Monday, September 18, 2017

helping the hurting

Mom and me on Mother's Day, 2016
Recently I posted a video of my mom on the Mother and Son's Journey with Dementia group page. It stirred up quite a commotion and I took it down less than 24 hours after I posted it. It was a bad choice to post it, but God always causes things to work out for the good, and, based on a comment I made on another post, someone suggested that I put up a new post that would help people to better understand how to really help those who are hurting.  

To give you a little background about me, I'm no stranger to grief and hardship. My dad died when I was 12, my mom was sick all through my high school years. From the time I was 14, there was no adult in my house. I have 10 siblings but I only grew up with one of them, a sister. My mom has had dementia for probably about 8 years. We didn't know it had started until we were well into it. She was pretty good at hiding it. Of the 11 of us children, 3 do not belong to my mom. Of the 8 that do, 1 has died and 4 are stepchildren. I am the only one of us that helps care for her. It has been a very long journey but I am in it by my own choice and I am glad I am in it. Since 2012, 27 people in my life have died. Murder, suicide, overdoses, freak accidents, car accidents, cancer, but very few of old age. Most of them were my age or younger.  In August of this year, the same weekend we were putting my mom into the nursing home, my sister overdosed. She had no pulse when they found her. It took 4 doses of Narcan to bring her back to life and keep her alive. I carry a heavy load. I have been a part of a local dementia group for the last 5 years and a piece of my written work was shared by my local Alzheimer's Group during our 2016 Walk to End Alzheimer's.

I do not tell you these things for any other reason then to give you confidence that I might know a bit about what I'm going to share with you. So here goes...

Do you ever find yourself clueless and at a loss for words when someone expresses their emotions? Or do you find that too many words gush out of your mouth at once in an attempt to fix their problem? I have found myself at both ends of this spectrum and have worked hard to learn to listen so that my response can be one that is truly helpful, instead of one that leaves the person wishing they had never said a word at all.  

Facebook group pages offer some of the most perfect opportunities to totally miss the point of a post. Posts are often vague, there is no face across the table from you. You can't see the tears the poster is shedding. True empathy and compassion can seem hard to find when there is not a warm body to hug. But Facebook groups also offer great opportunities to help the hurting. Those who share common struggles are all here in one place and often people will find the courage to write what they would never say. Sadly, people will also write what they would never say to you in person, if you get my point about that two way street.

There are some basic guidelines to follow, and there are also some subtle hints to be found in the words expressed by those we are trying to help, that can guide us if we know what to look for.

~Feelings are not right or wrong, they just are. They also may be different than what you feel even if the situation is exactly the same. No one should ever be made to feel bad or guilty about what they feel. No one should ever be told to feel something different than what they feel. No one should be told not feel what they feel.  No one should be told not to worry or care about what other people think. Let's face it, we all kinda care, at least a little, what others think about us.

~Our goal should be to acknowledge the feelings of others without necessarily expressing our feelings or similar experience. When someone has been brave enough to put their feelings out there, they deserve the limelight. There is nothing more disheartening, that leaves you feeling totally unheard, than to make yourself vulnerable by sharing, only to have someone toss out a quick, 'I'm sorry" and then spend the next 2 paragraphs telling you about their experience. Talk about making it all about you and not about them... Sometimes, we just want it to be all about us and that is perfectly okay when it's your post. In the life of a caregiver, it is rarely ever all about us. Give us our moment. If you need your moment, write your own post so we can all love on you.

~ If your sentence includes the words "but", "you should" or "at least", you probably shouldn't write the sentence. For example, if I said: "My mom has had dementia for a long time and it's so hard to watch her slowly disappear.", and your response is, "Well at least you still have your mom, my mom died.", or, "You should be grateful you still have your mom.", those kind of responses will only serve to make the one grieving feel guilty and that they are ungrateful. A better response might be something like this, "I know, the missing is so hard.", or "You love your mom so much, I can't imagine how hard it must be to watch her fade away." These responses acknowledge the persons feelings without adding guilt or judgement. They know you understand they are missing who their loved one used to be. Dementia is the slowest death there is yet so often we don't expect people to be grieving over it. Ambiguous loss, here but gone...

