Eight years ago, I suffered two great losses. One was entirely out of my control – the passing of my mother. The other was, while not specifically my “fault,” was at the least, within my reasonable control – losing contact with the rest of my biological family. In the depths of the depression I was suffering from, I thought they didn’t care – that they had abandoned me.
In the midst of my moving from friend to friend during that time, I lost my address book, which contained all of the phone numbers for my aunts and uncles, and cousins. In losing that book, I thought I lost my one link that connected me to my family. I also, during these times of transition and upheaval, lost all of my childhood photos – memories of times spent with my mom and grandmom, birthdays, special occasions, and more.
These losses hung over my head for the last eight years. The weight of the loss of my mom continues to shift as time passes. It would be inaccurate to say that that particular weight lessens, because that would, in my view, cheapen it. However, my outlook and perspective have changed over the years to a healthier point of view on how I feel about and deal with it.
But, the weight of losing contact with my biological family continued to burden me. I tried from time to time to search for them on the internet and in telephone directories, but it seemed that their phone numbers were unlisted. I thought for certain that I had lost contact with them forever.
Having resigned myself to this seeming inevitability, I moved on with life as best I could. After a job opportunity in Virginia didn’t pan out, I accepted, with gratitude and excitement for the new start it afforded, a job in Carlisle, PA. I knew that I was coming into a season of rebuilding and renewal in my life, physically, emotionally and spiritually. I had no idea that it would also be a season of restoration.
A couple weeks ago, my roommate and I took one of the kids from the church to the lake for a few hours. Little did I realize that this side-trip would be the beginning of the restoration of my family to me, and me to my family. Upon arriving at the lake, I was struck by the familiarity of it. I realized, to my amazement, that I had been there previously, as a young child. I mentioned this to my roommate, noting especially how strange it probably sounded.
Memories began coming back to me of summer weeks spent at my great-uncle John’s cabin in Fort Loudon, about 30 miles west of the lake. We would come out to the lake on particularly hot days to cool off, or to enjoy a picnic meal together as a family. These were treasured memories which lessened in frequency as I grew older and more responsibilities came into my life. Eventually, our trips to the cabin stopped completely, when the drive became too much for my mom, and I couldn’t find convenient times in my oh-so-busy schedule to go.
We returned home from the lake, and I went to work for my shift. In the middle of my shift, around 3:00 AM, I was struck by the thought to look up my Uncle Johnny’s phone number. Having done this a number of times in the past few years with no results, I hesitated to try again, only to be disappointed. However, I was quite surprised when I actually found not only my uncle’s number, but the phone number for one of my aunts as well.
Later that afternoon, I called the numbers, hoping and praying that the listings were accurate. I tried the first number…voicemail. I left a voicemail, which I am certain was rambling and verging on incoherent. At the second number, there was no answer, so I kept trying. Eventually, after about 5 attempts, someone answered. Immediately, the butterflies that had been flying in my stomach since the night before started flying in earnest. I was speaking with my aunt, who I hadn’t talked to in almost eight years! We spoke for almost half an hour. Finally, she had to go because it was dinner time and she was cooking. We said our goodbyes, knowing that we would speak again soon.
I then called my uncle’s number, where I had earlier left the incoherent voicemail. Through our conversation, I found out not only how many of my cousins were doing, but also that, through all these years where I thought they had abandoned me, they were looking for me just as I had been looking for them. They were so hopeful of being reunited with me eventually, that they held on to my mother’s ashes (which I had given to my grandmom after my mom’s funeral), and when my grandmom died, they kept her ashes. They did this so that I could determine how to best honor their memory.
As I hung up from the conversation with my uncle, I was reminded of the story of the Prodigal Son. Specifically, the image of the Father, waiting for the errant son leapt to mind. Knowing that even in the darkest depths of my depression, when I thought my family had abandoned me, they were looking for me brings this parable to life for me.
I look forward to keeping in touch with my family, and, hopefully, even getting together with them sometime soon.