This past March, Maggie Daniels made the seven-hour trip to Ohio to see her brother for what she knew would be the last time. She had found her birth family ten years earlier, and had met Ernie shortly thereafter. He was her full biological brother. He was five years older and their parents were still together, but they had placed her for adoption when she was born.
When they met, he liked to tell her that she was the lucky one. He had been sexually abused by an older half brother, and it was just as well that she wasn’t in the picture then. Who knows what her fate would have been. But all these years later they connected. They really bonded, as if their 43 years apart were really more like 15 minutes.
So there they were, together on this last visit. Ernie was dying of prostate cancer. Maggie had hoped and prayed for a better outcome, but it wasn’t to be. He asked for permission to spend the day with her outside of his hospice residence, and they went out to enjoy a beautiful, warm, spring day together. They took a simple trip to Culver’s for chicken strips and ice cream, and then on to his apartment to visit with his wife.
They had become close in the short time they knew each other. “My brother was my teacher, my best friend and my confidante for ten years,” she said in my recent correspondence with her. They had each created their own families with their spouses, children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. But Ernie was the only other person in the world who shared her full DNA, and that meant something beyond explanation to her.
Maggie grew up with adoptive parents and an adoptive sister who loved her, but she always knew there was something missing. Still, when she was growing up, children never asked for anything they wanted. It wasn’t about them, and she wasn’t any different. So she never asked for information that would have helped her search sooner for her biological family. But eventually she did receive the information she needed to find her birth family at the age of 43, and she’s glad she did. “He completed me,” Maggie said, speaking of Ernie and the ten years she had to spend with him.
It was only a few months after they first met that Ernie was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and ten years later, she was on this last trip to say her good-byes. “My life was changed by his presence and will always be changed by who he was and how he lived his life,” Maggie said. It is an experience that has left her with a certain void, but it’s also one that she wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.
We’ve all heard the cliché–if you open yourself up to love, to really connecting with someone, you also open yourself up to unimaginable pain. And that’s what she did with Ernie. His passing, only a few short weeks after this final visit, has left Maggie in unimaginable pain. But knowing him has also left her in a place of incredible joy for having known him and having spent time with him.
Maggie often wonders what if. What if Ernie had been given a PSA test earlier, and his cancer was discovered sooner? Of course, the answer to that question doesn’t much matter now. It’s too late for that. But her hope is that Ernie will not have died in vain, and that other men will be offered and given PSA tests at an earlier age. Then, just maybe, someone like Maggie won’t unnecessarily have to experience such a difficult loss after a successful search and reunion. “Life is short,” she said, “and for adoptees, it is too short. We need to be able to access our birth information much sooner in life. It is our right, plain and simple.”