~When someone dies, one of the worst things you can say is, "Well at least they aren't suffering anymore.", or, "But they're in a better place now." While those things might be true, particularly if the deceased person had dementia or was ill and suffering, they are not usually comforting words to those who are left behind. They make the unspoken statement that the person should be relieved their loved one has died, not sad.  A grieving person may indeed be relieved that their loved one is no longer suffering, but they most likely are not glad they are gone. The knowledge that they aren't suffering does not really make the loss any easier. It is best to acknowledge death by simply saying "I'm sorry." If you knew their loved one, a quick happy memory of them might be appropriate if the setting is right. Funerals are not usually the best place for this as they have so many people to greet and are so grief stricken they probably won't remember half the good things people said anyway. Send a note or save your story for later. They will need those stories after the rush is over and everyone has expected them to get back to "normal" life. We rush our grief so...

~When to give advice and when to give encouragement. This can be a tough one for many people, particularly those with a strong, "fix it" personality. I am guilty of that personality and have to check myself often to be sure I'm not advising when I should just be listening, acknowledging and comforting. The key to this is always in their words. Statements of emotion or fatigue, like, "I can't stand this anymore, today was horrible!" are not usually looking for advice. They are looking for acknowledgement, understanding, empathy and encouragement. 

If someone says, "I'm so worn out.", and you respond with, "Well get some rest." or "You must take care of yourself.", you have just dismissed their hidden message with a pat answer. They may be talking about sleep, but they may not be. They know they should get some rest, they know they should take care of themselves. To tell them to do so is to tell them that you assume they don't know. Being a caregiver is draining and often, sadly, rest just isn't as readily available as we might like it to be. However, encouraging words like, "I'm so sorry you are worn, I hope you can get some rest.", or "I'm praying for you. I know just how draining this is.", can be words that put wind in weary sails. Their statement was made in hopes that someone would understand exactly how they feel and tell them it's going to be okay. It wasn't made so that someone would tell them to rest, they already know they need rest. 

On the other hand, if they had said, "Does anyone have suggestions for how to get some more rest?" They are asking for advice and you should feel free to give them all the tips and tricks that have worked for you. 

The difference between the two statements is obvious but often we're more interested in what we have to say about our experiences with a particular situation and we forget the post is not really about us.

If someone says, "My dad is driving me crazy, I'm so annoyed with him!", and you respond with, "You should enjoy every moment you have with him, one day he won't be here to drive you crazy." Ouch, tons of guilt added onto the guilt this person already feels for having those feelings. Let's be honest, as dementia caregivers, we all have felt, or will feel this way at some point or points. If we don't, we either got really, really lucky or we're lying. A better response might be, "I know exactly what you mean, I've felt the same way. I'm sorry you're there right now."  By saying this, we've acknowledge their feelings and we haven't added any guilt to the guilt they already have. We've also told them we understand how it feels.  If you have never experienced this feeling but you want to encourage them, a simple, "I'm sorry, I hope things calm down soon." is always good. 

Now, if they had said, "My dad is really driving me crazy! He's reading every sign we drive past. Any suggestions for how to distract him?" That's open season on advice, go for it.

Unsolicited advice, when given to someone who didn't ask for it, particularly if they are already feeling down and low, can be interpreted as criticism and can make them feel as if you think they are not intelligent enough to think of that themselves. It also totally misses the point of what they did need in the first place which is compassion, empathy and understanding. They are left feeling like they got a double whammy instead of a shoulder to lean on and a listening ear.  

Listen to what they are saying. If they haven't asked for advice, don't offer it. The last thing a venting person wants, or needs, is advice, and a person who truly wants or needs advice, will ask for it. Take the time to truly hear what was said and honor the poster's feelings by giving them what they need to the best of your ability. If you can't do that for them, for whatever reason, honor them by scrolling on by without commenting.

~Give grace, and then give some more grace. Emotionally charged people say things they probably would not say under normal circumstances. Some posts may be shocking to you. See past the shock to the pain that might cause them to say such a thing. I have said at times that I wish my mom would die. People, particularly people in the early stages of this rotten game can not comprehend that. People who are where we are now might understand it, they might not. I love my mom beyond words. She is miserable, she is tired of being miserable and I'm so sad and so tired of seeing her be miserable.  It's bad when death seems like a blessing. Give people who are at the bottom of the pit the grace they need. If you can't, just scroll on by. If you want to understand, then start by saying you are sorry they feel this way, and ask them if they would like to talk about it? If they do, don't criticize their answers, just try to understand. Remember that you only know how you think you will feel about a situation. The test comes when you are really there. I have changed my stance on so many things over the last 8 years.

