I remember the first time I ever heard that I had an older brother. I was fifteen years old. I remember the moment. I was living with my dad and we were in the kitchen and I was getting into the fridge and I was blithely saying something about being my mom’s first born. My dad got this look on his face, the “I know something you don’t know look” and said, “You are not your mother’s first born.” My whole world just stopped at that moment. I said, “What!?”
He told me that my mom had gotten pregnant at 22, she had given up the baby and that there was a brother out there somewhere. I felt a lot of things. Mostly anger against my mom because I felt so betrayed. I very awkwardly brought it up to my mother the next time I saw her because I wanted her to tell me about the baby. We were in her garden. She lived in this sweet little home where I saw her on the weekends. We often worked in her garden. I made a very awkward, fifteen-year-old attempt to get her to confess.
She just looked at me and that look on her face was sheer horror. And she said, “What did you say?” I tried to back pedal but there was no getting out of it. I thought she would look guilty, not sad. She looked the saddest I had ever seen her look. She said, “How do you know, who told you?” When I told her that my father had she was angry, “He had no business telling you that.”
I knew that. Of course, he didn’t. I sat on this knowing about an older brother for a while. I had never felt completely at home in my family. I had always felt relatively safe but I always felt there was something else that I was looking for. I always felt a bit like the family outsider which caused a deep longing inside me to belong. So, I went about my business, found my tribe in strange places that were different from my family. I was like, “Whoa, people come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and are just fascinating.”
I eventually married and had kids and the longing crept back in. When you start to have children that is when you turn back to your family of origin to see what is there. It was rough and bumpy. My mother was affected by her decision to give up her baby. It haunted her. It was her private and painful burden one that she couldn’t resolve and this burden made it difficult to be in relationship with her other children.
She didn’t want to find adopted baby for a long time. Her husband had five children and she brought two to the marriage and when they started to have kids, she just felt overwhelmed and didn’t have the energy to worry about one more life.
When Audrey, my daughter was born, for whatever reason Mom started to get curious and feel ready to find her son. She opened the closed adoption from her side so that he would be able to find her if he decided to look. She waited. She didn’t hear anything. We would check in periodically and she became discouraged.
A few years after this, I was diagnosed with cancer which complicated things again with my family relationships because I was very vulnerable and in a time of need. If you don’t feel a strong sense of belonging with your family when you are well, it is even harder when you are chronically ill.
Last year I became worse and although I had not been in contact with my mother for several months, I had to go and live with her so she could take care of me. I was in so much pain that I really couldn’t get out of bed so she would lie with me in this tiny bed in the dark. One day she said, “I found him.” She had known for a while, and she had met her son. She said his name is Jon. He is fine and he is a good man. My mother and I hadn’t been talking so I hadn’t heard before.
Within a week or two, Jon and I started talking on the phone. I have never had that longing for a soul mate. My longing has been always to have a brother, that trusted person that you could just connect to and feel comfortable with. I finally felt connected to that older brother. But the biggest connection came later as I dealt with my body that was weak and needing so much care from the cancer. I was wishing to feel deeply cherished and that is when Jesus tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Here I am, cherishing is what I do. I am ready to listen and to talk. This is what I do.”
I was like, “Oh, that is what You do!” Growing up with the bad cultural messages about Christianity I literally thought that God was about following the rules and doing good works. I literally was unaware that Divine Love was a gift. That changed everything. Divine Love became my place of rest, this love met my longing.
Then I found that Jon was also supported by walking on a Christian path. This was my dream, to have a family member who was also seeking, who had also felt lost, who was struggling, questioning and looking for that sense of belonging. Jon came in with all of these things and there was this ease between us, what a gift.
Debra Wuliger, figurative artist working with color, texture and pattern to celebrate life.
Image silhouetted with story. Ready for hanging.