, what music was playing, and how many people were in the small local Italian restaurant when he told me I had an older sister I never knew about. I was floored. I listened to his story of how she was his firstborn when he was a teenager and how they had maintained a fairly consistent relationship after he regained contact with her once she was an adult. That very same day, I looked her up via social media and initiated contact. We communicated regularly for several years but had never met due to our geographical distance and lack of time off work.
On March 28th, 2016, our dad passed away only four months after being diagnosed with cancer. This was the first time I met my oldest half-sister. Bittersweet as it was, I was grateful for the opportunity to meet her, and it was like we had known each other all our lives. Three days later, still grieving the loss of my dad, I was at home standing on the balcony of my upstairs apartment as the sun was setting when my phone rang. My mom sounded upset and told me that something from her past had come to light. I stood there with my mouth hung open as my mom told me that five years before I was born, she and my dad had a baby girl that they placed for adoption.
I quietly listened to her pour out her heart and was patient while she laid down her burdens of guilt, shame, and fear. Taking a deep breath, I assured her that I didn’t harbor any hatred, judgment, or resentment towards her because of her decisions. My mind was racing; I had so many questions, but I was silent. I thought to myself, “We’ve been through this before; it should make it easier,” and yet, I was angry. I was angry because my parents made the decision to keep this a secret my whole life; I was angry because I felt like they didn’t trust us to love them unconditionally regardless of their choices as young adults; I was angry because I had been deceived, had spent my whole life thinking I was the oldest of only two biological children, and then just three days after the death of my father, discovered that I am the middle child.
I found myself grieving not only for my dad, but also for my mom, who had carried this weight alone all these years. I grieved for the sister I didn’t even know yet, for the life we never shared together, the memories we never got to make. After so much loss in my life in the last several years, I had been given this amazing gift. Another older sister to turn to for advice and counsel. Two amazing nephews to watch grow up, celebrate their successes and encourage them in their failures. A life had been taken, but I was given so much more. All of his girls were finally connected, able to build relationships that would last a lifetime.
Despite my excitement, I was hesitant. Maybe because she was my full biological sister it made it different somehow, made the connection more fragile. Maybe she didn’t want a relationship with us. Maybe she was hurt and angry and resentful. Would she be upset or resentful of us—the sisters? Maybe we would never develop that bond. I finally decided to take a leap of faith and make contact. Although our first interactions were a bit cautious, they quickly turned into lengthy, excited conversations about our lives, our likes and dislikes. We eagerly swapped pictures and stories from when we were growing up. We were elated to discover that we looked so much alike even as toddlers. The family resemblance was also reflected in her children. The fragile bond I was so fearful of in the beginning had rapidly turned into a rock-solid sisterhood.
The first time I met her and her family was just a few short months later over Memorial Day weekend. We stayed up all night talking, and it felt like home. She along with her husband and sons were able to attend the Eternal Reefs memorial ceremony to celebrate our dad’s life. I couldn’t be more grateful that she was able to be a part of that event and meet more of our family. Her family. Although we didn’t grow up together, we quickly discovered how much we have in common, and we continue to grow and strengthen our connection as sisters daily.
Are there questions I still have that I may never have answers to? Sure, but I’m okay with that. Is it even more important to display forgiveness and unconditional love as family should? Absolutely. Sometimes I’m still sad that we were never given the opportunity to know one another when we were younger, but the past cannot be changed. All we can do is continue to move forward and spend every day learning more about each other and our familial similarities.
I would encourage parents who are facing the decision of adoption to consider an open adoption, for the sake of the siblings. Siblings have a special, unique bond that can’t be replaced or replicated. Don’t underestimate your children or how they’ll react to the news. In my case, it wasn’t my place to pass judgment on the decision made by my parents when they were young adults. I only wish we had known sooner. I am the second youngest of five sisters, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.