~Know that none of us will ever get it all right and give yourself that same grace. Use that delete button. I think keyboards should come with a I'm sorry button too but until they do, type out the words when you're wrong or when you've hurt someone, even when you didn't mean to hurt them. It's never too late to say I'm sorry when you said the wrong thing. Strive for peace. Strive for understanding.

~Remember how you want to be treated. When you say, "Oh man, life just sucks!", do you really want someone telling you what to do so that your life doesn't suck? As if they know anything about your life anyway.

~Remember just that, we don't really know each other, about each other's lives, personal character, or struggles. Don't judge what you don't know. Be kind.

~Starting your sentence, or making the statement in your sentence, "I don't mean to be rude but", is never a good choice and clearly indicates you're about to be rude.

~Sometimes less really is more.

~I know there are others, but these are what's on my heart right now. As a side note, these things work in the real world too, not just the facebook world.

~And finally, in the words of the ever famous Thumper,



Thursday, August 31, 2017

amazing awful

As I sat in the car at the patient pick-up, waiting for my loved one to be brought out of the hospital, my mind was deep in thought over what I had just witnessed in the recovery room.  I wondered which family that had been in the surgical family waiting room with us was soon to find out that their loved one had died while they sat there, living life like everything was fine.  Maybe it was a risky but necessary surgery, maybe it was a routine procedure, maybe they knew it might happen, but maybe they thought their lives would be the same that afternoon as they were that morning.  

My heart grieved for them as I prayed, my heart grieved for the doctor that would be telling them, for the girl who sat at the desk and called out names of family members when their loved one's surgery was complete... that she would have to call their names as if everything was fine... maybe they don't tell that girl... I could never pull it off.  I thought about how easily it could have been us, how you just never know when your "See you later" is really a goodbye.

A car pulled up behind me and brought me out of my trance. I glanced in the rear view mirror at the young man behind the wheel and wondered who he was waiting for. I hoped he was there to fetch his brand new baby and sure enough, he was. I watched him gingerly put the car seat into the car and buckle it in, then I watched the nurse and his wife check to make sure he had done it right. They hugged the nurse and pulled away, on to their new life that will now be different than it was the day before.

My eye caught a teenager at the bus stop, headphones in his ears, dancing happily to the music as he waited.  Then a young woman in pink scrubs hurried past him, intent on a destination, with hair dyed to match her scrubs.  I couldn't help but smile. The sky was blue, the sun was out, the breeze was blowing. And then I saw the American flag on a pole, half of it tangled up around the pole while the other half waved freely in the breeze, and I thought it was a perfect example of America right now. Half the people have their shorts all twisted up while the other half are floating on air and I wondered if any of them know it's not always that great and it's not always that bad, it's only what you make it and you should do your best to make it great for others, not harder for them.

In the span of 5 minutes I witnessed life and death, felt joy and sorrow, saw pleasure in the waiting and haste in the tight schedule. I saw Americans bound and Americans free. In my grieving for this unknown family, there was still sunshine on my face. In the span of 5 minutes I suddenly saw how amazing and awful this world can be at the same moment, how joy and sorrow can exist at the same time, even in the same person, even in me.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

grateful yet heartsick

As I sit here tonight drinking my tea, I realize that my hands have been shaking for a month now. Initially it was because my Thyroid meds were too high but then my husband left for an Alaskan fishing trip with our son and I was alone. Well, not alone really, I did have my pit bull and my guns! During the two weeks they were gone, my mother, who has dementia, made two trips to the ER, one for a fall and the second one for her heart. And while my mother was in the hospital in Traverse City, my sister overdosed in Indiana by eating a Fentanyl patch. After several doses of Narcan, she came back from the dead, literally. On the day my mom was moved into the nursing home, I was sitting on my sister's hospital bed crying. Grateful she was alive, angry over what she had done, angry that I was not there for our mom... Grateful yet heartsick. 

Mom got moved into the nursing home, hubby and son came home, sister got checked into rehab, Poppy is getting accustomed to being alone in the house and me, I'm working on getting used to the sights, sounds and smells of the nursing home... it's not easy. And just when I thought things might settle into their new normal, Hurricane Harvey came knocking on the door of my daughter's house on North Padre Island. Two days of long distance distress, a mother needing to be with her child but knowing there is no way possible... They are safe, their home was spared... Grateful, yet heartsick.

