This year was my fourth Thanksgiving in Ecuador. Each year’s celebration has been unique and this one was no exception. A group of 25 of us gathered at the home of a friend in my development to enjoy fabulous food and fellowship, but also bid farewell to some of our neighbors, Mark & Diane, who will be moving back to the states in a few days – we will miss them greatly.
Just the day before (on Wednesday), I was visiting with my friend Edwin in Manta, and he remarked that I seemed to be glowing. I told him it was because I spent the time on the bus ride, reflecting on all the blessings I had to be thankful for. But it is what happened on Thanksgiving day, as I was preparing my food for the event, that brought me to tears and gave me one more huge reason to be thankful.
I’m really not even sure how to start to tell this story, because it has literally been a life-long one. My life has been anything but boring, and there are several major stories within the story, that those who know me well know, but I’ve not shared them here. One that I’ve made brief mention of, is that I was adopted and over 20 years ago, I found my birthmother, and shortly thereafter she put me in touch with my birthfather. I’ve had relationships with both of them ever since. However, the caveat on my birthfather’s side was that he was already married and had a family when I was born, and he never told them about me. And after we met, he still chose not to tell them, for fear of the repercussions that might result. I accepted his decision and placed no expectations on him, but was simply thankful to get to know him at whatever opportunities I was given. He arranged for me and my (former) husband to fly to meet him for a few days on several different occasions. But the last personal visit I had with him was in January 2003.
The one thing I lamented was that as an only child, I’d wished for some siblings. I’d hoped when I found my birthmother that she would have had other children, but that turned out not to be the case. However, my birthfather already had four sons when I was born, and adopted a daughter a few years afterwards. So I did indeed have siblings, but I could not know them. I only saw pictures and video and heard about their lives.
Then, in 2007, my birthfather offered to pay for us to come along on one of the “trip of a lifetime” vacations he was taking his other children and spouses on – a Mediterranean cruise. It was finally an opportunity for me to meet my siblings face to face – but they still couldn’t know who I was. I accepted the offer and prayerfully committed to God that I would make no attempts to force any interactions on the trip, but leave it all up to Him. Not only did God orchestrate several encounters with all of my siblings, but actually put us in line as we were checking in for the cruise, with the one brother closest to me in age. He struck up a conversation with us, which brought continued interactions and conversations the rest of the trip. Then near the end, he “accidentally” ended up on an excursion alone with us, because he signed up for the wrong one from the rest of his family. So while enjoying the famous Amalfi coast drive, I also enjoyed several hours of conversation with him. Then the last day before the cruise ended, I again “accidentally” ran into him as I was going back to get something from my room. He invited for us to meet him for a drink the last night of the cruise. My birthfather later told me my brother mentioned me to them and he thought a lot of me.
That cruise was the last time I was able to see my birthfather (and even then, not personally). However, he has kept in touch by phone all these years, calling me every few weeks or so. As time passed, he felt more and more concern for what the fall-out would be if his family found out, but also more and more sorrow over what he’d missed in a relationship with me.
About two years ago, he began feeling “off.” I could tell the difference of his demeanor in our conversations. Finally, after a year of doctors not being able to figure out what was wrong, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. At first, when they put him on medication, he was feeling much better. But then recently, I noticed a change again. He turned 87 at the end of October (the same age my mom was when she passed away). The next time we talked, he was complaining that he had no energy and also had been having pain in his shoulder. He said he was going to have an x-Ray that week to see what was wrong. A few days later, I came home from my weekly trip to Manta to a message from him that said they had found he has lung cancer. A few more days later we were able to talk. He told me they were running more tests to determine what type it was and see if it had spread, but he suspected it wasn’t good and he really didn’t want to do any treatments.
Over the years, he had always maintained that if something ever happened to him, he would not want me to contact his family until after his wife was gone. He felt that if she knew about me, her reaction would affect the kids’ attitudes and it would not be a positive thing. I always told him I would likely not try to contact them under those circumstances, because without them hearing from him how he felt about me, I would be a stranger to them.
All of this I just accepted, because I learned a long time ago that accepting life as it is, and not as you wish it would be, is the key to contentment. However, all of this naturally brought back to me the reality that at some point, I would just stop hearing from him. And then at some other point, I would search the online obituaries and find out he was gone.
So on Thanksgiving day, when the phone rang and I saw his name on the caller ID, I was very surprised. I figured as usual on holidays, he’d be surrounded by family (and even more so now) and would not have a minute alone. When I answered, he wished me a happy Thanksgiving and told me he wasn’t doing too well, but he’d made a significant stride that morning. I said, “Oh?” and then he said, “Craig is listening.” Craig is his oldest son – my brother!!! I was speechless and simply said, “What???!” He repeated it and when I asked if Craig could hear me, another voice came on the line and said, “Hello Mary” – I burst into tears!
The conversation was brief, because at this point he is the only one who knows. I have no idea what happens next. But despite what I’m sure was hard news on top of the other hard news, he was very gracious. He said he would be calling me and looked forward to getting to know me and hopefully we could meet. And his main assurance was that he would keep me informed as to what was happening in regards to my birthfather’s health.
I’m by no means naive enough to think we will now all be one, big happy family. I have put myself in their shoes on many occasions, and know that this is a lot to process, on top of their present grief. But it is still such a HUGE relief knowing that the fact that I exist will no longer die with my birthfather! For over 20 years, I’ve trusted God to direct the outcome of this thing and I continue to do so. I’ve prayed and believed that eventually whatever was supposed to happen, would happen. So I continue to trust God to guide and direct me as I navigate this new stage in my Journey. And as I do so, I would very much appreciate if you would support me with your prayers!
PS – just as I was finishing this blog post, my birthfather and brother called again! I had more time to talk with them both and share some things with my brother. I was very thankful to receive the news that, although the cancer has metastasized to the brain and they are waiting on more test results, with the type and size that it is, they are hopeful that there are treatment options that could bring some good results. Stay tuned!