Did you know today is national dog day? I did but only because my facebook memories told me so. In honor of national dog day and in honor of just how much life sucks right now I suppose, my pit bull, who is always the picture of what a good dog should be, bit a child on the thigh. Of course he did! I am now one of "those" people. You know, the pit bull dog owners who are absolutely shocked after their dog bites someone and says, "But my dog would never hurt anyone". Apparently he will. Yup, there it is folks, so much to my shame. Thankfully, the little boy will be okay, it did not break the skin but he does have some bruising and his parents were so very gracious, much more gracious than we deserve... grateful yet heartsick

All these things, I can not yet find the words, other than grateful and heartsick, to describe my roller coaster of emotions. But I can tell you this though, when I have cried out to God over these things, sometimes from a heap on the floor, my words are concise and clear without hesitation or doubt. "I know that you love me and I trust you." well that and, "Please don't let this trembling in my hands be permanent!" One must always find laughter...

Sidenote: Keep all the crappy pit bull comments to yourself, I do not defend what my dog did, I make no excuses for it and I'm already heartsick enough.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

my mother's robe

My mother's robe
Holding on and letting go...
My mother's mind
They are one and the same

Worn and threadbare

With holes and spots
Dulled by years of use

A source of distress

A source of comfort
Evidence of living while dying

My hand holds it suspended

Hovering over the trash
I release my grasp ever so slightly
I feel its' layers begin to slip through my fingers
I clench my fist and draw it close
Unable to let it go

I breathe it in

And then again
I am wrapped in repulsion and desperation
Wrapped in longing for my momma 
Allowing what remains to cling to me

My mother's robe

My mother's mind
They are one and the same

I bathe it in chemicals
I bathe it in music
Feeble attempts to remove the years

I sew on patches

Closing the holes
But the threads are so bare
They do not hold

My mother's robe

Continually worn for three years now
Has been at my house for ten days
She hasn't asked for it once
Like everything else
It is gone from her mind

My mother's robe

My mother's mind
They are one and the same

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

tuesday afternoon

I've lit a fire in the wood stove. It feels colder than the 65 degrees it was supposed to get to today. I feel terrible. I'm fighting a headache and... the need for sugar. 

At my doctor appointment this morning she schedules me for a stress/echo test. One where they do an echo cardiogram first, then have you get on a treadmill until you either collapse or exceed the time limit - for me it will be collapse, and then jump back on the table for a second echo. I've had an echo before because I have one of those hearts that likes to dance a jig occasionally, the problem is, it has no rhythm. The general consensus of the cardiologist has always been caffeine intake... as in, "keep drinking it, your heart doesn't like it when you stop." It's a prescription I am happy to oblige. 

I couldn't help but laugh out loud at the thought of the impending tests and as I tell Dr. Ellen why, we laugh for a good 5 minutes. You see, they do an echo with you wearing only a gown and the thought of me running on a treadmill without the appropriate undergarments, well, that's just too much for me too contain... or rather, it will be too much for me to contain. Fortunately, she has the same sense of humor as me.

Arriving back home, I settle in with a glass of Pepsi and a bit of facebook time. Somehow I get hooked on a half hour video on pro-biotics and how there is too much sugar in our American diets. Not new news to me, nor a new diagnosis of all my stomach issues. I wonder when I will change my eating habits, really change for good. I want to change - today - I want to have arrived already with out all the work it takes to change. 

The video makes me want to barf - thoughts of bad bacteria swimming around in my gut... I pour out my Pepsi and go take 2 pro-biotics... how long has it been since I last took them? Have they expired? Do the ones that don't have to be refrigerated really work? Mine are in the fridge and exceed all the requirements of the video, by almost double, I buy the good ones - they still only work if you take them. Should I take Motrin for my headache? Just how bad is that stuff for you anyway? My whole head hurts.

I go sweep the laundry room. Anything has to be better than living in my non-stop, ever talking head. I collect all the dust, dog hair, lint and leaves at the back door, flinging it wide to chuck out all the junk and wishing I could do the same with my mind. I am surprised by how warm it is out there, warmer than in here. 

There is heat to the bright sun on this beautiful autumn day. I feel it on my cheeks. The fallen leaves, an airy afghan of gold blanketing the yard, are being baked under it. The sweet aroma of God's composting process rising to my nostrils. I breathe in deep and think of autumns past. A feeling of nostalgia I can not define, but know exists, comes over me. Not a singular moment in time but rather a lifetime of autumns wrapped up in this singular moment in time... I pause here and let my soul breathe it in, refusing to let my talking head reign.

I step around to the back garden and view my hostas. The "Empress", usually so grand and green in front of the fence, is now golden from frost and hangs her regal head. Bowing gracefully, in humble submission to the seasons of change. The pathway is strewn with the discards of fall and even though the process of seasonal change is well underway, I marvel at the memory of how lush my garden had grown this summer in spite me.

I long to take a walk, I need a walk - exercise - reflection. Too many years at a desk, too many miles in a car, they are killing me. But a walk means going past my mother's eye. She will see me go by - she will hope that I stop in. I don't want to stop in. I feel guilty that I don't want to stop in... that I never want to stop in anymore. I miss my mom, the woman that dementia has stolen. I need to be more like the Empress... 

I shake the rug, lay it back on the laundry room floor and pull the door closed behind me. Trapped in my home, trapped in my guilt, trapped in my talking head. I sit by the wood stove to write, to get it all out, but now it has become too warm...

Today is not exceptional, it's just simply a normal Tuesday afternoon in my life. I think if most people knew the wrestling that goes on inside me, the struggles I have with who I am, they would not be so quick to say I have it all together, that my life is so wonderful. The funny thing is though, my life truly is so wonderful, in spite of me, just like my garden. Me, my life,  my garden, perfectly imperfect and I'm okay with that. Maybe that is the secret to wonderful...

Saturday, October 31, 2015

31 Moments in Time :: two by two by two, plus one - Part 3

Monday, August 4, 2014 started out like any other Monday except that it happened to be my youngest son, Samuel's birthday, so it was not just like any other Monday. My baby would be turning 19 and my mind was filled with memories of his life past, and hopes for his life to come. I made my way out the door bright and early that day, like I did every Monday, for the 45 minute commute to my office. And on that August 4th Monday that was not just like any other Monday, I arrived at my office and opened my email to this:


to me
Hi Chris,
Great news!! I just received an email from your brother Mike!!

Hi Judy,
We have found my sister on this website. She is looking for Michael and John XXXXX. However we do not know how to contact her. We didn't know we even had a sister!! What is the next step?
Heard about site from: INTERNET
May I have permission to give him your name and contact info? This is very exciting.
Kind regards,

Now, I'm an avid fan of the sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond. In fact, my parents live just across the street and life for us often resembles that show a bit more than suits my comfort level. For those who know my real life Frank, my step-dad... well, we will just leave it at that, you are already groaning and laughing at my pain. But I have to tell you,

...when your office is in a church,
holy crap in not an approved exclamation...

And that my friends, is exactly what came out of my mouth! A clear indication I need to lay off the re-runs. 

The next few days passed in painfully slow anxiousness. I responded to Judy's email but I did not hear back from her. In fact, I have never heard from her since that email. She just vanished... I guess that is why them call them search angels...

That same August 4th day, with Michael and John's new last name in hand, my cousin tracked down a man who he thought was Michael, using one of my photos from the envelope, facial recognition software and some other mad, techi skills he has which I know nothing of. He was also my self restraint over the next few days when I had none, and for all of that I am forever grateful. 


But I didn't need any "65% probable match statistics". This was in my mind, beyond the shadow of a doubt, my brother. The resemblance to the other men in my family was too strong not to see it.

Three days that seemed like an eternity later, it was confirmed. Four months and 2,000 text messages later, Mike and his wife, Janet were in my driveway. 

Time stopped the moment their car pulled in. I wish I could remember now if the snow was really falling or if I was just having an ethereal, snow globe experience where everything floats delicately into place after it has been shaken. 

I gazed out the picture window, watching him step out of the car and take in his surroundings. Through the glass, his gaze fell on me for a moment.  I wish it would have lasted longer. It wasn't that I didn't want to meet. Truthfully, it was taking every ounce of restraint I had not to run outside, throw my arms around him and sob. But a moment that I had waited 35 years for was upon me and I wanted to bask in the awe of it a little longer... He smiled and waved through the transparent buffer as if we had just seen each other last week and I did the same, then I made my way outside.

I treasure every moment of that week they were here... his immersion into my life. Words fall short to describe the emotion of what it meant to wake up in the morning with my brother in the house... To be siblings together with morning hair and morning breath, reaching over each other in the kitchen to get coffee and tea, and to be okay with that. To be normal... doing things that normal siblings do. We cooked, side by side in the kitchen, we worked on a puzzle, we grocery shopped... that was a surreal moment for me standing in the produce section. I turned back to look at him, as if I half expected it was a dream and he wasn't really there. Our eyes met and he smiled and I said rather loudly, as if I was announcing it to the world, "I can't believe I'm grocery shopping with my brother!"

There is a natural intimacy with siblings, they know all about each other and they are good with that. Liz knows me like no other and I am totally me in front of her just as she is totally her in front of me. From my perspective, and I hope from Mike's too, there was a level of 'being known' that existed naturally...

and we continue to work on the unknowns. 

I think neither time nor separation 
can change what runs through your veins


With sunshine also comes the rain and it is with deep sorrow and regret that I share with you that my courage did not come soon enough for my sweet brother, John. He died in Louisiana on March 3, 2013 from cancer. He never got to hear the words, "You are loved, it was not your fault." The ache and longing in my heart will never be filled as I suppose it never was in his.

Now you know how my family grew, two by two by two. But what of the plus one? 

If I say to you that God is good at all times, in all things, you may ask why this all happened. Where was God when everything went so wrong? I hold to the belief that God is present in all situations at all times and I do not believe that God is the cause of bad things that happen. He has given us the freedom to chose what we do with our lives, he does not control us like puppets. Sadly, we often make wrong choices that have devastating consequences. Those consequences harm not only us but those around us. Those choices break God's heart just as much as they break ours, actually, more than they break ours. Because God doesn't fix everything that we mess up does not mean that God is bad or doesn't care. God is holy and sovereign, and God is gracious. And, he does care.

In his grace, God kept Michael and John together through the years they were in various foster homes. He gave Michael and John a family that loved them and adopted them, together. He also gave them a little sister, Sally, in their adopted family. It blesses my heart to know that God did not leave them without a little sister. 

According to Mike, Sally and I are cut from the same cloth. That is the grace and goodness of God. When she came to Michigan this summer, I could not pass up the chance to meet her so I drove to where she was. His sister has now become my sister. I don't know if the connection is our big brother, the cloth we were cut from, or the God we both love. Maybe it's all three, but the bond is there and it is a blessing beyond measure.


And what of the secret envelope? It's just and envelope, stuck away on a shelf somewhere. Its' powers rendered useless and its' mysteries replaced with answers. Its' sadness replaced with joy, and its' original contents replaced with photo copies. 

The beginning of Mike's life, now 60 years past, is in a scrapbook on a shelf in his home. When I gave it to him for his 65th birthday I told him that I understood it might not mean much to him in the sense that it was a life he has no memory of, but for me it was everything. It was the entirety of his and John's existence in my life and I was gladly trading it in for the real deal.

This story was written as part of a 31 day writing challenge. To read more of my stories in the challenge, click on my Link. Thanks!

Friday, October 30, 2015

31 Moments in Time :: two by two by two, plus one - Part 2

...and thus my little sibling party grew, 
two by two by two...

But who were these latest two? I had a million questions and only a handful of answers, and the answers I did have I could not reconcile in my mind. 

I tried to imagine a life where welfare and WIC did not yet exist. Because of the situation with Jimmy and Jackie, I was already struggling with the concept of a life where parents got divorced and a father who was alive would choose not to care for his children... These concepts had not previously existed to any great extent in my life let alone in my mind, but I had summed it up as my dad's polio being the cause of all that had happened in his first marriage. That was something I could reconcile, until now. 

I tried to imagine a mom, my mom, giving away her precious little children. Would you not do anything humanly possible to keep them? But of course the concept of what it was really like to be a mom also did not exist yet in my mind. 

I struggled with the biggest concept and the fear that accompanied it, that children were expendable... expendable... As defined, "Of little significance when compared to an overall purpose and therefore able to be abandoned". Was I expendable? Fear is not always a rational emotion particularly when you pair it with a lack of life experience and understanding.  

There was also the never ending struggle with my intense desire to know my brothers and the feeling that I was being denied something that was rightfully mine. I wanted a big brother. Someone to pick on me like big brothers do, tease me and help me with my homework. Someone to protect me... 

I lived a life of insecurity. Somehow, even as a small child I knew that my dad could not protect me while paralyzed from the neck down. After he died, my inner fear grew. When we moved north, away from any other men in my family it intensified and when my mom spent the majority of my teenage years in the hospital with asthma, Liz and I were alone. 

Two teenage girls, alone in a small community where everyone knows everyone and they all know you are alone. We became the 'summer project' for the community's Peeping Tom. The police told my mom, "Don't worry, he just looks". Can you imagine hearing that news while lying helpless in a hospital bed? Knowing some creep is looking at your girls and there is nothing you can do, and nothing the police will do. Sadly, that was only one of several bad things that happened and in comparison, it was harmless. I struggled on, big brother-less and mostly alone, knowing that somewhere 'out there' I had brothers.

Michael and John were not babies when they were given up. They were probably at least 5 and 6. Old enough to know... and to remember... The story my mother shared with me of the day she took them to the courthouse put a crack in my heart for those boys that will never be repaired. She told Michael what was happening and he said, "Does this mean I will never see you again?", "Yes", she said, "That's what this means.". I can't begin to express the sadness I had for them, the desire I had to tell them they were loved. I was sure that moment had ruined their lives.

I struggled with all of this for a long time, I mean a really, really long time. Okay, honest statement... I still struggle with parts of it. Now that I've been a mom for 29 years I can better understand that a mom who truly loves her children will do whatever she thinks is best for them, even if that means letting someone else raise them and never seeing them again. I can better understand that her flat out refusal to find them stemmed from guilt and fear that she had ruined their lives, not a lack of love. 

My second experience with the secret envelope came nearly 13 years after my first. I was nearing 28 and my second child, my sweet little Max with his swirly little cowlick right in the middle of his forehead, was soon to celebrate his first birthday. 

Mom, who was always very good with her other grandchildren, spent much of her time avoiding him. It hurt my heart and I didn't understand why. She hardly ever held him, or cuddled him, in fact she tried not to even look at him. 

One day, out of the blue, she handed me the envelope and told me I should keep it. She was in her first relationship since my dad died so many years before, with a man who would eventually become my step-dad, and she didn't want him to know about the boys. Having had her secret found out once already because of the envelope, she didn't trust her ability to keep it hidden and destroying it was inconceivable. Thus she called on me to keep her secret for her...

"Promise me you won't look for them."

"I promise"...

When I got home I opened the envelope with so much... so much, everything... fear, excitement, relief, anger, weight, responsibility... The entirety of their existence in my life was now in my hands. There is not one human word that fits all that I felt. I laid my eyes, for the second time ever, on the pictures of those adorable little boys, my brothers, and in an instant I understood my mother's avoidance of Max. He may not have looked exactly like Michael, but that swirly little cowlick in the middle of his forehead, that precious hair I fussed over all the time, was staring back at me.

Had she loved it as much as I loved Max's? Had she traced it with her finger over and over as he lay in her arms?  I came face to face with a small fragment of her pain and it helped me understand.

Many years passed and many times I was sure the time had come to break the promise. But where to start? I had information, probably enough to go on but the fear of hurting my mom, of lying to her and breaking my promise always seemed to help me find excuses not to start.

As computers and the internet became more of my world, I would occasionally type their names into a search engine, toying with the idea of pressing enter... sometimes I did, but nothing ever came up. Once I went so far as to contact an agency that specialized in finding people who had been adopted. I had a couple conversations with them but in the end, didn't proceed any further.

I wrestled with myself for so long and asked myself every question in the world I could think of. I played out every scenario in my mind as to how it all might come to pass, what their lives might be like... fear, always fear. The envelope ever present on my desk, waiting for me... the fear, ever present with it, always won.

And then I turned 50. The realization that over half my life was done sank in. If I was 50 they were 63 and 64 and that was a stark reality that rocked my world. It didn't send the fear running but it made me courageous in the face of it.

One quiet night in April of 2014, I contacted my uncle and told him what I was about to do. I wanted him to hear it from me, not facebook and I wanted him to know I was not telling my mom. She was already beyond the beginning stages of dementia now and I thought it would take so long to find them that by the time I did... well lets just say I hoped she would never comprehend what I had done.  

I posted their pictures on facebook with the information I knew and sent it out into the world. I found a website called and I registered. They assigned me a 'Search Angel' as they call them, her name was Judy. She sent me an email and I answered her questions. Then I waited...

People shared the post on facebook, people from all over that I didn't even know.

And I waited some more... and I wrestled some more.

"Promise me you won't look for them."

"I promise"...

There was no turning back.

This story is part of a 31 day writing challenge. To read more of my stories in the challenge, click on my link. Thanks!